Sunday, March 15, 2009

I Can't Get No Dissatisfaction

My wife and I were listening to Sinead O'Connor's album "Theology" today as we drove to the Oregon Coast. Earlier in the day at the grocery store I had heard some Bruce Springsteen song (don't know which one) with a religious theme. It occurred to me that I really like works like this with a religious theme. Too many U2 songs to count would fall in this same category, but most notably "40", and, extending beyond music, the treatment of religion is one of the things I like most in the TV show "House".

Now, you may say to yourself, "So a guy who writes a religious blog likes religious stuff, where's the revelation in that?" The thing is, as a rule, I really dislike "Christian music" -- that is, the stuff that you hear on a Christian radio station. And for that matter I'm not too crazy about a lot of the music that gets sung in non-liturgical Christian churches on a Sunday morning. (I should divulge at this point that I attend a non-liturgical church which I very much love, in spite of the music.)

So, I got to wondering, what is it about Sinead O'Connor and Bruce Springsteen and U2 and "House" that I like so much when they wax religious that I don't like in your average Christian radio station music? Without "House" being in the list, you might attribute it simply to the quality of the musical composition, but "House" was specifically in the list my mind made for me and integral to the pattern my subconscious had identified, so I had to dig a little deeper.

The thing that I came up with is dissatisfaction. The average praise song is generally OK with the state of the world, usually even pretty happy about it. But when Sinead or Bruce Springsteen or U2 sing a religious song, they're generally not satisfied with the way things are, often starting with religion, even their own personal faith. That draws me in. It makes it accessible to me.

The thing is, I think this is profoundly Biblical. The people in the Bible from Abraham to Moses to Jesus(!) in Gethsemane are constantly struggling with God. And if I'm reading it correctly, that's the way God likes it. God doesn't want to be surrounded by yes men.

Now I'm going to take this a step further and go from talking about Christian music to talking about specifically Christian worship. The traditional liturgy begins with "Lord, have mercy" and brings a broken world before God and only then receives it back transformed. Non-liturgical worship tends to begin with, "Let's all stand and sing praise to our mighty God" and stays there. It's got too much "Gloria in Excelsis" and not enough "Kyrie Eleison".

Now if you've read this far, you may have noticed that I've completely muddled the two distinct ideas of dissatisfaction with the state of the world and dissatisfaction with worship and religion. I'm OK with that. I think there's one thing beneath them both, and that's uncertainty.

I need uncertainty to nurture my faith. I am convinced that faith has more to do with doubt than it does with certainty. A religion based on certainty forces me almost immediately into a conflict between that religion and my experience of the world. A religion based on uncertainty leads me almost immediately into engagement with God, even if that engagement is in the form of wrestling.

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