I woke up this morning reflecting on my evening last night. Karla and I made our annual pilgrimage to Cincinnati to see our favorite musical group, Over The Rhine, with another couple involved with simple church planting in the northern part of Kentucky. Over The Rhine is the husband and wife duo of Lindford Detweiler and Karin Berquist. In over 20 years of making music together, the couple has compiled multiple albums including three Christmas offerings they refer to as “reality Christmas” records.
If you know me, then you know that I tend to be a pretty positive and upbeat person. That is why I always find it odd that the sad songs at their shows are usually the ones that stick with me. Last night was no exception.
Probably my favorite song was an incredibly sad song about the pain of visiting a father’s grave at Christmas time. You can listen to “My Father’s Body” on their latest the album “Blood Oranges in the Snow.”
This song is so sorrowful, yet I love to listen to it. I have never lost a parent. The thought of such a loss is something I do not even want to imagine, yet this is one of my favorite “Christmas” songs. How do I make sense of this?
While discussing this with Karla this morning, we were reminded of an article on the Circe Institute–a website devoted to classical education. The article, entitled “Why Broken Stories Matter” by Dane Bundy, a teacher at Cornerstone Academy in Morristown, TN, excellently explains why stories of tragedy are so important to read and consider.
Over the past couple of years, I’ve come to realize that broken stories may serve an important purpose: they affirm what it’s like to live in a fallen world. Often it is the righteous who suffer and the wicked who prosper, and some people never experience a happy ending.
However, broken stories may stir significant questions.
– Why did the villain win? What did the villain want? Is there hope the villain will ever find redemption? Why is this character the villain?
– Why did the hero fail? What did the hero want? Is there hope the hero may conquer the villain? Why is this character the hero?
…Good literature asks questions like these, questions that apply to my students, but also to you and me, and, for that matter, all who are human.
Storytellers have a high calling: to tell the truth. They turn their backs on their craft when they sugar-coat or misrepresent what takes place in the world. The author of Judges, and the author of every book in the Bible, fulfills this high calling. Because of this, when we read Scripture, we read about murder, rape, depression, persecution, and betrayal.
The Bible does not sugar-coat, because God always tells the truth: our world is a broken one. If you are human, you are broken. If you are human, you will never attain perfection. Left alone, we will never muster a happy story. It’s true: evil will always win.
My students must hear this. I must hear this.
If I don’t listen, I will never understand what’s about to come next: God became man and carried our burden of brokenness. Indeed, it was so heavy, it broke the god-man in the most violent fashion. But, after three days, God delivered justice, destroying evil in blinding glory. God made it clear: the only way to wholeness is through the god-man. This is the good news.
Over The Rhine’s “reality Christmas songs” tell the truth. While sometimes sad, they are refreshing to hear in a world and season that takes “sugar-coating” to ridiculous levels.
I leave you with another favorite from the evening, their closing song “All My Favorite People”…
“Orphaned believers, skeptical dreamers step forward, you can stay right here. You don’t have to go.”