Tag Archives: postmodern ministry
Oh hey, and we’re done! If you’ve been cowering somewhere in a corner, waiting for this meta- preaching blog series to end, hooray! Almost there!
5. It’s alive.
There is an ongoing debate over whether manuscripts are evil, or whether the pulpit confines the Spirit, and roaming down on the floor is the only way to go. Those are primarily cosmetic, I think.
The important thing to bear in mind is that any good sermon happens as a chemistry experiment between you, the Spirit, the moment and place in time where you are preaching, and the people who hear it. Remove or change one of those elements, and it won’t work.
So you have to go into sermon-prep paying attention to ALL those elements. Not just the ones that seem obvious.
You can’t get so caught up in the intricacies of the text that you forget that the people you’re talking to have to pay bills and go to school and work the next morning. And you can’t get so involved in the grind of daily life that you forget to listen to the text, and the whisper of God.
Your job, as preacher, is to let the elements interact. How does the text speak to people with jobs, to people who have retired? To people whose spouse has just died, or whose parent has just died? To people who have just had a baby or gotten married? To people who have just started at a new school and don’t know anyone, or whose biggest problem is learning fractions?
And how does the text speak to the whole gathered community, in this moment in time? How does this text sound different today, than it did three years ago?
At every point, while reading, while thinking, while writing, and while speaking, you need to leave room for the Spirit. On a practical level, this means that, regardless of whether you use a full manuscript, notes, outline or memorize it, you need to know your sermon well enough that you can be watching your congregation at least 80% of the time. It’s in this watching that the chemistry happens–you’ll know when you need to add something, change something, get louder or softer, in order to keep your audience with you. And it frees you up if you realize halfway through that you need to go in a slightly different direction than you’d planned.
In this way, good preaching is like good liturgy (perhaps good anything)—you should prepare so much in advance that everyone watching assumes that you aren’t trying at all.
6. All you need is love.
I really love preaching. For one thing, I don’t mind public speaking. Not everyone shares this affinity, which I understand. (A priest I knew once told me he still took blood pressure medication before he preached, to help with nerves. He’s a bishop now.)
But more importantly, preaching is an opportunity to talk about something that matters with people you care about each week. That comes from love.
You need to love the people you preach to, or at least, be able to access God’s love for them (if you don’t know them). And you need to love the message you’re telling them, or at least what it will do for your common life.
You can’t give a good sermon out of anger*, or disinterest, or annoyance, or disappointment, or anything else, really. Good sermons come out of being fired up with excitement about how much you like these people, and how much you want to tell them this ONE GREAT THING you’ve discovered. As a preacher, you’re like a kid who worked all day on a finger painting, and all you want to do is show your mom when she comes to pick you up.
That level of excitement.
And that comes only from love.
And once you find that, you’ll be an unstoppable, utterly awesome, preacher.
*I should clarify that: anger, in general, isn’t bad. Anger at injustice has led to some incredible sermons. But it’s always rooted back in profound love for the people you’re serving. Not at them. There’s a big difference.
One day, I will be able to go six months without having to plan a vigil to remember some horrific act of violence. That will be a great day.
That is not this day, however.
NAU Canterbury will be holding a vigil on campus this week (most likely Wednesday, it now appears) to remember those suffering in Boston, as well as those who died in Newtown, and around the country as a result of the violence in our world.
Here’s the liturgy I’ve written for this.
(NOTE: this is the initial draft, and as such, hasn’t been approved by my ecumenical colleagues. So please don’t hold this against them.)
Vigil for Victims of Violence 2013
Opening: (words to this effect: admittedly, I tend to overwrite liturgy)
Leaders: (alternating) We have come here in deep emotion: grief, sorrow and shock. We have come here in anger, frustration, and even numbness. Again and again, in the past few months, we have seen the violence in our world, arriving on our very doorsteps, splashed across our televisions and computers.
What we have witnessed is overwhelming.
As people of faith, we know that God is with us, even now. We know that God is with those who are suffering.
We know these things, even when it is hard to feel that they are true.
