The Work of the People

JUL 30, 2013 - Visual Epistles

The Poetry Of Sadness

In the Psalms we see a human experience of God who is least concerned with being utilitarian.  Walter Brueggemann has a well-placed critique of what has become so common in pop liturgies; the victory song before, or without, the battle. Peter Rollins has a great deal to say of the loss experienced and performed by the poets.  Hauerwas decries the sentimentality of much modern Christianity.  One of the many questions posed by Rainn Wilson, of the T.V. sitcom ‘Office’ fame, through his question asking website and book, Soul Pancake, was “does your family know the real you?”

I can’t help but notice a tragic pattern.

I live in the OC, so I should know a thing or two about masks. I work in ministry vocationally and am also a wedding and portrait photographer, so I deal with people in very unique situations… a lot. Nothing about working for a church is common; neither is spending most of my weekends at the beckoned call of a bride and groom. Yet in the midst of all of this there is a strand that is so commonly woven throughout my weekdays, editing and keeping up on social media, and my weekends teaching college students and trying to make boring weddings look fun. Everybody wants the same things: to have the most fun, more often, more publicly, with better looking or more influential people, and for all the moments in-between to include a hammock, cocktails (or craft beers), and texts planning the next big moment. The truth is that everybody gets the same things: occasional moments filled with pressure to make it look the best, and long drawn out days of mediocrity doing jobs/work that we feel is the filler in-between amazing lives waiting to happen.

Ugh, maybe it’s just me, but that sounds depressing.

And maybe it’s not true of you. Some people never stop to think about these things. But I know a lot of people feel the pressure to experience something different than what the present is offering them, or be something different than the cross-section of their lives is providing the outside world.

I am one of those people. I feel that pressure. I want to be a household name. Advice about accepting small lots in life have always come to be known by those who have achieved fame. Mother Theresa’s quote about doing small acts with great love is still a quote by Mother Theresa; if Jeff the quiet and awkward janitor said that to a handful of people at a table would it have the same impact? It would be no less true. I have a real desire to be someone taken seriously, and a fear that unless I do amazing things with amazing people I wont get there. And this is often where the bloodiest hymns of my own life are written: ones where I battle my own consistent fight for autonomy. Dying to myself also means dying to the height or longevity of my own name. And that’s the danger of starting with praise rather than lament. We move straight through the largest parts of the human experience, they truly are “exercises in denial” as Walter puts it. We ought to listen to the lament psalms of our community. I learned once we often would rather fix people than sit with people not out of compassion, but out of selfish fear that we can’t actually handle the pain it introduces in our own lives. The pastoral care is to write and find the poetry in the dark corners. Lets ask ourselves:

  • How do we reverse the comfort priority in the liturgy of our communities?
  • In what ways you experience your own Christian life bloodlessly?
  • How do we empower those to make a case for the legitimacy of their lives in the presence of God?
  • If you have a “life-verse” what was the context of suffering it came out of? What was the context of your own life when that verse meant the most?
  • Does your worshipping community know the real you?
  • What blood-filled poetry should the church reincorporate?
Written by Ryan Longnecker

Ryan’s faith has been discovered and rediscovered through loss, insecurity, cancer, failures, and the recovery in community. One of the best church services he says he’s ever seen was an AA meeting. Ryan is a college pastor in Westminster, CA and is both a freelance/portrait photographer/videographer and co-owns a wedding photography business. Ryan is studying Theology at Fuller Seminary and will graduate with an emphasis in biblical studies Spring of 2014. Ryan’s passion is to see a world convinced by certainty and structure participate in the creation by creating. To explore the abstract with the abstract.

Please have a look at Ryan’s work and blogging at:

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