When I was a child I rarely cried and when I did they were tears of frustration and anger rather than because I was hurt or sad. Even now I hate to cry and have always seen tears as a means of manipulation. In my experience, talking that seeks to tackle conflict and work things out for the benefit of both parties stops when the tissues come out. So I have found it intensely embarrassing and disconcerting to dissolve into floods of tears anytime I emotionally engage in worship. I hate appearing so weak and ‘womanly’ but as soon as I encounter God in any meaningful way, the tears just start to flow. This has been going on for some time now and I have begun to realise that this outpouring of grief is not just about me and my stuff, although I would be a liar and a hypocrite not to acknowledge that this is surely a factor, but is a sadness for the church and its unwillingness to be honest about its place in our post-modern, pluralist and consumer-driven world. I was reading a book this morning, called ‘Exiles’ by Michael Frost and a penny dropped for me. I am experiencing something of the emotions of those displaced people in Psalm 137 (or Boney M without the lycra and the afro), “By the rivers of Babylon, we sat down and wept when we remembered Zion.” And I too wonder how I can sing such mindless and sentimental love songs to Jesus every Sunday when I live in such a strange and alien land. This has also led me to concur with Frost that one of the ways we might be able to overcome our sadness or at least turn it into something that motivates us to tackle the wrongs of our current age and passionately and proactively present an alternative consciousness, is to sing a different song.
I have felt troubled by the trend for new expressions of church to abandon corporate singing and until today I couldn’t put my finger on why. I don’t believe to be church we have to sing together, but actually there is a power in singing that we see not just in worship but on the terraces, ringing around the rugby stadium or being belted out by party goers and those attending pop concerts at the O2. A song can move us like nothing else and as Frost points out, “so many great revolutions have been birthed through the songs that their revolutionaries sang.” (p.22) So, I would like to lay down a challenge. Rather than being in denial or letting our despair overwhelm us, could we begin to feel and express in song the righteous anger of God that burns at humankind for continuing to tolerate and collude with power structures that perpetuate injustice, starvation, inequality and environmental destruction? He compares the depth of His pain and anguish to that of a woman screaming out in childbirth (Isaiah 42:14) but, “God’s songs give birth to a new world, a new way of being his followers. And when we join in on the chorus of these rough, revolutionary songs, we share in the promise-making of God. We too declare our commitment to a new way, a way of justice, peace, mercy and generosity.”(p.23) Maybe, at last, the time for tears is ended and it’s time to get really angry! In our anger, as we cry out to God, we give voice to the longing of the displaced and begin to not only re-imagine but actually re-create home. This is the truth, no matter how long or how bad our experience of exile, we can have a foretaste of home in the person of Christ while we wait expectantly for the time when we will never have to leave home again.