Sunday, August 31, 2014

Lament or Pop Song Lyric?

I know not all the people reading this are parents of teenagers like I am. But I would guess that most of you have heard of pop/country singer Taylor Swift. Swift has created a musical empire by singing songs focused on breakups and love gone wrong.

I’m a volunteer youth leader at my church. It’s a wonderful job to have, especially after 30+ years of working full-time with teenagers. I like the freedom of just showing up and helping out. My usual task is to lead the games and this past week I purchased a game show from a youth ministry website called DownloadYouthMinistry. The game was called: “Taylor Swift or Lamentations.” The powerpoint based game highlighted lyrics on the screen and the contestant had to identify if the words were from a Taylor Swift song, or Lamentations in the Bible.

The game is not as easy as one might think. Swift has written some pretty powerful lines and Jeremiah penned some pretty contemporary insights.

Running the game on Wednesday night got me thinking about connections between loss and lament. In the book of Psalms, laments far outnumber any other kind of songs. When people feel loss and pain one way to deal with it is to write and sing a song; that’s certainly what Taylor Swift has done. As a friend who was studying counseling once said to me, “One thing that all humans share is an experience of loss.” I’ve never forgotten that. Laments are praises in the time when God seems hidden and absent. It’s also the freedom to let God know exactly how we feel without holding anything back.

Biblical laments can be personal or communal and generally follows a 6-step process:
  1. Address to God
  2. Complaint
  3. Confession of trust
  4. Petition
  5. Words of assurance
  6. Vow of praise

Read Psalm 42 which is a personal lament. Notice how it is written in poetry, as a song.

1 As the deer pants for streams of water,
   so my soul pants for you, my God.
2 My soul thirsts for God, for the living God.
   When can I go and meet with God?
3 My tears have been my food
   day and night,
while people say to me all day long,
   “Where is your God?”
4 These things I remember
   as I pour out my soul:
how I used to go to the house of God
   under the protection of the Mighty One[d]
with shouts of joy and praise
   among the festive throng.
5 Why, my soul, are you downcast?
   Why so disturbed within me?
Put your hope in God,
   for I will yet praise him,
   my Savior and my God.
6 My soul is downcast within me;
   therefore I will remember you
from the land of the Jordan,
   the heights of Hermon—from Mount Mizar.
7 Deep calls to deep
   in the roar of your waterfalls;
all your waves and breakers
   have swept over me.
8 By day the Lord directs his love,
   at night his song is with me—
   a prayer to the God of my life.
9 I say to God my Rock,
   “Why have you forgotten me?
Why must I go about mourning,
   oppressed by the enemy?”
10 My bones suffer mortal agony
   as my foes taunt me,
saying to me all day long,
   “Where is your God?”
11 Why, my soul, are you downcast?
   Why so disturbed within me?
Put your hope in God,
   for I will yet praise him,
   my Savior and my God.

I know that with the beginning of the school year most people are excited and ready to go. Loss and lament can often seem far away. Yet I also know that as the term goes on, as family situations unfold, and as circumstances come up; many of us find ourselves experiencing loss of some type. Rather than bitterness, I hope we’ll turn to songs of lament to help us express ourselves. No matter who the author: Jeremiah, King David, or Taylor Swift.