And so tonight, we bring our tears and our anguish, our frustration and our fear, and our sense of powerlessness to the God who chose to suffer with this world.
Let us pray.
Holy God, as Mary stood at the foot of the cross, we stand before you with broken hearts and tearful eyes. Keep us mindful that you know our pain, and free us to see your resurrection power already at work in the world around us. In your time, raise us from our grief as you have raised those we’ve lost to eternal life; through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Let us remember those we have lost. As a sign of respect and remembrance, as you read the names given to you, please stand.
Students read the names, alternating.
- For the 28 people killed in Newtown, CT at an elementary school.
- For the many who have died at Virginia Tech, Columbine, and other schools around our country.
- For the six people killed in Tucson, AZ at a grocery store.
- For the thirteen people killed in Aurora, CO at a movie theater
- For the seven people killed in Oak Creek, WI at a Sikh temple
- For the three people killed, and hundreds wounded, at a Boston marathon
- For the thousands who die every day on the streets of Chicago, Detroit, Washington DC, and all of our cities, whose names are known to God alone.
- For hundreds of victims of accidental shootings and stray bullets.
- For victims of domestic violence and abuse.
- For all those left to mourn the dead, and care for the wounded.
- For those so lost and confounded that violence appears to be the best answer.
Leader: For all these named, and for all those we’ve lost that we name now, we pray.
We name the victims we know personally here.
Everyone should be standing now. We observe a period of silence. Then…
Reader 1: Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?…No, in all these things, we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, or rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Reader 2: The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.
Reader 3: Jesus said to his followers:
Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven
Blessed are those who mourn; for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek; for they will inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for justice, for they will be filled.
Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Leader: As people of faith, and as followers of Jesus, this is who we are called to be. This is how we are called to live. Even in a world of violence. Especially in a world of violence. We are called to bear the light of Christ’s peace and illuminate the darkened world around us. We are called to be the helpers.
Let us pray.
Prayer of St. Francis
Lord, make us instruments of your peace. Where there is hatred, let us sow love. Where there is injury, pardon; where there is discord, union; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; where there is sadness, joy. Grant that we may not so much seek to be consoled as to console; to be understood as to understand; to be loved as to love. For it is in giving that we receive; it is in pardoning that we are pardoned; and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.
Let us go forth, to be light for the world, salt for the earth, peacemakers in a troubled time.
And may the blessing of God Almighty, Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer, keep us now and forever in peace.
Someone asked me on Twitter yesterday what the virtue of snark was. I’m not sure what the basis of this question was–there’s been a great amount to snark at recently: the Oscars, the papal election, Lent Madness, and ever-present politics. And just to read Twitter or any Internet outlet is to immerse yourself in the waters of Snark.
But I’ve been pondering the role of snark as of late, and here’s what I’ve come up with. (Expanded greatly from 140 characters.)
Snark: (def) the art of mocking the powerful, the strong, the mighty, and Ideally, also any institution with power, of which you are associated, or a member.
Snark, like the Magnificat, can cast down the mighty and lift up the lowly. It is a way of calling to account something or some one which is acting hypocritically and out of step with its authentic self.
True snark, good snark, always comes from a place of love. Snark is not cynical. Because it’s tough to work up a head of steam to mock something you don’t care about.
And snark never punches down. To wit: people who practice good snark always either mock things they themselves do, or are, or things imbued with more power than they. (Herein lies the distinction between plain denigrating and snarking. And I do think there is a distinction.)
And I have this theory that the current prevalence of snarkiness comes from two places:
1. Snark is a filter. When you can make a joke about something, you are communicating that a.) you understand it on a deeper-than-superficial level and b.) you understand that the phenomenon cannot be taken just at face value.
This is why I agree with those (like genius smart-person Meredith Gould) who say that snark is a generational marker. For those of us who have grown up on the Information Superhighway, information overload is a way of life. You grow up in a world where you are plugged in to every event, every moment of every day. Not only does your phone tell you instantaneously every move Kim Kardashian makes, you also get to know what every news analyst thinks about said development. Brave New World, folks.
