30 May 2014

Festival of Homiletics: Convicted

Like I said: the Moleskine got a workout
I was in Minneapolis last week for the 2014 Festival of Homiletics, which is fancy church-geek speak for "preaching."  Four full days of lectures on preaching and worship services featuring great preachers from a wide array of Protestant churches.  I heard from Walter Brueggeman, Anna Carter Florence, Barbara Brown Taylor, MaryAnn McKibben Dana, Lauren Winner, Otis Moss III, Karoline Lewis, John Bell, and Brian McLaren, and I regrettably had to miss lectures and sermons by M. Craig Barnes and Will Willimon (good news, though - for a small fee you can buy recordings!).  My hand was cramping from all the notes and my Moleskine filled up rapidly.

I had an interesting experience with two speakers that I'm still processing.  Peter Rollins presented his lecture, "Fools for Christ:  The Sermon as a Weapon of Subversion" on Thursday after the morning break, and after lunch we were treated to his wonderful sermon "Encountering Ourselves in the Other," both of which dealt with what Rollins calls the acceptable transgression of our ideological systems.  He talked about subversion, seeing ourselves from the perspective of the Other, scapegoating, and our continuing practice of externalizing our problems onto others so that we don't have to deal with our brokenness.  This was heady stuff delivered at an incredible pace by a mad wee Northern Irishman pacing back and forth as if the words were going to burst from his head if he didn't get them out of his mouth.  It was incredibly gratifying to realize that some of the themes I see in my own preaching, some of the push I feel from the Spirit to speak and move in certain directions, mirrors some of what Rollins was working on.  Now I have better language to go with where it appears God wants the church to go in terms of naming our own brokenness instead of spending our time "preaching the same message as cable news," as Brian McLaren put it this morning.

So, yeah - I was buying what Peter was selling.  Until my homiletics professor David Lose stepped on the stage and in the course of his own lecture stuck a dagger right through the heart of my own prejudice (in his genial, kind, earnestly sincere way, of course.)

Dr. Lose's lecture was entitled, "Jonah, the Whale, and Homiletics' Abundant Life."  This is something he's obviously been working on for a while, and part of what he was talking about was marketing and its parallels to our preaching.  In the course of the lecture he showed three commercials, and the one that became the petard upon which I was hoisted was this one:

After the commercial, Dr. Lose mentioned how he'd shown the same commercial at a church while giving this lecture recently, and a man came up to him and said, "I work for Allstate.  We really want this to be how people see us - we want people to live their life and trust that we'll be there for them."  And the minute I heard Dr. Lose say that, I thought, "Whatever, man.  They made that commercial because they just want to sell a few more insurance policies.  Anything for a buck."

Boom.  Instant conviction.

If we're going to insist that our people see our human tendency to scapegoat and externalize in themselves, we need to first be able to see it in ourselves.  What I realized in that moment wa
s that I needed that Allstate guy to be the crass, selfish, materialistic bastard I believed he was for two reasons:  first, to keep my prejudices in place, and second, to keep him as a shield between my own brokenness, my own crass, selfish, materialistic bastard-like behavior that I have studiously and scrupulously avoided acknowledging for as long as I can remember.  It's not enough to say it's got to be done to others:  like so many things when it comes to this art of preaching, the first one to receive this message and acknowledge its truth has to be the preacher him/herself.

So, thanks, David and Peter, for three great lectures and one good stab through the heart.  It was well done, boys.  A health to you and yours!

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