“How long will you turn your face away?”
Lamentations, the latest release from forward-thinking music collective Bifrost Arts, encourages Christians to make room in their worship for lament and sadness, and it gives what it encourages. Few things could be a better balm for the modern church.
I know plenty of album reviews start off with some sort of hyperbolic claim to revolutionary greatness. But practically and realistically, this album has the potential to set a new tack for the musical worship of an unsettled generation.
Our ability (as the American church) to lament has been stunted for at least the duration of my short lifetime, but probably for much longer than that. And why? Some might argue that our widespread comfort and economic security provides little opportunity for lamentation. But I don’t buy that. The wealthy and comfortable have their fair share of worry and despair. I expect, instead, that our unprecedented inability (or unwillingness) to lament is based on a poor understanding of what the Christian life actually looks like.
In 2007, the Barna group surveyed Christians of all ages on what priorities they, as Christians, pursued in terms of their personal faith. The answers were not prompted—survey respondents came up with answers on their own. The result?
“‘Being good’ is the primary way we define what being a Christian is all about,” says David Kinnaman. Of course we are called to remain unstained by the world, and a genuine faith will certainly produce good works. Nevertheless, if we continue to propagate a Christianity that sees “doing good things” as our saving grace, instead of sinners placing their faith in a good God, we will continue to churn out worship that refuses to acknowledge our doubt, sin, and despair.
More on this study can be found at the end of this review, but suffice it to say, I think we avoid lamentation because it is awkward, unusual, and embarrassing. Imagine your worship leader singing an original song of confession like the ones found in Psalm 22 and 32. I am sure it would be quite a strange and rare event in your church. This absolutely must change.
Along with their album, Bifrost Arts released an excellent video on the place of lament in the church:
Aside from the unfortunately rare subject matter of Lamentations, I want to quickly mention the unprecedented way this project has been introduced to the world. This album was homegrown, quietly published, and designed to be adopted by congregations. It’s a realistic, practical, service-oriented project.
Bifrost Arts doesn’t even have a dedicated website, despite their previous album Come O Spirit being ranked by Christianity Today as the #4 album of 2009. They have nothing more than a humble bandcamp page. And honestly, at the end of the day, you really don’t need much more than that to do great things through excellent music.
Most of the recordings for Lamentations were done “in several makeshift locations using Isaac’s home recording equipment in November 2015 and February 2016.” The production isn’t groundbreaking. In fact, it’s something of a step back from what Bifrost did prior to this album in He Will Not Cry Out. But this spartan approach is understandable, considering the heavy content of the album. No frills needed. And it works, aside from a few minor production issues.1
I encourage you to stream and download this album, which can be done here: https://bifrostartsmusic.bandcamp.com/
And if you like it, you’ll probably appreciate their previous album, which can be found on the same site: https://bifrostartsmusic.bandcamp.com/album/he-will-not-cry-out-2
More from that Barna study:
The fact that lifestyle is the most common priority of Christians suggests a related difficulty: the temptation to give a false pretense of holiness. When avoiding sin is the main concern and is not balanced by other important priorities of faith, it sets up the conditions in which we project a got-it-together image.
The evidence that born-again Christians prioritize “avoiding sin” is compelling. First, realize that most Americans believe you can earn a place in Heaven if you do enough good things for others or if you are a decent person. One-third of people who qualify as born-again Christians embrace this idea as well. That is, even among people that are personally being saved by faith in Jesus, they think of salvation as a multiple-choice test, with many reasonable possibilities: while they believe their own spiritual destiny is secure through faith in Christ, they also believe that others could be saved through being a good person or because of God’s benevolence. (Kinnaman, David and Lyons, Gabe. UnChristian: what a new generation really thinks about Christianity… and why it matters [Baker Books: Grand Rapids, Michigan. 2007.])
- On the second track, “Rise Up,” the vocals cut through a bit more than is comfortable, at least for me. On the eighth track, “Come Light,” there is an ear-piercing ringing that lasts for a good 30 seconds. It’s possible that these unpleasantnesses were intentional, but they seem like oversights. ↩