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What if the church offers accompaniment?

Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds have a song called “Jesus Alone” that I really can’t recommend for everyone. Whether you know who Cave is or not doesn’t matter. He wrote this song in the time after the death of his 15-year-old son, and it’s heart breaking.

Mike Denton Conference Minister Comments

In the trailer produced for the whole album, he asks, “What happens when an event occurs that is so catastrophic that your just change?... So that when you look at yourself in the mirror, you recognize the person that you were, but the person inside the skin is a different person.”

When I listen to it, what I hear is not a healing song that, in and of itself, pulls you out of the depths or gives you a sense of comfort but a song that names that prolonged sense of sadness and grief that comes into almost every life when we lose people we love; or make the kind of mistakes that seem to put us in a negativity feedback loop; or have what we thought was a good thing turn out to be a bad thing; or are told, and internalize, the message that we are somehow awful; or experience one of those thousand other experiences, devoid of light, that are some of the harder parts about being human.

“You believe in God, but you get no special dispensation for this belief now,” says one line in the last verse of the song. “You’re a distant memory in the mind of your creator, don’t you see?” says another. This song is not a fountain of hope.


Then, the refrain rolls around. The first part of it is simply a repeat of a phrase that came before it: “With my voice, I am calling you” but then, in between this repeated line comes the words, “Let us sit together until the moment comes” followed by “Let us sit together in the dark until the moment comes.”

I don’t know what Cave meant here for sure. I don’t get the sense, from what he said previously, that this is meant as a means of offering of one-sided accompaniment as much as one hurting person reaching out to a world of hurting people so that, at the very least, they can be hurting people together.

The offer is not to heal the reasons for another person’s pain.  It’s a simple suggestion and request to not have this mutual experience of pain be compounded by loneliness.

I’ve been writing a lot about loneliness and isolation the last couple of years. I presented a lot of reasons for doing so in last month’s article but, simply put, we’re in times when more people than ever are saying they’re lonely, and I believe the church has a special role in addressing this reality.

That said, one of the mistakes the church has made has been suggesting it is an antidote to the world’s problems.

We’ve gotten in a consumer mindset that looks for the problems of the world so that we can offer a hope filled solution that, regardless of our good intentions, has the assumption of success that is defined by new members; problem > solution > product > profit.

This is more than we can honestly offer and, as we’ve been discovering for the last 50 years, more than we can sustain.

What if, instead of naming healing as something we can offer, we requested and offered a kind of accompaniment that included prayer, potlucks, bible study, ritual, making music together, and volunteer opportunities?

What if we requested and offered the company of people who were interested in being present with others who were so isolated that they had no one in their life who was willing to share their food with them? No one visiting them in prison? No one to hear about the hurting that comes before healing?

What if we recognized that this was a need of not just a person but a community? What would that sort of church look like?


Pacific NW United Church News - copyright © January-March 2019



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