Category Archives: Preaching

Yet More On Preaching

It’s a homiletical bonanza…

This is because the Episcopal Preaching Foundation’s yearly Preaching Excellence Program just wrapped up; and here’s an article summarizing the presentations.

A few notes:

  • On Tom Troeger’s poetry selections: perfect! I often use these two poems myself in talking about what Anglican preaching should be. I love George Herbert’s poetry in general and these two are fantastic choices.
  • Speaking of George Herbert and “general”, M and I were thrilled on Sunday to sing one of his texts to one of our favorite tunes—General Seminary. (I forget the hymn number…)
  • As they seem to have noted, a life-long commitment to spiritual practices and disciplines rooted in Scripture is the chief way of becoming a better interpreter of Scripture and therefore a better preacher. The article did not mention if they promoted any particular practices, but you know what I recommend
  • Playing with the Scriptures is precisely what we do when we read for preaching—but play can only be edifying play when it is in the communal practices of the faith. If the Scriptures are a great field in which we run and play, the boundaries are marked out by the creeds and the playground at the center is the experience of the Triune God rooted in the Mass and Office.
  • As for the intersection of liturgy, preaching and music, the way the article presents the presentation seems almost backward to me. A proper homily is not something separate from the liturgy. Rather, it is an integral part of it. It’s the improv section within the liturgy. Thus, when considering the very shape and nature of the sermon, the preacher should think carefully—yes, about the hymns, but not just the hymns—about the whole liturgy and consider how the homily will be an agent for clarifying how the whole liturgy is an invitation into the presence of God. (And I don’t think, from the sounds of it, that the presenter would disagree with me; it’s just a matter of emphasis…)

More on Preaching

This article just came down the wire on the teaching of preaching in Episcopal seminaries.

There’s quite a lot I want to say about this—but don’t have the time at the moment. I’ll just let out a few bullet points for now:

  • First, there is a shortage of trained faculty. No kidding… These days there are basically two kinds of preaching profs I’ve seen around and the situation relates directly to how PhD departments of religion are structured. You either have 1) biblical scholars who did preaching as an outside area (like yours truly…) or 2) people who fall into the “religious practices” category which includes things like missions, Christian Ed, etc. The second group doesn’t fall within the classical German way of seeing things and is often considered “lesser.” The key difference between these groups is formation–how they have been trained as scholars. And that includes languages.
  • The biggest problem that I have encountered in my years of being a seminary student, TAing seminary students, and teaching them is that many have difficulty constructing clear English prose. Good writing skills are not necessarily a prerequisite to good speaking and preaching skills–but they sure don’t hurt. As I keep reminding my students, St. Augustine continually emphasized the importance of clarity. He reminds us that eloquence is wonderful and helpful–but not at the expense of clarity!
  • Large amounts of constructive feedback is an essential part of the teaching process.
  • Hethcock says that those who believe a good preacher from the neighborhood can be brought in as an adjunct professor are mistaken. He’s absolutely right. One of the problems that this band-aid fix perpetuates is that a good preacher is not always a good teacher of preaching. Some people are simply born with a talent for fitting words in memorable and meaningful ways. I’m skeptical whether a natural-born preacher can teach others to do what they do the way they do it–but that’s often what we see happening. Rather, all preachers can acquire habits and skills based on the formal and informal rules of rhetoric that enable them to become better preachers. That’s what needs to happen–not an attempted transfer of eloquence. (I’m not saying that naturally gifted preachers can’t teach preaching–I’m just saying that the attempt to teach their own personal style fails more often than not.)

Further Thoughts on Preaching

In the continuing discussion on preaching and originality (begun here and continued here), I have another piece to add from a comment M made while working on a sermon for Trinity.

She reminded me that it is often in the context of writing and attempting to communicate to others we both do our intellectual work and the theological synthesis that connects our studies and meditations with embodied life.

This is an important piece of the puzzle especially when the daily grind of parish ministry seems to devalue intellectual and contemplative work.

Again, I think there’s much attractive about working from patristic and other models for our proclamation. But this observation cuts to one of the things that makes me uncomfortable about it. Bringing up the riches of the past for the edification of our current congregations should not become an excuse to avoid the intellectual and contemplative work–and it certainly doesn’t have to. I fear with most of the Internet borrowing, though, it does… If the integrative work is not done, the priests own spiritual growth and depth suffers and when that happens, it impoverishes the congregation as well.

