Monday, August 25, 2008

To Thine Own Self Be True

This topic might evolve into a series of posts, because I have a feeling I have too much to say about this...I'm just warning you now.

A couple of weeks ago I went to a Dodger game with my parents and one of their dear friends. I have often felt intimidated by this particular friend, though I could never capture why I felt so unsettled in his presence. He's a wonderfully kind and gifted man. Gentle in spirit and confident in deed. Yet I often struggled with a feeling of unease around him.

So let's just call this man Ben. Listening to Ben that day allowed me to understand what about him unnerved me before. Ben understands himself intimately and he is totally at home in his own skin. His spirit is open, though not easily fooled. His humor is irreverent, though respectful of sacred. His thought is concise and no nonsense. Now I don't mean to cast in the role of incarnate, merely someone who is totally okay with being forever human.

It was a great game and we enjoyed the sweet Dodger victory with the newly signed Manny Ramirez. It was fun to watch a good game, banter with my dad and his friend, and gossip incessantly with my mother. On the way home, Ben approached a subject gingerly and I am so glad the conversation was had.

He's been curious about a new style of preaching that has been very popular around folks trying to taylor christian worship towards my generation, and more so the ones that follow me. The buzz words are the postmodern movement or the emergent moment. When I was in youth ministry, I spent a ton of energy around the study of what to do, to reach the next generations, so I have a history with this. And now I am a retired youth worker who hasn't been to church since May and it hasn't even occurred to me to be shameful about that.

What Ben brought to task was the style of teaching sermons...the term coined in the conversation that day was Lesson Plan Preaching. He does not like a style of speaking that goes something like this...

* Introduction and announcement of what will be taught in the next minutes
* Reading of Bible passage
* Giving a ton of historical and theological reference
* A couple of minutes of interpretation
* and then ending with a few lines of life application

He claims the style to be flat and safe and I was really surprised by the description and yet I immediately agreed with him, as did both of my parents. It is a rarity for my parents and I to agree on most anything, so this was quite intriguing. While I was listening to the conversation it totally hit me... I find that style to be flat because it feels very disconnecting to me.

Why we find it flat is very different for Ben and I... and both are valid. Ben is an agnostic and he's in the community because of relationships he has formed over the years. When he goes to church, as I understand it, he is hoping to learn ways of living in the world better. When I go to church I want to just be able to feel safe. Safe enough to to find my core in relation to a living God. Really... it is two different ways of attempting to achieve self actualization. When the style of preaching avoids the tough stuff of life... sorrow, depravity, evil... it also avoids deep grace, transformation and actualization for others.

The conversation turned to why one would change styles to that type of speaking, and I was reminded of all of the conversation of why the Lesson Plan style would engage people in our culture more than a more conventional preaching style. It was said that the conventional style was overwhelming and inaccessible. The conversation was that people have little context for faith anymore, so knowledge is power... or something like that. But that was a bunch of us all talking to one another, which definitely produced a circular conversation.

Ben's take on the shift was that it was fear of being controversial. My take on it is that it takes a huge amount of being comfortable with one's self, to speak to the tough things in life, without absolutes and correct biblical interpretation. It is tempting to hide behind being a good student of scripture and teach on it, without really exposing oneself. I know this personally.

So the take away for me is this... The new style of preaching designed to be relevant and more accessible is really just a new version of the same style of convention. We christians are becoming known for being really self righteous in our lack of maturation. We reward group think and staying within the constraints of concrete thinking. We are afraid of the dark side of our humanity and we cast out those who question our beliefs with abstract thought.

Or in less flowery terms...that uses the pronoun “I” rather than the pronoun “we”. It is way more important to really be working on maturing myself and pressing on to perfection, than it is to appear like I've already arrived at that maturity. (yes my rearing in Wesleyan theology dies hard)

No comments: