Smiles, Sadness and the Silence of God
It's not often that I reblog someone else's piece in its entirety, but this is too good not to... I picked it up through Richard Hall over at Connexions (a great site for picking up material from across the blogsphere when it is not being assailed by Zionists) but it is originally by Ben Myers over on Faith and Theology. Its on a theme I've been touching on a lot recently (clearly my time of life!!!) but it isn't a theme that is covered by many Christian writers. It also mashes well with the song by Andrew Peterson I've posted at the end of the article.
1. The precursor of the human smile was the caveman’s savage grimace (Angus Trumble, A Brief History of the Smile, p. 3). The invention of dentistry is the main difference between this threatening grimace and the polite social convention of the modern smile.
2. In the Protestant West today, smiling has become a moral imperative. The smile is regarded as the objective externalisation of a well ordered life. Sadness is moral failure.
3. The motif of late-capitalist society is the stylisation of happiness, the cultivation of lifestyles from which every trace of sadness has been expunged. Peter Berger identified ‘the Protestant smile’ as part of Protestantism’s cultural heritage in the West. In a Catholic country like France, it is still considered crass to smile too often, or at strangers. Evangelical churchliness is the ritualisation of bare-toothed crassness. Our cultural obsession with health, happiness, and positive thinking is a secularisation of the evangelical church service.
4. The cultural triumph of the smile leaves behind a trail of casualties. Where evangelical churches theologise happiness and ritualise the smile, sad believers are spiritually ostracised. Sadness is the scarlet letter of the contemporary church, embroidered proof of a person's spiritual failure.
5. When the church’s theological rejection of sadness was secularised, sadness became a pathology requiring medical intervention. The medicalisation of sadness is the final cultural triumph of the Protestant smile. If Luther or Kierkegaard or Dostoevsky had lived today, we would have given them Prozac and schooled them in positive thinking. They would have grinned abortively – and written nothing. The truth of sadness is the womb of thought.
6. Somehow the appellation ‘man of sorrows’ attached itself to the church’s memory of Jesus. The sinless humanity of the Son of God was manifest not in happiness or success but in a life of sadness and affliction. Erasing sadness from our culture, we also erase Christ.
7. I know a little boy whose mother had to go away for a few days. When she came home, he cried and told her he had missed her. Touched by his infant sadness, the mother said, ‘It’s nice to be missed’ – and he replied, ‘It’s not nice to miss.’ It is nice to be missed because we learn what love means in the sadness of another. The face that always smiles is the face of a stranger. Love is written on the face of sadness.
8. I know a fellow who was interviewed for ordination in an American denomination. Asked to describe his hope for the church’s future, his eyes filled with tears and he admitted, ‘I don’t know if I have any hope for the church.’ Perplexed by this response, his ecclesiastical interviewers furrowed their brows, scribbled little notes and question-marks, conferred gravely about his fitness for ministry – though they ought to have asked for his prayers, or poured oil on his head, or sat at his feet and made him their bishop.
9. Where sadness is expunged from a culture, the cry for justice falls silent. Johnny Cash carried darkness on his back, refusing to wear bright clothes as long as the world is unredeemed. Why do we dress our priests in black? Are they not in perpetual mourning for a world that is passing away? Is not Christian joy carried out in the shadow of this sadness? In a culture of happiness, it is all the more necessary that our priests continue to wear black, refusing the cheap comfort of bright vestments and the empty promise of the rainbow.
10. At the turn of the millennium, J. G. Ballard wondered how the next generation would perceive the 20th century: ‘My grandchildren are all under the age of four, the first generation who will have no memories of the present century, and are likely to be appalled when they learn what was allowed to take place. For them, our debased entertainment culture and package-tour hedonism will be inextricably linked to Auschwitz and Hiroshima, though we would never make the connection.’ How do we explain the fact that Auschwitz and Hiroshima are immediately succeeded by the cult of happiness and the triumph of the smile? How can it be that the worst century was also the happiest? Our children will interpret our happiness as blindness and self-forgetfulness. We have drugged ourselves against history; sadness is truthful memory.
11.Why are clowns so frightening? Their demonic aura comes from the fact that they never stop smiling. Hell is the country of clowns, where tormented strangers smile at one another compulsively and forever. The devil is the name we give to the Cheshire Cat that is always vanishing just beneath the surface of our world, leaving everywhere sinister traces of a cosmic painted grin. This grin is the secret of history.
12. The Bible promises the end of history and the end of sadness: ‘And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away’ (Rev 21:4). This can be understood as eschatological promise only on the presumption that history is catastrophe, a vale of tears. Sadness is overcome through cosmic redemption. A culture without sadness is a culture without hope. The cure for sadness is God.
I'm off to Dublin now to watch Ireland against Samoa... Hopefully I'll be smiling rather than sad after that...