One of the debatable challenges of “contemporary worship” is providing the depth and breadth of human responses necessary to address the negative baggage that accumulates in people’s lives. In my experience, at least, most “contemporary” worship is filled with songs that praise God for this or that positive attribute: grace, mercy, forgiveness, majesty, sovereignty, etc., but I have rarely, if ever, seen a contemporary song that really addressed the vicissitudes of human living. In other words, it’s easy to find lines from the Psalms in contemporary songs that are “Give thanks to the Lord” or “Holy is the Lord” or “You are My King,” but it is difficult to find the verses “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Psalm 22) or “My eyes are weary from my grief” (Psalm 6) or “My friend and neighbor you have put away from me and darkness is my only companion.” (Psalm 88)
The liturgical effect of this discrepancy is that when we get to Lent, our contemporary options for music are pretty limited. Of course, Sundays are always celebrations of the resurrection, so we can make room for a kind of subdued joy, and since Lent continues to point us to the cross, there are plenty of contemporary options for unpacking themes of redemption and Christ’s death and resurrection. But when it comes to communal or individual laments, in Lent or otherwise, words and music are sometimes disconcertingly absent.
To help me explore this a bit more, I turn to a video over at Clayfire Curator posted by Linda Parriot:
In the video Mark Pierson points out the danger in trying to gloss over the uncomfortable moments that are created by the very real and emotionally charged experiences of the absence of God. Had Mark given into this temptation, glossing over the moment left by the parishioner who was speaking, he would have silenced the cries of lament of several other people and reinforced an image of God and the Church as a place that did not, would not, or could not make room for them in its midst.
This is the perpetual danger of worship that does not make room for lament, whether we’re talking about “contemporary” or “traditional” or “blended” or “alternative.” This is the lesson of the Psalms, and we would do well to heed it: to lament is human, and to deny our humanity is inhumane. Silencing the voice of the oppressed and marginalized is neither helpful nor Christ-like. But even though the problem is not limited to “contemporary worship”, I firmly believe that we need a wider palate of contemporary expressions of lament and anger toward the absence of God and the injustices of the world.
How have you encountered these same limitations in worship? Is the palate widening? What possibilities exist out there for contemporary songs that allow the community to voice its complaints to God?