So to filter out what to take at face value, what to trust, and what you can’t trust (I.e., most things) snark has become a fall back. It’s a shibboleth, a password indicating that we recognize that we’re watching a performance, an agenda of some sort. So the primary targets of snark are those who somehow aren’t being authentic– the powerful of all stripes: celebrities, politicians, the news, poseurs….and in many cases, the Church. (We should work on this. Separate blog post.)
So for this reason, young people today are highly snarky. Not out of disrespect, but because it helps filter the world.
2. But also, snark creates intellectual distance. I said before that I don’t think snark is cynical, for the most part. Call me crazy (I’ll wait….) but snark actually forestalls cynicism. YES! It’s true.
I shall give an example:
This year, the Oscars made some confounding directorial decisions (hiring Seth McFarland to host was but one of their many missteps). At one point, Quentin Tarantino won an Oscar for Best Screenplay for “Django Unchained.” Which: awesome! I really liked that movie, and the script was brilliant. I could write a dozen treatises on race relations in that movie, and his use of soundtrack alone.
But they played him off to what song?
“Tara’s Theme,” from Gone with the Wind.
Now, I could take to this here blog, and write a thesis on race relations in Hollywood, and the travesty behind the making of GWTW, and how it simultaneously was a step forward and like, 3 back for Black Hollywood, and how Hattie McDaniels wasn’t even allowed to attend the premiere, and she couldn’t even write her own Oscar acceptance speech, and how that movie came to crystalize EVERYTHING that we believe, falsely, the antebellum slavery experience to be, which is why, in part, movies like Django are so needed, and so controversial when they do come out, and really, did they REALLY want to dredge all of that up again and undermine his award with a song clip in a mere 30 seconds, and MAKE MY HEAD EXPLODE WITH IRONY?!?!.
But then, I’d sound like a ranting lunatic.
So I posted something VERY snarky on Twitter. (And man, did it ever get retweeted.)
You can’t fight all the battles, with a serious memo and letter to the editor. You cannot lead a marching protest every single time some company doesn’t live up to their promises. You can’t call out all the craziness, or the irony, or the hypocrisy, and it piles up and piles up, especially right now. You can’t. It will suck all the fire out of you, and you will end up rocking gently back and forth in the corner, singing “I’m a Little Teapot.”
In order to fight some of the battles, and fight them well, you have to learn to preserve your fire, and your drive, and to do that, you have to keep some distance. Make some jokes. Mock
In the these two weeks, I will have gone all over the state of Arizona, on the never-ending Begging Tour of 2013 (theme: “Don’t let college students be homeless!”)
Sunday, I was in Prescott, where I’ve been before, many times. St Luke’s is a lovely parish, gorgeous campus, right by the airport. This prompted my board president to offer to buzz the church in his plane, and drop brochures from 5,000 feet. (“It would be different!”)
Here’s what I said.
Note: some of this was partially inspired by what Nouwen wrote on the use of power, but I went in a different direction, and spun it very differently– at least differently from the way I’ve heard Nouwen’s on Christian Leadership interpreted.
Rev. Megan L. Castellan
February 17, 2013
Lent 1, Year C
Nike is very good at marketing. These ads that Nike makes, they are iconic. Usually a close up on the athete’s face with their voice playing in the background, talking about their triumph over adversity, and their achievement of some great sports goal. And it works because Nike is good at picking the best athletes of their day: people like Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, Mark McGuire. We get to watch these ads and think about how perfect and magical these people are, and thus, how probably Nike products helped make them that way, so we should probably buy Nike things. These are really effective ads.
Or they are, right up until the athlete in question gets caught doing something that they shouldn’t, and the ad becomes really uncomfortable to watch. Like Lance Armstrong–whose Nike ad had him talking about how the only ‘thing’ he was on was his bike! And lots of hard work! And that’s why he was the best! Til of course, it turned out that he was on a heck of a lot more than that.
Or, this week, when Oscar Pistorius, the South African runner, who was arrested for murder after shooting his girlfriend. His Nike VoiceOver included him saying “I’m a bullet in a loaded gun.” Whoops.
