An attempted glance into a deep well.
In Christianity, there is and always has been a tension between suffering and victory. Depending on the era, it has been explained away as the fault of the body (true, but not sufficient) or the Fall (true, not particularly helpful in a practical sense). This world sucks. You don't have to be religious to agree that there are things going on that would break your heart if you thought about them for too long. The tension, then, exists in the moment before the brokenness. In the last few years, I've become convinced that this tension not only exists in the stories we listen to, but the stories we tell.
While there is certainly the possibility of reveling in brokenness and confession devolving into bragging, I want to move on from that and look to the difficulty of telling a good story, or living a good life, or talking about the good news. Generally, it is a messy practice that does not provide any clear-cut answers as to "why" this or that happened. In a broken world, things break, and in a beautiful world, brokenness is not meaningless. There is a temptation to make the brokenness disappear, not by cure, but by silence. That's a bad idea.
More importantly, this is a wholly practical concern. If Christian artists lie about their pain, they are doing a disservice to those who experience their creation. If the ugly parts of life are left out, they have lied more thoroughly than those who adjust names and dates, or create whole new characters. In looking through my iTunes library, I've noticed an almost aggressive movement toward this kind of discussion, whether confessional (such as all of Out of the Badlands by Aaron Gillespie or Forget and Not Slow Down by Relient K) or not (such as much of Switchfoot's music released after 2010). Books are no exception: Gilead, Death Comes for the Archbishop, and much of Toni Morrison's work plays along the same theme.
Here's the baffling thing: when this kind of public questioning and crumbling is done well and empathetically, it is well-received across the board. Pretending perfection is dangerous. It is also pointless, because no one believes the veneer. I'm not sure why its preached, or encouraged. I'm not sure why everyone knows what nobody says. I suspect it is pride, or else shame, that is passed off as righteousness, rather than insidious, deadly sins. I am certain I am proud.
I know what this means for the poetry, songs, and fiction I write, but I am still working out what this means for the life I live. There is a level of openness that is missing in the world, a striving after the wind that seems like a lot of work with no results. I wish I had more answers. I don't.
What I do know is that the Good News has always been tangled up with bad news. Depending on where you stop the Christmas story, it ends with a massacre of children followed by possibly divinely enacted regicide. We do an immense disservice to the world when we do not tell real stories. If it was right to cut out the bad part, the painful, embarrassing, naked part, we would not know that, on the cross, Christ called out, "my God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" This may be the least popular, but still necessary, of the Lord's Prayers.
There is joy in the morning, but there is sorrow in the night. There may be little else we can do but speak of what happens in the night, do what we can to relieve it, and when necessary, raise a great cry for what was lost in the injustice and the time between promise and fulfillment.