Precluding Conclusion

In conclusion, is only the conclusion of the rants that I have collected over the years, written on various book covers and cast off materials.  I haven’t felt free to write in such an obsessive way for a while.  I have been trying to be less rant-y and more “emotionally and spiritually healthy.”

I have been under a doctor’s care.  Well, it says doctor on his door and business card and the skin on the wall, but he is a physiologist.  He does, however, seem to have the power to prescribe some medications…so.  Anyway this was all part of the terms of my returning to work at the church—my re-employment (it does seem like a ploy).  Before I re-entered (re-mount, re-turn to) the pulpit I had to under go a month long inpatient program and participate in weekly sessions with Dr. Percy.  As a result I have been convinced of the necessity of actually accepting the world as it is and making a healthy choice to participate in it with out critique, to embrace it and its ways.  “Because, after all,” Dr. Percy is fond of saying, “If the rest of the world needs to change for you to feel O.K. your chances don’t look good—easier to just change yourself.”

Yes.  Easier?  Well, I have been working at it.  I have developed a strategy.  Whenever I start to feel disconnected from this culture, when I look around and vacuous ness is all I see—I find the nearest line I can get in to buy something.  Whether Cinnabon or powerball, Joel Osteen or Hot Pockets, what ever is closet, what ever line I see first.  By the time I am done with the transaction, I feel a little better.  At least I am reminded of what it means to be a part of something bigger than me.

Lately, however, this has not been working as well.  My posting all those old rantings about preaching is, I think, a symptom of a gradual slipping, slippage, sliddage….

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In Conclusion: Don’t Tell People What to Do

How to Preach Real, Relevant, Relational and Revolutionary Sermons

In Conclusion: Don’t Tell People What to Do

Don’t tell people what to do.  Tell people what the Gospel says.  Tell People that God loves them.  God likes them.  Point to Jesus.
Preach the Good News you find in the text that fate has handed you by the way of the Lectionary.  Preach the questions you have found in the text, whether you have found the answers or not.  Embody the text.  Use everything in your bag of tricks to communicate the Good News in a way that requires people to listen.  Preach for Wednesday.  It doesn’t matter if people leave the church on Sunday wonder what the hell you are talking about—it is better then them not remembering anything you said.  Preach so it sticks in their mind, heart, craw, gizzard, liver, spleen.  That way their liver keeps working it out until on Wednesday out of the blue some epiphany pushes it’s way into the conscious self and ah ha can happen.  Wednesday is a good day for ah ha.
What ever you do, do not apply it to people’s lives.  Let them do that.  They are as smart as you are.  God some how was able to reveal God’s self to you.  You were some how able to hear that God loved you in such a profound way that you were filled with a desire to love God back.  If God could do this with you, chances are God can do this with other people.  If you could hear the great revelation of God’s Good News, chances are other people will be able to.
When you preach create the space for revelation.  Strive to create the possibility of epiphany.  Preaching is an act of worship.  Worship is not a set of instructions given to the people by the preacher.
Don’t tell the people what to do.  Let them figure it out.
Preach grace.  Let them apply it to their lives.  Grace stays with people longer than instructions do.

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Cultural Relevance vs. Cultural Literacy

How to Preach Real, Relevant, Relational and Revolutionary Sermons

Cultural Relevance vs. Cultural Literacy

There is a great fear in the Contemporary Christian Culture (well, the whole culture is based on fear. So this is one of the great fears) of not being relevant. The term relevant is always used but what is meant more specifically is not being culturally relevant.
Every body wants to be culturally relevant. Relevant worship, relevant preaching, relevant music. The consultants say that if you are not culturally relevant then you will not be able to reach the “young people.” Reaching the “young people” is what every Contemporary Christian Culture Church is obsessed with. The “young people” are generally understood to be anyone under sixty.
There is this embarrassment about just how old our faith is. It is, like so old, like thousands of years old. And the Christian church is so old. The buildings are so old; the songs are so old. And old is bad. Old is irrelevant.
So, the preacher gets an ear pierced and grows a goatee.
This my friend is a very hip and culturally relevant thing to do—cutting edge even—in 1985. This is the problem with making cultural relevance a priority. To speak to the “young people” on the cutting edge of popular culture, by imitating them is like chasing a wave on a bicycle. It keeps moving and then disappears and you are left trying to ride a bike underwater.
The “edge” keeps moving. The now is the then by the time you ever hear about it.
When applied to preaching the result is truly silly. I have actually read in Contemporary Christian Culture leadership magazines vocabulary lists of the current slang, with suggestions on how to use the terms in a sermon. You know, so you can relate to the “young people.”
I heard a sermon by a preacher that, I think, had just recently taken off his tie and bought a cordless mic., who I am sure read the same article. He held the Mic up to his mouth like and upside down ice cream cone and shouted into it, “What’s up Holmes boy!” A forty year old white guy. It was not a moment of cultural relevance. I thought he was shouting a greeting from Dr. Watson.
Karl Barth says a preacher should aim beyond the hills of relevance. You see our faith is old but it is also timeless. If a preacher preaches for the now, she limits the truth, makes it tiny and insignificant. Preach about Jesus.
Saying that, if Jesus returned today he would be in some warehouse with a pacifier in his mouth, a glow stick around his neck and dancing ‘til four a.m. downing energy drinks is not preaching about Jesus.
If you don’t even know what I am talking about, then you know what I have been talking about, and if you do then you know that it is a very cutting edge reference as I write this sometime before the end of the third millennium.
You should, maybe, know what I am talking about.
There is a difference between cultural relevance and cultural literacy. It is a good thing to understand popular culture. It is not such a good thing to imitate popular culture as a way to sell Jesus to people. Because, you know, that is how everyone sells every thing. The more you use the methods of Madison Avenue to position Jesus in the culture market, the more people come to see Jesus as just another culture product. And they take Jesus as seriously as they do any other product. People don’t usually give their lives to products. Products hardly ever reconcile the world to God and usher in the age of Jubilee.
Being culturally literate is just a part of being aware of the world you live in. It doesn’t mean you have to imitate it. To understand popular culture is helpful in understanding the context in which the Good News is being heard. In the same way understanding first century Palestinian culture is helpful for understand the context in which the Good News was first proclaimed by the apostles.
If you are a twenty-year-old urban hipster and happen to be a preacher, fine. Be you. If you are a forty-year-old suburbanite and happen to be a preacher, fine be you. If you are a rural Iowan just off the farm, beautiful. Be you. You are not bad and stupid and irrelevant. You are good. God likes you.

