Designer Despair - it's hip to be "sad"

I’ve been reading M. Craig Barnes book, Searching for Home: Spirituality for Restless Souls. Barnes is one of my favorite authors – great thought provoking prose.

Last night I was reading a chapter on our “nomadic” society – Barnes does an excellent job tracing the history of “settlers,” “exiles” and “nomads” and how all three groups have viewed home, life, heaven and God.

In describing the nomad, who worships the “search” for life, more than the giver of life or the destiny, Barnes says that only peoples’ experiences along with the plurality of externally imposed identities, define them. This of course leads to confusion and more unsettled wandering. They consume jobs, people, and goods in search of finding and defining themselves and respond to a tyranny of the quest for more extreme experiences as well as all to the voices that voraciously compete demand their time, money and resources.

A forlorn chaos is the result. In the midst of it all, the contemporary postmodern cultural voices “are trying to make this sadness, ‘cool’” (p. 59). Barnes says that NY Times essayist, Michiko Kakutani has called it “designer despair.” It’s hip to be sad.

I have to ask, “Isn’t the emerging church doing the same thing?” By constantly focusing on our brokenness, we almost worship our deficiencies (and the experiences that have caused them) more than the God who redeems and heals them. I would almost say, it has become “vogue” to be broken – to talk about it, sing about it, write about it, and live in it. I’ve done that: “If God is close to the brokenhearted, then maybe I’ll stay there so that at least he’s near.” How co-dependent is that?

Why do we never seem to get beyond our brokenness to victory? Why do we never seem to find the spirit of “power, love and self-discipline,” not to mention the power of the resurrection. (Are we afraid of looking like the “scary Christian TV” guys and gals…probably…)

It’s almost like we enjoy dawdling in this theology of brokenness. With an Eeyore view of life, our ongoing failures and failed attempts to follow Jesus, seem more justified. We have less to be ashamed of because, “We’re all broken.” Yes, and then we pat each other on the back extending a hand of “grace.” In AA they don’t just sit there and say, “We’re all drunks” and pat each other on the back, drink their stale coffee, and go home. Saying “we’re all drunks” or “I have been abused” is a step toward healing – but too often, in the church, we stop there.

Furthermore, being “authentic” in our brokenness seems to be worshiped in many churches. I hear all the time that an authentic community is what this generation wants – it’s their attempt to create a space (like Phoebe, Monica, Rachel, Ross, Joey and Chandler did on the TV show, Friends) that is the closest copy of what heaven on earth might be like. I’m not knocking authentic community, it’s an awesome place of rest and hope. But it is meant to instill a far more compelling vision of God as the Author and Perfector of our faith and meaning of life. Apart from Him we have no good thing – we are no good thing – we return to “dust” and stay there. But with Him – and He with us - that is our greatest asset.

When brokenness is vogue and authentic community is the highest goal, our churches become impotent. Yes, the Bible is riddled with broken, imperfect people whom God used. Neither brokenness, nor admitting our brokenness, is bad. But a “designer despair” that loiters on the fringes in order to define our identity, rather than acknowledging the redeemed belovedness of the core, has us moping around with our hands in our pockets, kicking stones, looking for handouts or some menial entertainment because we are so incredibly bored.

Kudos to the church being real – full of tattooed, pierced and coffee toting congregants. Kudos to honesty – that allows us to not feel pressured to fake our piety and pretend to be more spiritual than we are. But if we don’t soon broaden our vision to include the Redeemer and the new life he bestows, our emerging churches will only become one more stop on the nomadic journey toward home. We aren’t fully satisfied to stay in brokenness, so we move to something, somewhere, or someone else (or some other self-constructed theology) in order to construct a more compelling validation of our broken existence.

Broken yes.

Don’t stop there.

Redeemed. Cracked pots – jars of clay, restored, renewed, with new life and resurrection power. Why am I not hearing this?