Andrew Root Is in Despair

Andrew Root Is in Despair March 3, 2010
Andrew Root

My good friend and theological colleague, Andrew Root, has a new book out.  I was happy to serve as the general editor on this, his latest project, The Promise of Despair: The Way of the Cross as the Way of the Church.  It really is a great book, and I’m not just saying that.  In it, Andy finds an intersection between Luther’s theologia crucis and the many pockets of despair in our modern existence.

This week, I’m participating in FirstThird, a gathering that is built around a theological conversation between Andy and Kenda Dean.  We’re talking about youth ministry, and I think we’re all finding compelling how Andy continues to pound home this idea that God enters where there is brokenness — and he’s not talking about Haiti or Chile.  He’s talking about the 14-year-old who is cutting herself, or the 16-year-old who just got dumped by his girlfriend.

One of the phrases that Andy uses repeatedly is “place-sharing,” indicating that the primary role of the the youth pastor is to be there, in an adolescent’s presence, when that kid is suffering and in despair.  It reminds me of a powerful passage in Nicholas Wolterstorff’s powerful little book, Lament for a Son,

What do you say to someone who is suffering?…

But please: Don’t say it’s really not so bad. Because it is. Death is awful, demonic. If you think your task as comforter is to tell me that really, all things considered, it’s not so bad, you do not sit with me in my grief but place yourself off in the distance away from me. Over there, you are of no help. What I need to hear from you is that you recognize how painful it is. I need to hear from you that you are with me in my desperation. To comfort me, you have to come close. Come sit beside me on my mourning bench. (pp. 33-34)

Kenda, for her part, put her finger on why youth ministry may be just the spot for such place-sharing.  “Adolescents,” she said, “are acute human beings.”  In other words, she went on, they don’t have all of their defenses built up; “They haven’t had their sharp edges blunted.

The question that nagged the whole group yesterday, however, was how (or if) a youth worker (or anyone, for that matter) puts the name “Jesus” on the comfort that is being offered amidst the despair.  That is, does the motivation for the place-sharing need to be articulated in order for the ministry to be truly redemptive, in a Christian sense?

(For a longer taste, you can read an entire chapter of The Promise of Despair at Abingdon’s site.)

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What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • My insticnt is that we shouldn’t try and label the comforting with Jesus, I think we should label the act of comforting as human and describe how we are being fully human when we are there for someone else. When we are in the midst of anothers despair Jesus will already be there and we should name Jesus as being already present in the suffering and teach how when we’re fully human we’re more aware of the divine.

    ahh man soo refreshing to read this after half an hour of readying why gay’s and fat people shouldn’t be allowed to work in churches at Carlos Whitakers blog – http://www.ragamuffinsoul.com/2010/03/if-a-fat-man-can-lead-a-church/ – is weird that I read his blog as well as yours

  • Debbie

    I believe that for years people have been offering compassion, but not naming the source of their compassion. If we don’t name Jesus in our reaching out, then people just think we’re “nice people” – and they’ve missed the most important part – that it is through Christ that we know God’s love for us and them. That not just we, but God is with them in their suffering. When we name this for them, we open to them a new perspective – a new hope – that they are never alone, and that they are loved by one far greater than any mere human. One who has known suffering, and has overcome it, ultimately for us all.

  • As Wolterstorff implies, the name of “Jesus” (or the impetus behind compassion for the Christian) should not be utilized as a panacea to brokenness. In other words we should not take the stance that is so often taken, “I see you are hurting and I have (theological or psychological) difficulty empathizing or accepting that people hurt, so here is “Jesus,” if you have Him you will be all better, I’ll see you later.”

    I believe we should always be compelled by compassion not by opportunity. Compassion always brings redemption and more importantly allows Jesus room to operate.

    Of course, if the opportunity arises, by all means we should share the name of “Jesus” amidst the despair, but I wouldn’t say “Jesus” needs to be attached to every act of compassion, nor everything else we do in participation with God.

    Great thoughts and comments.

    -Blessings-

  • Pingback: First Third: Theological Dialogues on Youth Ministry « theMatthewMaasblog()

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