I just came back from a wonderful seminar led by the members of Ordinary Time, a worship band consisting of former Regent College students and focusing on liturgical, contemplative, and hymnodic (is that a word?) song. The session was on lament in worship, and it was wonderful to be in a room full of people concerned with the fact that much modern Christian worship encourages the equation of faith and cheerful triumphalism. The session focused on various things: the theology behind Christian lament, the state of lament in popular culture, and the more practical aspect of what it means to lead a church in lament. What struck me though was the constant refrain, throughout the sessions and in group discussion, about those whose stories are suppressed, overlooked, or curtailed because their stories can only be expressed through the lament we in some churches have no place for. Listening to people talk, it felt as if those responding spoke out of a shared sigh of relieve to be in a place where – unlike their churches – they did not need to hide under a cheerful mask.
And this brought me back to something I have been thinking about recently. I think we need to take seriously the passage in Isaiah that says “Comfort my people,” and doing this might mean a recovery of the word “comfort.” When I was more involved with the evangelical church, there used to be much talk about being willing to “go outside your comfort zone” for God. I don’t think this is a Christian idea. I know that it came out of a place of frustration with a faith taken captive by suburbia. But I guess I question the underlying assumption that there are those who are radical Christians, and then those in the rest of culture who are comfortable. The problem is I can barely think of anyone I know in or out of church whom I would describe as “comfortable.” Even in the lives of those who seem to have everything together on the outside, one need not scratch very deep below the surface to find that this is hardly a place of comfort, but rather a frantic and ongoing process of defending a false persona. Even more ironically, the advice to “step out of our comfort zones” fits perfectly with the will-to-rootlessnes that haunts late capitalism. I might go so far as to say that “stepping outside our comfort zone” is late capitalist rather than Christian advice. All this to say that perhaps one of our primary callings in the modern world is to offer a deeper and broader definition of a comfort shaped by the life of Christ’s church. I wonder if we might not start with the words offered me every Sunday after confession: Hear what comfortable words our Savior Christ saith unto all them that truly repent: “Come unto me all that labour and are heavy laden, and I will refresh you.” It wouldn’t be a bad place to start.