Frustration, anger, emotional pain, disappointment, doubt, disillusionment, and even rage are not emotions displayed nor words spoken or sung in many, if not most churches of almost every type in America. Listen to popular contemporary Christian music stations and you will hear a steady diet of what they tend to advertise as positive, uplifting music. Positivity has largely replaced the language of faith; Christians do not want to hear “negativity.” Even in the most tragic times of natural disasters or cultural upheaval you will most likely hear Christian cliches when you enter the doors of a church building: “God is still on the throne;” “God is good all the time;” “all things work together for good;” or even “God has reasons for doing things we cannot understand.” While these statements contain truth, as an initial response to incredible suffering or injustice they ring hollow. In stark contrast the pages of Scripture contain a thick thread of “negative” speech that would sound strange to hear in most American Christian churches or on Christian radio. In most cases you have to go “out on the street” to hear brutally honest painful and angry words expressed in music or the spoken word if you want to hear how people truly feel about life. I tend to be a melancholy person; so much of the music I listen to tends to be on the “heavy” side, songs that honestly deal with the frustrations and pains of life. It is not feel-good music, but it is unfiltered honesty.
Is there a place for brutally honest speech in the Church? I believe we must create room for this category of speech that expresses hurt, anger, and may even be profane at times. It is the language of this “thick thread” of non-traditional speech or prayer to God found throughout Scripture that provides the proof that such language is not the antithesis of faith, but is in fact an integral part of a faithful person’s speech. This book will explore the “thick thread” of this language in Scripture and also encourage those who feel that their words of anger, doubt, frustration and pain must not be included, or are not welcome in the collective worship of God’s people. I will argue to the contrary that this language is a needed corrective to the positive, happy faith that we publicly present every time we gather to worship. Too many of us feel that these feelings must be kept private or shared with only a few.
For example, I am writing this in the aftermath of the brutal murder of George Floyd by four Minneapolis police officers. My wife and I live in Richmond VA but we were in Minneapolis moving our daughter into a new apartment when George Floyd was murdered. We saw up close the evidence of the anger and rage of people of color who feel unheard and believe their lives don’t matter. When we returned to Richmond the protests were happening back home as well. Many of my white friends on social media tended to focus on the violence of the protests rather than the spark that set the protests off. As a generalization we tend to back away from expressions of anger and rage, especially if they are made by Christians of color. However, I was encouraged to see all the social media expressions of anger and rage by many of my friends in our local fellowship who are people of color. When it comes to the Church we white Christians prefer polite, nice speech. It’s time to bring the anger and rage into the Church, both in terms of seeking repentance as well as honest lament to God. Racism and the response of anger or rage is simply one aspect of human life that brings to the surface the need for this “thick thread” of Scripture to be voiced in our collective worship. In this book I will survey many passages that give voice to this kind of brutally honest speech from people of faith.
One thought on “Increasing our Faith Vocabulary”
Yes! How can we claim to be authentically human in our faith communities if we are leaving the negative outside on the street?!!! My initial thoughts early in the intro took me to the sharp negativity in The Psalms.