The thing that make these ads so powerful is the same thing that makes them so problematic–each of them constructs a single arc out of the superstar athlete’s life. They struggle, they overcome, they win, and all through lots of determination and will (and really super-expensive running shoes), but it’s all them. It’s all Lance Armstrong, and it’s all Michael Jordan, or it’s all Tiger Woods. There’s no mention of anyone else coaching, or any teammates, or a random caddy. It’s all about them.
What an extraordinary amount of power for one person to have.
No wonder they keep falling short of what we expect them to be.
Power is a difficult thing for us humans to deal with– those of us who have a little and those of us who have a lot. And all of us have some power. You get up in the morning, you decide to get out of bed– that’s power. You decide what to eat for breakfast, or not to eat breakfast at all– power again. Anytime you make a decision, you’re exercising some amount of power. Now, sometimes, the spectrum of the decision is wider than at other times; when I leave here this afternoon, and I decide where to eat lunch, I will decide between local restaurants, and not decide to fly to California. My power does not extend that far. But for some, it does.
And power is complicated, because these decisions we make come with consequences. They ripple out, Iike throwing a rock into a pond, in ways big and small. So the power we wield is never just affecting us; it always affects the people around us too.
And that’s what makes power difficult and oh so tempting. You can use the power you have to just make your life easier, better, less complicated. If you’re a world-famous cyclist, yes, you can take performance enhancing drugs and win all the races, and avoid the shame of losing. But that decision, each decision will affect more people than just yourself, all the coaches, the other competitors, the people who looked up to you, the charities. When Lance Armstrong fell, it nearly killed his cancer charity too. And see, we forget all that, when we get tempted by the dark side of power. All we see are the benefits to ourselves.
That’s what the devil is on about when he’s tempting Jesus in the wilderness. The devil shows up as Jesus is fasting out in the desert for 40 days and 40 nights, which is biblespeak for “he was out there a good long while”. So poor Jesus is in quite a state by the time the devil shows up.
In succession, the devil gives Jesus three very tempting opportunities to use his considerable power. First, he asks him to magic up some food for himself. Failing that, he wants Jesus to worship the devil and thus get all the glory and authority over all the nations for himself. When that doesn’t work, he suggests that Jesus throw himself off of the pinnacle of the temple in Jerusalem, and make God send his angels to catch him.
Jesus doesn’t give in to any of these. But what’s notable about these temptations of the devil is that they’re all about the use of power. They’re all about choice.
Jesus will do miracles multiplying bread– this is something he has no objection to doing, but he won’t do it here, even though he’s hungry, because it’s for himself alone. It’s using his power to fulfill his own needs alone.
He’s clearly fine with crowds listening to him preach and coming to him for healing and waving palms for him, that’s something we see from him later on– but again, he won’t accept glory and honor here, because it would be for himself alone.
And we will even see him walk on water later, rather than climb into the boat with the disciples. But here, he doesn’t elect to jump off the temple, because it would be choosing to use who he was, all his power, for its own sake.
In each case, when the devil asks Jesus to make a choice to use the power he has for himself, Jesus says no. Jesus chooses to use his power differently, radically differently. He could have, but he didn’t.
At every point in his life, Jesus chose to use his power not for himself, but he chose to use his power for others. And in fact, right after he leaves the wilderness, Jesus heads to Nazareth and announces just how he intends to lead his life. “The Lord has anointed me to bring good news to the poor, sight to the blind, release to the captives, to declare the day of the Lord’s favor.”
For the rest of his life, Jesus would use all the power he had only, ONLY, in the service of others, and not for his own needs alone.
And so God calls us. Because we all have power too. And we are all called to use it– did you notice that at no point during that Scriptural shouting match in the desert did Jesus just say to Satan “well, I just can’t do that.” We all have power, to some degree. The question is, how will we use it?
What choices will we make? Will we make choices guided primarily by our own needs, by what serves us best, unconcerned about what the consequences are for others? But from the Garden of Eden on, making choices based on selfishness has never ended well.
