I veer wildly between an honest concern about too much focus on the bad in the world (there is far more good than what is often credited) and a frustration about the lack of concern about the harm that is being ignored by many. I think many more people need to read Bradley Wright’s book Upside about how much about the world has drastically improved recently.
But at the same time I am concerned that many have far too little concern about systemic issues of oppression. Black Lives Matters (whether the broader movement or the organization), systemic problems of the criminal justice system, a rise of nativism or xenophobia, continuing revelations about ongoing racism, sexism, and other bias that impacts real people on a regular and ongoing basis, matters.
And so I picked up Prophetic Lament when I was frustrated with the inability for the Evangelical church in particular (but the larger church as well) to actually embrace lament. Christian Music that is ‘safe for the whole family’ and Christian fiction that seems to only be able to tell happy tales with tidy endings is not particularly faithful example of historic Christian artistry. It is not that we cannot be happy or that we should not consume tidy books or safe music. It is that we should not only consume safe music and tidy books.
The world is not tidy or ‘safe for the whole family’ and neither is scripture. Scripture is decidedly R rated if you don’t skip over hard passages. About 40% of the Psalms (which has historically been the prayer and songbook of the church) are psalms of Lament. A study of hymn books in 2012 found that no hymnbook even hit 20% of its songs as lament.
Soong-Chan Rah explicates the book of Lamentations well. He hits not only the themes and particulars of the five chapters, but relates it to the areas that our modern American church should be lamenting about. I think some will complain that Soong-Chan Rah gets too particular about areas of lamentation. That could be, but it is better to be too specific than not specific enough. Unspecific lamentation is not real lamentation.
The case is also well made that lamentation is an essential part of historic Christian faith. Faith that is only happy is gnostic or otherwise dis-embodied. Jesus wept real tears. Paul was in real chains. John was exiled to a real and specific place. Stephen was actually killed. Lamentation is part of what we should be feeling in the fact of not only the widespread injustice of the world, but the every day general living and dying that we all participate in. People around us get sick and die. They have miscarriages and lose jobs. They have a marriages that fall apart and children that stray from the good path.
If we are unable to lament with those that lament, then we are not fully entering into their lives. Prophetic Lament puts good words to that biblical call and biblical example.
My only real complaint, and it is not much of one, is that I wish the actual text of Prophetic Lament included the whole book of Lamentations as he was discussing the book. I think it would have forced more conversation with the actual book of scripture. It is very possible to read this book without reading the actual book of Laminations.
- Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption by Bryan Stevenson
- God of Liberty: A Religious History of the American Revolution by Thomas Kidd
- Glittering Images by Susan Howatch (Church of England Series #1)
- Washed and Waiting: Reflections on Christian Faithfulness and Homosexuality by Wesley Hill
- The Case for the Psalms: Why They Are Essential by NT Wright Review
- A Prayer Journal by Flannery O’Connor