There is a particular authority that comes from privilege. When a white man steps into the place where he belongs, he has an internal power with which he was born. He is entitled. Like royalty, he sits on the throne naturally, because that place is caught in his blood. But an entirely different power emerges from women who have been told that they are not allowed to speak in church—and suddenly rise behind the pulpit. Something flares up from deep inside of them, and when they have a safe space, the words can come out of them with force and fury.
At a reception to launch a new collection of Lucille Clifton’s poems (The Collected Poems of Lucille Clifton 1965-2010), the editor of the volume, Kevin Young, described coming across a folder in Clifton’s archives at Emory University. The folder had been labeled “Unpublished Poems.” That label had been scratched out and replaced by something like, “Poems that really aren’t that good and should probably just be thrown away someday.” That label too had been scratched out and replaced with “Bad poems.”
Whenever I preached a dense sermon or used too many references, a missionary friend would gently remind me to proclaim the gospel simply.
People are surrounded by dehumanizing forces and discouraging lies. Preachers should name these—and replace them with wearable forms of truth.
Ten years ago, I studied readers of the then popular Left Behind series of Christian apocalyptic novels. If I conducted that study today, I would potentially have access to far more objective data about readers than I did. How quickly do they read? Where do they stop reading? What passages do they mark? Do they write notes in the margins? E-books are providing companies with the opportunity for all of this information and more about people who use e-readers like the Nook and Kindle.
A few months ago I preached a sermon that a lot of people loved and a few people hated. I heard from both groups but spent more time, as is perennially the case in ministry, with the few. I didn’t set off to be controversial. I looked at the texts, read some commentaries. (Get behind me, Satan.) And then, in the middle of the week, a United Methodist preacher's kid made the news.
I’ve been an associate minister for two years. I love associate ministry. While I understand that it is a stepping stone for a lot of people, I feel deeply called to this role--both in general and in the specific context of the church I serve. I used to be in solo ministry. When I made the transition, there were surprisingly few bumps--in large part due to my wonderful colleagues. And one of the big differences between solo and staff ministry is the increase in opportunities to work collaboratively. Another is that I no longer preach every Sunday.
As important as it is to minister from those wounded places, to preach about real emotional issues, and to write from a place of spiritual depth, there is also danger in it—for us and for our communities.
I knew my worst sermon was going to be terrible before I preached it. I want to hold myself to a higher standard, and James Howell's book offers the inspiration to get me there.
In 1983, Kenneth Mitchell and Herbert Anderson wrote that "death is only one form of loss." This would have been unthinkable for Christians half a century earlier.