Lament 2: Singing the Lord’s song in a strange land

Should we sing laments? Let me first distinguish: I have no doubt at all that there is a place for lament, both in the common English sense and in the technical psalms-of-lament sense (see previous post), in our worship. We should, when gathered before God, weep for and decry the evil in the world; we should wrestle with the disjunction between our confession and our experience. My question is whether we need do that in song. (Marva Dawn, in Reaching Out without Dumbing Down, notes that the Psalms of Lament are excluded from many lectionaries, and so lament is excluded from the whole of worship, not just from song (p. 176); this seems to me indefensible.) It seems to me that common-lament might most easily find its way into our prayers of intercession, and...

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Lament 1: Yet will I hope

Pastors complain about songwriters; it was no doubt ever thus. Somehow, no-one has ever quite written the perfect song to conclude your brilliant sermon, or to express (your sense of) the collective mood of your people as they gather together. One of the standard complaints in recent years is the lack of songs of ‘lament’. This, it seems to me, bears some reflection – enough that I want to spread it over at least a couple of posts. Three immediate questions occur to me: what is ‘lament’? Should it be sung? Does the coming of Christ make any difference to its reality? Ever since Gunkel and Mowinkel, ‘Lament’ has been one of the standard recognised forms of the Psalter. That said, the psalms of lament are not,...

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Atheist buses: the effect of religion

The ‘atheist bus’ campaign has launched, with an astonishingly gushing and self-congratulatory piece on the Guardian website by the instigator, Ariane Sherine. (For non-UK readers, this is a campaign that has been running for a year or so to raise money to put atheist [sic; in the event, agnostic] slogans in the advertising space on London buses as an ‘antidote’ to the religious advertising that is around.) Ms Sherine’s piece notes that £135 000 has been raised, an amount she describes as ‘truly overwhelming,’ and demonstrating ‘the strength of atheism in the UK’. The amount of money raised is remarkable – remarkably small. Let me try some context: the campaign to gather funds ran nationally for six...

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The Pope at New Year

According to the news reports (see here and here for example) Pope Benedict used a new year’s message to the Curia to offer a swingeing and trenchent critique of the acceptance of homosexuality. LGBT groups were predictably outraged, and newspaper leaders were condemning of his outdated attitudes and his decision to focus on this subject at Christmas. A simple and predictable story, with only one little problem… It’s not true. Not even close. You can read the full text of the Pope’s speech, in the original Italian or in English translation, here. If you do, you will discover that he never mentioned homosexuality. Not once. He offered a review of the good things that had happened over the past year – lots on the Bible; a discussion of...

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The Emergence of Evangelicalism

The Emergence of Evangelicalism: Exploring Historical Continuities (IVP, 2008; ed. Michael Haykin and Kenneth Stewart) is a large book (432 pp) devoted to questioning one claim of David Bebbington’s magisterial, and still standard, Evangelicalism in Modern Britain (first published 1988), that of the relative novelty of Evangelical Christianity in the 1730s. The contributors are a somewhat mixed bag: some are serious historians (John Coffey, e.g.), some senior scholars better known for work in other disciplines (Paul Helm), some so-far relatively unknown in scholarly terms (Garry Williams). It is fair to say that the historical expertise, or otherwise, of the contributors shows in various ways. It is also fair to say that some of the contributors make it...

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