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Ask Questions You Don’t Already Know the Answers To

How to Preach Real, Relevant, Relational and Revolutionary Sermons

Ask Questions You Don’t Already Know the Answers To

Preaching begins with reading and asking questions.  Asking real questions.  Question you don’ already know the answers to.  If you already know the answers they are not real questions.  If you bring these fake questions into your sermon you are just preaching the absorbed reading of the text.  The congregation already knows the answers too.  This then is not a sermon it is an agreement.  At best a patting each other on the back.  At worse it is very boring.  A real question is not an agreement it is an invitation.  It is engaging.  The people maybe confused but they will not be bored.
Some verses seem to make no sense or they seem to contain no hint of the Good News.  If you find the right questions you will find the Good News.  If it scares you or bugs you or dumbfounds you—that is a real question.  If you have to think about it for more than twenty minutes—that is a real question.  If it makes you fall in love, believe in God, feel giddy—that is a real question.
If you could answer all the questions raised in the Holy Scriptures about the one true God of mercy who redeemed the world by allowing his creation to kill him and then made that very murder the means for the salvation of the world, by time you are say twenty years old, or thirty or fifty or a hundred—then you have the wrong god.
Or the wrong questions.

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The Absorbed Reading of the Text

How to Preach Real, Relevant, Relational and Revolutionary Sermons

The Absorbed Reading of the Text

It is remarkable that someone growing up in the C. C. C. can hear the same Bible stories and have them interrupted in Sunday School, Vacation Bible School, Youth Group, Summer Camp, Youth For Christ, Young Adult Studies, Adult Sunday School, Bible Studies, Retreats and Sermons—and hear the same thing said about the same verses every time.
There is no significant variation.  It might start out being told by puppets and flannel graphs and end up being told with acoustic guitars and finally by boring or exuberant white men, but it is always the same.  Over time nearly every text is covered.
It is like a vaccine. It contains just a little bit of the truth; it is given over time until the hearer is inoculated against being infected be the Good News in any text.
By the time a Contemporary Christian is an adult any one of them could teach a Bible Study or lead a Youth Group or preach a sermon.
They have absorbed the Contemporary Christian Culture reading of the text.  One might not even remember studying a particular passage but when they encounter it the Absorbed Reading surfaces.  What is remarkable is that they still are able to continue to think they are encountering something new or something valuable.
There are passages of scripture that Contemporary Christians come to fear because of the absorbed reading. Contemporary Christians read these passages quickly, absently with a nervous smile and darting eyes.  They are only prevented from confronting the horror in them by the evangelical fallacy.  Because if they were to fully considered the absorbed reading of these texts they would be overwhelmed by the hopelessness of state of their souls.  More so they would be overwhelmed by the horror of the God that continually condemns them.  Or they would have to confront the nearly subconscious itching and jerking reaction of their mind to reject them.
With these I have found that it is sometimes best to embody the Contemporary Christians worst fears.  To tell them what they want to hear.  Tell them, it is really all about them and their ability to be good. I preach the absorbed reading of the text hard, like I love it and then flatly call it a lie.  Or when I am brave enough I never call it a lie.  I just preach the horror and give a few clues to remind them that God is not a horrible beast.

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The Preacher Needs to Disappear

How to Preach Real, Relevant, Relational and Revolutionary Sermons

The Preacher Needs to Disappear
A preacher who is well loved, good looking, and a skilled orator presents the same problem as irritating, unattractive bore.  The Preacher is distracting.  In the same way in is impossible for the people to hear a sermon if the structure, rhetoric and questions they already no by heart makes them conscious that the are being preached to, the awareness of the preacher is a constant reminder that they are being preached to.  This is why the preacher needs to disappear.
The best way to do this is to be somebody else, or to assume a different context for the sermon.  Sometimes the easiest way to disappear is to get bigger.  Become a character that is obviously not you.  Then the people will think.  “This is not the preacher, this is a character.” And they will sit back and actually listen to what this character has to say.  They will not think Pastor Dan says praying more will reduce stress.  That Pastor Dan sure is smart.  Why can’t I be more like Pastor Dan.”
Pastor Dan needs to disappear.

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House of Mercy on the Road in Chicago

House of Mercy on the Road

Debbie Blue, Russell Rathbun and Linda Buturian will be in Chicago at Wicker Park Grace Wed. April 16 to read from their books and talk about the Church they started with their friends way back at the dawn of the Emergent/emergence/emerging movement. Come join the conversation–how does a worshiping community committed to radical grace and liturgical eclecticism sustain itself over time, or what where ever else it may go.

7-9pm, Wed, April 16 @ Wicker Park Grace, 1741 N. Western Ave, Chicago, Up/ gathering.

Way More Info. Here

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