On Preaching

Here’s an interesting response to the issue discussed previously about sermon stealing.

I do have to take issue with the history of preaching presented by the author, however; it’s not entirely accurate.

Nevertheless, one of the things that left me scratching my head after my last preaching class is the ways that my students did or didn’t rely on the Bible in their sermons–or when they did use it the depth to which they engaged it.

(h/t T19)

Preaching and Plagiarism

There’s a very thought-provoking article by homiletician Tom Long currently up at the Christian Century on rampant sermon theft. Speaking as a teacher of preaching, he’s not exaggerating the situation…

There’s a much longer post here to be written that I’ve started at times but never satisfactorily completed that probes the contours of this issue moving from a condemnation of interpretative laziness, the need for both priest and parish to be open to the transforming text–a possibility often shut down by bad preaching–balanced with a rejection of novelty and originality for its own sake, ending with an affirmation that the work of preaching is not about creating something new but passing on what we have received–but passing it along in ways that enables the church to experience anew the living Jesus who is at the heart of what we pass down.

Read the article. Don’t plagiarize. Do proclaim the power of the resurrection.

On Lectionaries, Texts of Terror and Clobber Verses

This is an update to the thoughts below on lectionary usage of troublesome biblical texts. Bls made some great observations over at Dr. Good’s comments. She and I have had this discussion before but I’m afraid it hadn’t quite sunk in entirely. Here’s another try.

I think what I was saying before about texts that we cut out of the lectionary holds true for most of what are referred to as “texts of
terror.” These texts, especially those identified by Phyllis Tribble in her book of the same name have, for the most part, been repressed and expunged by the mainline churches. In the intro class where I read Tribble’s book, most of us had never encountered these texts before and were shocked that they were in the Bible. These passages need to be heard and wrestled with so that we might formulate our understanding of God and who the people of God have been in relation to them.

“Clobber verses” present a different problem entirely. These are not problematic texts that have been repressed; rather they are–as bls points out–all too well known in their decontextualized, weaponized form. They include the Romans texts for queer folk, the 1 Cor texts for women, and the curse of the descendants of Ham in Genesis used for generations to justify slavery and apartheid. I definitely see her point that she could live just fine for a while without encountering these liturgically.

[As an aside, I feel the need to state that there is a difference between clobber verses and verses that make us feel uncomfortable. The Magnificat or Beatitudes may make a rich man feel uncomfortable–but that in no way allows him to claim it as a clobber verse. I’d define a clobber verse as an atomized text used for the purpose of dehumanizing a group of people to legitimate official oppression.]

In her comments bls mentioned “waiting a few years” before bringing them back in. That resonates with me in the sense that people who have been oppressed by a text may, as part of a healing process, need to encounter the text again–but how do we honor the different amount of time that it will take for each individual to encounter it in a public liturgy?

On a separate note, is there a way that reading these clobber verses in their Scriptural context and in the gathered liturgical community can be defused and redeemed? I focus specifically on context because their weaponized form depends largely–if not entirely–on their disconnection from the biblical texts from which they are drawn and the scope of the biblical narrative as a whole.

Liturgy is so important and so complex because it encompasses so many aspects of human and theological life. It draws together the Scriptures, moral and spiritual formation, pastoral needs, the handing on of tradition, and a host of other factors together. This is one of those intersections where the pastoral dimension comes to the fore and, to be honest, that’s a dimension of it that comes less naturally to me than others. So–what do we do with these; what should we do?

On Censored Lectionaries

Dr. Deidre Good of GTS has written a short thought about ++Rowan’s lecture on Scripture interpretation. (h/t *Christopher) In it, she specifically addresses something that is a major concern of mine. That is, if the liturgical gathering is the primary and normative locus for the Body of Christ encountering the Word of God, why are our lectionaries piece-meal? Why do they consciously skip certain texts–and what does this say about us as an interpretive community…

One of the fundamental things that make Christians Christians is that
we share a canon. We have wrestled and struggled with the Scriptures for centuries and that is part of what makes us who we are. What does it do to us and to our formation when we choose to not wrestle with God?

Some of the comments engage the whole idea of selected readings at all. I have thought a bit about this and point back to something I wrote on this topic a while ago. I’d like to revisit it again soon but time, at present, does not permit…