Tuesday, January 23, 2007

With One Voice: Jesus's Lament of Abandonment

See earlier posts in this ongoing interaction with Reggie Kidd's With One Voice.

With One Voice: The Singing Savior

With One Voice: The Psalms

With One Voice: David

With One Voice: Reggie Kidd on Psalm 22

In chapter 5, he picks up with Jesus' use of Psalm 22 as his lament of abandonment from the cross. Reggie hits this chapter of the book out of the park. He brackets the chapter with gut wrenching stories from his own experience -- stories of faithful saints who in the midst of the mess of life, persist in singing songs of praise to the God who is there.

Using these stories, he shapes our understanding of Jesus' suffering on the cross. Many times in evangelical circles, we focus on the magnitude of the cosmic suffering -- or we gallop right ahead to resurrection. But it is in the suffering that Jesus comes and meets with us. Jesus' lament on the cross is the full expression of human suffering, Reggie tells us. “To know the God who is, is to look to him even when he won’t make eye contact. To know the God who keeps covenant is to sing to him, even, perhaps especially, when you fear he may not be listening.” (92) Wow -- again, it is this kind of writing that makes the book worth the cover price.

Reggie then delivers a bomb in the midst of self-help Christianity: “Many of us with stoicism seek simply to cope with life. We paint our canvas in safe, if bland, grays. But real Christianity surrounds us with the reddest reds and the bluest blues, the bleakest blacks and the most radiant whites. It is not about mere resignation and coping mechanisms. It is about resurrection and crucifixion, triumph and failure, redemption and sin.” (93) In the middle of motivational speeches masquerading as sermons, Reggie reminds us that our pain and lonliness and shame are but shadowy reminders that God has not left us alone. We don't have to bootstrap ourselves out of our mess -- rather we're called to sing to our God in the midst of our mess. “The cross brings God into deep places in our lives – places where artists, poets, and musicians go.” (93) The cross confronts us in our own anguish. It reminds us of our own fragility and enables us to worship in the midst of the pain.

Here's another winner quote: “Christ’s death song makes reality more real. It squashes fears, pulls us out of our self-absorbtion, and connects us to others. Songs that keep Christ’s death before us help us in another way: they help us acknowledge how messed up we are. That’s a good thing. It’s the cross that frees Rouault, in another panel from the Miserere, to do a self-portrait as a sad clown and to inscribe beneath it: ‘Do we not all paint our faces?’ We know we are base, but we cannot name our baseness until we see it borne for us. Once we see Christ as bearer of our foolishness, though, we gain the freedom to let go of our pretense – self-made happiness, self-painted beauty, self-generated dignity, self-defined rightness.” (97).
Reggie also makes a well needed detour into the realm of excellence, particularly as it applies to church worship. I believe that we ought to bring our best gifts to God -- we ought to do the very best we can in our music, preaching, and worship design. However, we dare not give in to the idolatry of excellence. That's the idolatry that measures worship as a performance - did we hit all the notes just right; did everything flow well. Such idolotry (and this is Russ, not Reggie speaking) manifests itself in the person who is put out that the organ is just too slow, or put off by the off key singing somewhere in the choir. It's the typo in the worship bulletin that makes their face sour -- whatever it is. There are a zillion other manifestations, depending upon what type of church you attend -- but it all amounts to the same thing: focusing on the show rather than upon the Christ that the worship service is for. It lies in the illusion that in worship we're the audience to be entertained, rather than in the reality that we're the performers before a celestial throne.
"Perhaps we will lament as oprhans or, perhaps worse, as spoiled whiners. But we can choose to lament as sons and daughters who know they are loved and are therefore being disciplined and shaped. The difference will lie largely in learning to suffer to the tune of the Savior's song." (102)
Soli Deo Gloria
PS -- Reggie indicates on his blog that With One Voice has gone into a second printing. Congratulations! If you've been enjoying reading about this book, you might want to get a copy for yourself -- and you might want to check out Reggie's latest post on Common Grounds online: Athanasius and the Incarnation: Why hope and history do rhyme -- he speaks of suffering and tells the story of speaking in class on the topic: "I made a passing comment about the martyrdom that is a mere theoretical possibility for Western Christians but a daily possibility for Christians elsewhere, when a student’s hand went up. Raised in North Africa, she recounted with proud tears how her father had been killed — after six attempts on his life — for not renouncing his faith in Christ. So much for theoretical possibilities. " And this is his intro to how the theology of Athanasius helps us in these trying times -- a great complement to this chapter we reviewed today.