Or will we follow Jesus’s example, and use our power to serve others, and build them up? Will we be mindful of how the choice we make today ripples out and affects those who surround us and those who come after us?
God has enabled each one of us with gifts and talents and then God has empowered us with the power to choose. We can choose what we do with what we have been so freely given.
Will we be tempted to live for ourselves alone, even when we know the destruction that ultimately causes?
Or will we follow in the path of Jesus, and try to use what we have, every choice we make, to the glory of God and for the good of God’s creation?
This power is ours. The choice is ours. God gives it to us. The only question is, what will we do with it?
Part 2: Some Trust in Chariots, Some in Horses, Some in Semi-Automatics.
Right now, there is approximately 1 gun to every man, woman and child in America. That is an astounding number. We are a remarkably well-armed nation.*
That’s especially impressive/confusing when you consider that we are also the richest nation in the world. We have the best trained military and police force in the world. We have roads, bridges and sewers. We have telephones and an emergency response service. Our police force is civilian-based, and not known worldwide for corruption, nor is our justice system. We haven’t been invaded in quite a while, nor have we had a recent civil war.
In fact, we haven’t had a military action on our soil in quite a while, nor have we had a significant breakdown in infrastructure that led to widespread looting and chaos, and deployment of troops against civilians.
It is actually fairly boring here right now, civil unrest-wise; even the murder rate has been dropping for the past several years.
Also, according to many reputable sources, Red Dawn was made up.
And all of this leads to the question– when you buy a gun, when you buy an AR-15, the best selling weapon in the nation, that can shoot 6 rounds a second, what, precisely, are you afraid of? When you take a gun into a Starbucks, into a bar, into a church, into a school, when you insist that you need to keep guns around small children because that’s the only way they can be safe, what is it that are you afraid of?**
It is this question of fear that is theologically central. Because we are people who believe in God, a God who repeats over and over that there is one God, and no other, and believing in God means restricting yourself to that one particular god, and putting all your faith, trust, and eggs in that particular divine basket. (See Exodus 20:2, for starters). You don’t get to hedge your bets. You don’t get backups. Trust is trust.
When Moses is talking to God at the Red Sea, and sees the Egyptians approaching, he does not shrewdly arm the Israelites “just in case” the whole parting the Sea thing fails. He does not assemble them into a fighting force. (I doubt it would have worked, anyway.) He tells them “Do not be afraid. Stand firm, and see the deliverance of the Lord. For the Egyptians that you see today, you will never see again. The Lord your God will fight for you, and you have only to keep still.” (Exodus 14:13-14).
Trust! Don’t be afraid! God is with you, and God is enough.
When Jesus is sending forth the seventy apostles to preach, teach and heal, he doesn’t sugar-coat the danger to the volunteers. Many people won’t like you, he offers. You will annoy many whom you speak to. (Jesus! Unrecognized master of the understatement.) In fact, he continues, some of you will be dragged before courts and killed because of me. (Excellent at recruiting speeches, also, was Jesus.)
And so, for this journey, for this riskiest of ventures, you should pack…. nothing. No protection, no extra tunic, no additional money. No weapon. They are to preach to everyone, be kind to everyone, spread the gospel to everyone, and not to worry about those who won’t receive it, only wipe off their dust (Luke 9,10). Rely exclusively on the kindness of strangers, and the grace of God.
Trust in God. God is with you, and whatever happens, that is enough.
Again and again. Throughout the scriptures, this is what we hear. Trust in God and God alone, and that will be enough. Now, at no point is the danger of the world whitewashed either– the Bible is very violent, and lots of people die in lots of horrible ways. But over and over we hear that the best way, the only faithful way to deal with the unfathomable nature of this world, is to trust in God alone for ultimate security. And nothing else. (“He who lives by the sword” and all that.)
So it says something quite profound and disturbing about us if we, on the one hand, profess faith in the Christ who taught us to carry nothing on our journey, save a trust in the grace of God, and at the same time, function in the world as if nothing but a trusty gun will save us.
Either we trust in God or we don’t.
Either we have decided to live by the sword (and take the consequences thereof) or we have decided to trust in God.
