Thursday, August 09, 2012

This preaching thing

This is a piece for all my preaching colleagues, all the folks -- both lay and ordained -- who get into a pulpit or in some other way come before a gathered community and attempt to say something meaningful.

Each Sunday at the Thomas Jefferson Memorial Church - Unitarian Universalist in Charlottesville, Virginia there is a time during our offering when folks are invited to text and tweet and update their FB statuses as a way to reach out to those not in the room with us.  Yes, folks are encouraged to go digital -- we consider it another expression of the offering. 

This past Sunday, here's part of what I wrote on our FaceBook page:

"This preaching thing is not always easy . . ."

It's not always easy, is it preaching pals?
This past week, for example, I had an idea, a vision, of what I wanted the sermonic exploration to feel like.  And it just wouldn't come.  I tried several different approaches, and each time I hit a new wall.  I just couldn't bring into existence what was so intangibly present in my head.

One of the elements I was weaving into the homiletic tapestry was the anniversary of Philippe Petit's legendary 1974 high wire walk between the Twin Towers in New York City.  Watching the film Man on Wire again I was reminded that Monsieur Petit and his accomplices had made an attempt to stage le coup once earlier, before that incredibly August day.  They tried, but they weren't ready.  They couldn't get the vision grounded enough (and, yes, that pun was intended), couldn't create what they could see, and, so, they postponed.  That's what I did this past Sunday -- postponed the experience I so want to create for a time when I'm really ready to do it.
This preaching thing is not always easy.

In the days since I have had another reflection on why this vocation of preaching can be so difficult.  I was listening to the incredibly Playing for Change CD Songs Around the World.  One of the tracks is a really lovely choral interpretation of the Bono/Bob Dylan song "Love Rescue Me."  The second verse really jumped out at me:

Many strangers have I met / on the road to my regret . . .

Okay, maybe that one doesn't really resonate all that much.  At least the "road to my regret" part.  But doing this ministry thing I have met a whole lot of folks who were strangers to me, at least when we met.  That's a part of it all, isn't it?  We who preach put ourselves out there in front of folks we know and folks we don't.  And even the folks we know may be in some place that's different for them this week than we've known them before.  And as Woody Allen's character said in The Front, "can we ever say we really know anybody?"

Many lost who seek to find themselves in me . . .
There was a parishioner in the first congregation I served who said this nicely.  "Clergy," he said, "are walking rorschach tests on which people project their feelings about religion."  Over time, of course, we cease being such strangers to our congregations, and they to us.  We get to know one another.  And, yet, it's honest to admit that there's a whole lot of projection going on . . . again, in both directions.  People look at their preacher and see not only her or him but also what we want them to be; what we think they should be; what all of our previous exposures to preachers, and church, and religion lead us to expect of them.  Folks see to find themselves in our sermons.

They ask me to reveal / The very thoughts they would conceal . . .
And this might be the hardest part of all.  The Rev. Ken Patton once wrote a sermon titled "The Prostitution of the Clergy."  He said that preachers are, in some ways at least, like prostitutes who, he noted, sell something precious -- their bodies and their sexuality -- for money.  Clergy, he said, sell something precious as well -- their spiritual lives.  The song hadn't been written yet, of course, but I think Patton would have agreed with Bono -- our congregations often ask us to reveal the very thoughts that they, themselves, would rather not express out loud, they ask us to go places, to look at things, that they would rather avoid.

This preaching thing is not always easy.

Love rescue me
 And that's the prayer, isn't it?  When overwhelemed by the enormity of the task, it does us well to look to that spirit of love, that spirit of life, which both holds us close and sets us free.  This preaching thing is not always easy, but it is so worthwhile.

In Gassho,


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