I’m continuing to blog through Christian Scharen’s outstanding new book Broken Hallelujahs: Why Popular Music Matters to Those Seeking God. I invite you to grab a copy of the book and join me in reflecting on it.
Chapter 4 of Broken Hallelujahs (“Cries”) serves as a sort of hinge on which the book turns. Departing the world of popular music, Scharen turns to the Bible and serves up an extended meditation on the truth-telling cries found throughout scripture. It quickly becomes clear, however, that Scharen’s reason for turning to the Bible is that the truth-telling of Leonard Cohen and the great bluesmen and blueswomen is not only prefigured in scripture, but occupies a place at the heart of scripture. Indeed, “the more profound and more central strand of the Bible teaches that it is out of identification with suffering that the character of God as redeemer becomes clear. Such a shape for the divine life . . . offers a hope that even in the worst of circumstances we are not abandoned. God is there in our midst, fully identifying with our plight, and working to open new possibilities for life” (77).
Scharen briefly sets the stage for his tracing of the cries of scripture by suggesting the cries of humanity result from humanity’s longing for the life of relationship with God which God freely offers as a gift to humanity, but which humans have frequently rejected. He then explores God’s response to the cries of the enslaved Israelites in the exodus story. Recognizing next the echoes of the cries of the exodus story throughout the prophetic literature of the Old Testament, but especially in the Psalms, Scharen proceeds to explore the role of such cries in the gospel story. One of the most well-known psalms which gives voice to humanity’s truth-telling cries, Psalm 22, not only is said to have been quoted by Jesus as he was being crucified, but serves almost as a script of the events that unfold leading up to his death. While almost everyone deserts Jesus because of their own inability to deal with brokenness and their lack of faith in God’s presence with them in the midst of the brokenness, this truth-telling psalm could have comforted them in their inability to deal with brokenness and reassured them of God’s presence with them. The presence of these cries in scripture not only offers humanity a license to raise to God truth-telling cries from the midst of brokenness and despair, but also invites, calls, beckons humanity to raise to God such cries.
As I read through this chapter I couldn’t help feeling as though the strand of truth-telling cries Scharen traces stands in judgment against a church culture which frequently goes to great lengths to avoid raising up such truth-telling cries. That’s with plenty of truth-telling cries in scripture left untouched in this chapter, whether the cries of Job or Jeremiah or Paul, among others. How have we allowed our hymnody to become so naively pie-in-the-sky-by-and-by? How have we allowed our prayers to become such that even when we petition, we do so only in sanitized “if it be your will” language? How have we allowed our celebration of the Lord’s Supper to become unconcerned with, even unaware of, the ongoing division in our churches and in our world? How have we allowed our proclamation of the word to become so domesticated that protest has no place?
Have you seen truth-telling cries given a voice in a local congregation? If so, I invite you to share how this has been done, so that I and others might learn, that our churches might become communities in which truth-telling cries have as prominent a place as in scripture.