The Art of Lament (1 of 5)

No one likes a complainer, which is likely because complainers are often consumed by a self-possessed measure of whining and disproportionate blaming – imposing this indulgence on us, serving no other purpose than to off load their unbridled grievances . . . otherwise known as venting. But the trouble with complaining is that it only begets more complaining, as it usually is nothing more than a vacuous rehearsal of the assorted ways we’ve lost control of our lives . . . which of course, assumes we ever had control in the first place. But the primary problem with most of our complaining is that it places us at the center of our own universe . . . and I don’t know about you, but if I’m at the center of the universe—we’re all in trouble. So then what are we to do with all this unreconciled irascible stuff rattling around in our heads—if not complain?

If we’re ever to get beyond our incessant compulsion to complain, then we must commit ourselves to the task of learning the art of lament. Now, I get it that lament isn’t the first thing that leaps to mind, as you correctly associate it with mourning, sorrow, and regret – all of which you would rather spend a day at the dentist, to avoid. But could it be that part of such apprehension is due to the fact that we are so poorly practiced at lament? Which of course only further begs the question – why in the world would anyone ever want to be well practiced at lament? What value could that possibly render?

I would only point out that there is a clarifying honesty at work in the helpless vulnerability of lament that distills you down to the things that really define you – evacuating you from the center of your own universe, so that in a realigning of your heart and mind, circumstances can begin to take on true proportion. This invariably brings down the façade of your well maintained fiefdom, causing you to give up any claim on control, forcing you to become a refugee, needing to remove your inner most self to a safer distance.

shockSo now, camped out on these outskirts, mourning the loss of the life you thought you wanted most, is where you begin to take inventory. But the life of a refugee is one of traveling light, so the pickings are pretty slim – so there is only the contemplation of an empty hand. Until at last in this most desperate hour, you look beyond yourself to discover others honest enough to enter into their own lament . . . and so you travel together.

To a refugee the idea of finding refuge isn’t just a reassuring pleasantry—it is an inescapable necessity. So when we read psalms like Psalm 91:2 about God being our refuge, scripture isn’t merely offering us a reassuring backstop plan B – but instead invites us to confess that this is actually the only possible plan. It is the wide-eyed confession that the mythology of “having it all together” can only lead to despair. It is the foundational confession that the center of the universe belongs to God and that the only way we can occupy that space is when we take refuge in him . . . and that it is by way of our lamentations where we are the likeliest to see God as our refuge.

Here’s a song I wrote this past summer,
mourning the untimely death of an old friend.


Into the Howling Darkness

You can only hold your breath for so long before you have to hit the surface again, only to discover the levees have broken open and the deluge has begun. So in the flood of circumstance, of events beyond your control, you are swept up in the adrenalized panic of frenzied response. In the flash of such moments, everything superficial gets washed away in the torrent – leaving only the things that matter most. This past year, for many people, has felt like being emotionally rolled like a cowboy cigarette and chain smoked down to ash . . . as if the slightest breeze could simply blow away what’s left.

There is a ground swell realization that an exponential cultural shift is inescapably making itself evident. Whereas, it may be indicative of someone my age to feel the pangs associated with feeling like the world I grew up in has evaporated – this isn’t that kind of normal shift, of which I reference. No doubt, I feel some nostalgia for some of the cosmetically cultural affectations of my youth– but I still can sense a far more seismic shift has been occurring. It is as if our anthropological underpinnings have been yanked up and we have been set adrift for quite some time. Some foolishly see this as cutting free of the cumbersome weights of tradition – but there is a more ancient pattern to this shift, portending a very dark foreboding night before a new dawn appears.

I was born in the waning years of a Christian nation, when Christianity enjoyed a measure of cultural deference. But for the most part, my life has been lived in the ambivalence and plurality of a Post-Christian culture — and of late, it is occurring to me that I am now living in the waning years of this era . . . as ambivalence begins to give way to hostility. It has been a slow, steady encroachment of existential relativism picking up speed that is giving momentum to this exponential shift – having reached its tipping point and is now being codified by an ever encroaching and feckless government. Is it really any wonder our recent presidential election offered us such reprehensible candidates, both conspicuously lacking in a moral compass?

moon_rise_forestMake no mistake – I’m not suggesting that the world is somehow becoming more fallen (as that would be theologically untenable), but rather that history has seen this cycle play out many times before. A culture moves toward God, until a zenith point, and then begins to move away – until it reaches its nadir . . . and we’re now approaching that nadir point, and will likely be there for a generation. So my point isn’t that we should be wringing our hands, about how we might control its descent – but that we must hold fast to our profession, relying on the faithfulness of God (Hebrews 10:23).

The weeping prophet, Jeremiah lived during the waning days of Israel before the judgment hammer of Babylon fell on them. And as they were being led away in chains we find this remarkable promise: “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” ~ Jeremiah 29:11. So even as we enter into the howling darkness of a world we no longer recognize – God’s promises remain fixed and immutably true. So our job isn’t to change it all back – but to be the loving face of God to a world that is in the process of forgetting what he looks like.

. . . God has not forgotten you- that’s him tossing you that life line.