Anyone who has ever read anything I have previously written or spent any significant amount of time with me will tell you unflinchingly that my favorite genre of music is soul music. Since I was a child, I was majestically drawn to artists such Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder, and the incomparable Donny Hathaway. It wasn’t the lyrics of the songs per se that caused me to be such a fan nor was I particularly overwhelmed by their choreography. What drew me, truthfully, was the misery that was laced within the melody. What captivated me was the struggle hidden within the staccato; the cry within the crescendo. In essence, I was mesmerized by their ability to make the whole world dance to the rhythm of their pain.
Now, obviously, your favorite genre of music may not be soul. Some are drawn to rock. Others are moved by country. However, whatever your favorite genre is, I challenge you to think about the songs that move you the most. Are they songs that highlight the joys of life, devoid of any suffering or despair? More oft than not, the songs that moved you most are the songs that spoke to you during your darkest hours.
If any production studio desired to turn our lives into feature-length films, we would have no problem providing them with the soundtrack. Remember that song you shared with your first love? Remember how, when it would come on, how you would stare longingly into her eyes, arrested by euphoria? Remember when the relationship crumbled? The same song that caused you to melt in loving awe now caused you to writhe in inscrutable agony!
Truthfully speaking, we all admire the artists who are able to turn their agony into art, thereby providing the articulation to our muted emotions. Show me an artist who was incapable of articulating her struggle, and I’ll show you her segment on VH1′s: Where Are They Now? The truth is, legacies are established by those who are able to decode the despair of our failing souls.
This truth not only applies to entertainment and art but, most definitively, applies to our ability to articulate God and His dealing with the human race. What disturbs me most is how , the higher we climb the ladder of academia, the more milquetoast our theology becomes. The more books we read, lectures we hear, and exegetical papers we type, the less and less willing we are to be candid about the pain that befalls us all.
We spend hours researching the hypostatic union but won’t devote 10 minutes discussing how H.I.V. is ravishing in our communities, particularly our young people.
We’ll spend $30 dollars to hear men argue about theories pertaining to the end of the world, yet we refuse to devote three minutes discussing our mandate to “preach the good news to the poor” at our lunch tables. Not only do we refuse to acknowledge our own inward struggles, we trivialize, dilute, and intellectually castigate those who dare to make us aware of theirs.
Now, allow me to be clear in stating that I, in no way, shape, or form advocate that we dilute our scholarship or cease to research and expound upon the deep mysteries of our treasured faith. On the contrary, I advocate that we write all the more! However, I also fervently advocate that we, as theologians, scholars, pastors, and lay leaders write and speak from a posture of transparency and authenticity. To not articulate the day-to-day struggle of the human race in our theological endeavors is not only unwise, it is unbiblical.
After all, if we hold to an orthodox account of Scriptural authorship, was it not Moses who, in his account of the Hebrew Exodus did not fail to mention his own murderous act in the Egyptian sun and his impish faith in front of the burning bush?
Did David not articulate his sinful transgressions and his iniquitous ways in many of his psalms? (I contend that the psalms are a collection of the greatest soul literature known to man. If David were alive in the 20th century, he would have definitely been a songwriter for Motown!)
Did Paul not continuously refer back to his days of persecuting the faithful? Paul, a theologian par excellence, never feigned away from discussing his own past failures as well as the struggles that encumber all of humanity.
As we can see from the testimonies and accounts left by these valiant men of faith, their is great theological value in honoring God by articulating our struggle and shortcomings.
In a world writhing in pain and foaming in futility, we do not have time to masquerade as Ivory-Tower magistrates who have never been exposed to the soil of suffering.
No matter if you grew up in a broken home and was raised by ]foster care parents, or if you were raised in a stable, loving two-parent home where your parents sung Christmas carols by the fire during the holidays, we all have experienced, in one manifestation or another, that imposing element known as the struggle.
Our liberation comes from our realizing the purpose behind our pain and our determination to use our various stories as balms that serve to provide healing and perspective to those languishing under the weight of their own ambiguous calamities.
The greatest theologians, from Paul to Augustine, are those who use their personal narratives as fulcrums to exalt the name of their Lord.
In like manner, we must endeavor to be men and women who resolve to use our pain, our failures, and our shortcomings to bring perspective to the plight of the common man.
If we, as believers, masquerade as if we feel no pain, can those who languishing in despair truly look upon us for guidance?
Those who suffer need to know that there is hope. They don’t realize that by observing religious drones who circumvent tribulation and are mute when it comes to the condition of the oppressed.
They are only able to comprehend the awesome concept of hope when they see that we, as Christians, are boldly able to carry our crosses…splinters and all.
One of the most egregious offenses a child of God can commit is to refuse to carry their cross and articulate their journey. Circumventing the struggle is a criminal offense in the court of the redeemed.
People need to hear our story no matter how scarred the details may be.
Never make theology an abstract discipline. It is only as effective as the people who allow it to be effectual.
Peoples lives are not moved by pop musicians nor are their hearts transformed by pop theologians.
God is not ignorant to the human plight or the human condition.
May our pens and our narratives be the collective proof.