And if we are people of faith, then we should put our living where our professing is.
* This according to gunpolicy.org, a nonpartisan site from the University of Australia. There are roughly 88.8 guns owned privately per 100 people in the US, as of 2007. Not counting military weapons. (According to all evidence, firearm sales skyrocketed in the years since 2007, so consider this ratio increased.)
**Related to this, but not, is the issue of the crisis of an increasingly insane definition of masculinity. And if you’ve seen the ads that Bushmaster ran to advertise the AR-15, you’ll understand. We need to have a discussion allowing men to be men, in ways that don’t revolve around violence, subjugation, and killing stuff. I’m not sure I feel called to take this on at the moment, but it’s a discussion that needs having.
A day or two after the shootings in Newtown, Richard Land, head of the Southern Baptist Convention, was interviewed on NPR. Robert Siegel asked him, “What is the New Testament justification for owning a gun?”
There was a lengthy pause, and then, in the cadence of a question, Land replied, “Do unto others as you would have them do to you?” He went on to say that in his view, Christians had a duty to defend their neighbors from attacks, dealing out lethal force, if necessary. For this reason, owning guns was justified. The better to do unto others.
I’m going to set aside the fact that there are several holes in this theological framework. (Jesus, for one, rather glaring, example. And who, exactly are “the others” in that phrase, for another.)
Rather, it’s become clear to me that as the nation increasingly coalesces around the idea of controlling its supply of guns, we need some theology for this. Is there some theology we can construct around this, other than reciting lines from the West Wing? Because as people of faith who are not Richard Land, we need to give reasons for what we are doing.*
At least, I’d like to hammer out a theology behind this. So for my edification, I’ve written a multi-part theology of why we might want to have gun control in America. This is part 1. Part 2 will come later this week.
First, let’s start with the place of honor guns hold in America. One of the arguments that has been circulating for a while now is that guns are untouchable, because of culture! And History! Particularly in the South and in the West, and in places where people hunt, and places where there is lots of sport, and in places where are men… So that’s pretty much all of the US right there.
Guns are an important part of America, quoth this line of thought. Citizen militias are how we defeated the British, and how we won the frontier, and manifested our destiny all over the place. They are enshrined in the Constitution in their very own amendment. They represent our freedom as much as the flag. And for these reasons, even as we might want to restrict guns, it’s pointless! Because they are too ingrained.
Now, ignoring the really problematic reading of American, and judicial, history that crops up here, let’s attack this with theology.
Just because a thing is American, does not make it Christian. Just because a thing is in the Constitution, does not make it Christian. (In fact, the suggestion of very much of an overlap would probably make the Founders roll in their graves, deists as they mostly were.)
As an example, recall the Constitutional procedure for calculating the representation in the House as it originally was: “the whole number of free persons, plus those bound to service for a period of years, …and 3/5ths the number of all other persons.” (Article I, Section 2)
Now, just who do you suppose they were talking about, with that “all other persons” stuff? We enshrined slavery in the Constitution until after the Civil War. We enshrined male-only suffrage until the 1920s. Neither one of those things represents the values espoused by Jesus.
The Constitution remains a document in progress. This country and its culture, and the world itself, remain a work in progress, and hopefully God will give us enough sense so we can keep learning from our mistakes.
More importantly, though. As Christians, we’re called to live in the ” already/not yet”, as outposts of the reign of God. It’s a bad idea to enshrine any status quo as God’s reign arrived, because, unless I missed something major on Dec 21, Jesus hasn’t shown back up yet. It is perfectly all right to question the culture.
In fact, as resident aliens, that’s our job. We are supposed to question things, and kick the tires of this world a bit. We are supposed to recognize that this world is broken, and in a state of ongoing messy redemption. And our call is to see the messiness, the brokenness for what it is, and to try to help heal it as Christ’s hands in the world. Not just stamp everything with a cross and call it good.
Next time: In what do you trust, and why does it matter?
*Cribbed Sorkin dialogue works great in most, if not all, circumstances. But in this case, let’s face it, we need more.