This past week I had the opportunity to take a few days of study leave, which I used as an opportunity to engage some recent discussions surrounding the practice of preaching.
As a Presbyterian pastor, my church is required (required!) to allot me two weeks of study leave every year. As I’ve been working toward a ThM in Postmodern Culture since being officially ordained a couple years back, I’ve previously spent study leave time engaging material and writing my thesis, “The Deconstruction of the Temple: Towards A Community for Which (Those Who Rightly Pass for) A/Theists Pray and Weep.”
My thesis, which has at times also been tentatively titled “Church (With/Out Church): Crossing Out Our Institutions in Order to Circle Them” and, at times, “A Sideways, Short-Circuited, Quite Possibly Heretical Reading of Mark 11,” has, at long last, been submitted to my advisor, Dr. Ryan Bolger – though I haven’t yet heard back!
Other study leave time has been spent at a conference here and there, though, I usually have a hard time with conferences, as they generally consist of noted “Christian celebrities” rehashing their latest book. With all the travel and expenses incurred to sit at their feet, I’d rather just buy the book (I’m also generously blessed with a professional expense account – I know, being a pastor is starting to sound rather luxurious!).
In April of this year I became the preaching pastor of the community I serve, Good Shepherd, and have since been challenged to think through what it looks like to engage and communicate the Scriptures in a multi-generational context. For the previous 5 1/2 years I’d been speaking to solely the “Gen X” kinda gathering, but, beginning this spring, began trying to engage essentially three generations in three very different gatherings with the same passage. I’ve always known that in spite of all the “cutting edge” classes in contemporary culture, film, the arts, etc. offered in seminary, the preaching units were geared toward communicating in a pre-Twitter, pre-Derrida age. I knew it, but now I know it. The speaking I did in the “Gen X” gathering had been, for years, by implication, in a sense. By which I mean to say I was trying to do things a little bit differently (read: contextually?) than I’d been taught and had helped teach (in TAing for preaching classes), but had never really taken time to step back and think through what I was trying to do.
To be clear: In preaching, I have no idea what I’m doing. Like how Jack Caputo says we don’t know who we are, I (also) don’t know what I’m doing. Every passage is different and every week is different. So, I’m not trying to say I was reinventing the wheel or doing anything special. Again, I had never really taken time to step back and think through what I was trying to do. Or better yet, what I’d been called to do.
Anyway, last Monday, October 1st through Friday the 5th I worked my way through some recent books, videos and lectures engaging preaching/teaching/communicating to the postmodern, post-Christian, post-Church world we inhabit. There are a number of books I had hoped to engage, though instead of skimming a bunch, I decided to focus closely on a handful.
To be quite honest, I’m not quite sure what exactly I’ve taken away from it. My head is still swirling with information.
However, one of the things I’m asked to do after my luxurious study leave opportunities is write a report explaining, in essence, what I did with the time. While this could seem to some like a nuisance, as if the “Big Brother” Elders of the church of 1984 are just checking up on me, I’ve grown to see this opportunity as a way to think through what I’m learning – and have found the exercise quite helpful. So, after 500+ words, the reason for this blog is simply to say that over the next few days I’ll be working on my report, “conversation” by “conversation,” if you’d like to listen in, check back. I’ll be addressing at least these:
- Other-Wise Preaching: A Postmodern Ethic for Homiletics by John McClure
- Preaching After God: Derrida, Caputo, and the Language of Postmodern Homiletics by Phil Snider
- Preaching in the Inventive Age by Doug Pagitt
- Preaching to Pluralists: How to Proclaim Christ in a Postmodern Age by Chris Altrock
- Preaching to Postmoderns: New Perspectives for Proclaiming the Message by Robert Kysar and Joseph Webb
- Shane Hipps at the 2009 Poets, Prophets and Preachers
And maybe, just maybe some of Tim Keller’s lecture series Preaching to the Heart, given at the Ockenga Institute of Gordon-Conwell Seminary, and/or Preaching to a Postmodern World: A Guide to Reaching Twenty-first Century Listeners by Graham Johnston, each of which I began, but didn’t finish. We’ll see how the week goes – I’m back from the ethereal world of theorizing and theologizing about preaching and in the pulpit this weekend (though I don’t really use the pulpit all that much). The books told me not to (no, that’s not really why).