The thing you’re trying to learn keeps changing, doesn’t it? You’re working on launching new collaborative projects, but, after a few launches, the projects need something else from you in order to endure. They need persistent leadership toward sustainability, so you try to learn that.
Or maybe you moved. You went from an environment with loads of freedom to tinker and experiment to one that runs instead on process and the chain of command. You need to learn a new way to work, because persisting in the mode that worked in the first place is not going to work in the second. It might work for some things, some new and interesting things, but unless you learn to master process and chain of command, none of your experiments will impact the environment the way you want them to.
“This is how I do things” is not something a professional says.
First, Superman. Next, Viper (backwards), followed by Raging Bull and American Eagle. King Chaos was next. Then, in rapid succession, The Joker, Batman–that one was a mistake–, Goliath, and Vertical Velocity (V2). Finish with Revolution and Fiddler’s Fling.
All in a day’s work.
If you don’t have an agenda, the meeting is likely to run long.
If you don’t have a manuscript, the sermon is like to wander.
Brevity. Precision. Impact. These are the things a plan gets us.
“While the intentions might be good, moralizing worry distracts from the real goal by turning people’s attention inward to their own emotional states, rather than outward onto the problem,” writes Julie Beck in a piece for The Atlantic.
Worrying about a problem is not the same as taking action to fix it. For leaders in churches, this means that it is never enough to simply teach or preach about social injustice or climate change or hunger without providing a path to action. Stoking outrage and anxiety for their own sake is not good leadership.
I talk a lot when I preach about the things that worry me. I don’t think I talk enough about the things I’m actually doing about them.
“He shied away from the term ‘integration,’ and when speaking of racial intolerance he often suggested that blacks and white northerners were equally culpable—even when the violence against the civil rights marchers was at its height.”
“Yet even in the summer of 1965 he equated the ‘extremists’ in the civil rights movement with the Ku Klux Klan, saying that Alabama would be an exemplar to the nation if only both quieted down.”
Both of these quotes refer to Billy Graham. They are from Francis Fitzgerald’s terrific history, The Evangelicals. I encountered them yesterday.
The moral equation of white supremacists with those resisting them is not new, and it has been maintained by figures far more religious than the President.
Fitzgerald also notes this, though:
Along with Catholic and Jewish leaders, prominent Episcopalian and Presbyterian clergymen joined the civil rights demonstrations, and around the time of the 1963 March on Washington they gained endorsements from their denominations and from the National Council of Churches. After that, the mainline clergy joined the protests in increasing numbers. A 1968 study of the Protestant clergy in California showed that nearly a quarter had taken part in some kind of civil rights demonstration. Theologically conservative Protestants did not join the civil rights marches or work for civil rights legislation, and some within the large northern denominations submitted resolutions contesting the actions of their leadership.
The previous church I served was in a city with a retirement community for mainline clergy, so I regularly heard stories from ministers (and church members) who had gone to Alabama and Mississippi to march and register voters. Those stories gave me a vivid sense of the people and the church I was a part of: imperfect, for sure, and still shot through with racism, but not undecided about where it wanted to stand when the marches for racial equality started.
Tumultuous times produce extreme diagnoses from some quarters. I’m not given to extremes. I value nuance and evidence and accuracy. Extreme makes my stomach hurt.
But I am forcing myself to sit with the extreme. I am finding myself in settings where the assessment of what is going on in the world is systematic rather than episodic, that is, where explanations point to corrupt systems before they blame more measurable causes. My stomach . . .
I’m sitting with it because I don’t want to and because those explanations are generally coming from people a generation younger than I, and also because I can sense in myself, already, the impulse to correct the contributions of the inexperienced, if only because I recognize an earlier version of myself in them and because it feels like there is a lot at stake in being wrong about these things.
I am struggling in these days to listen more and explain less. There is a constant wrestling match playing out in my head. Talking to myself helps.
This is how we grow, right?
Denouncing racism from the pulpit is not courageous in most places in contemporary America, at least no more courageous than denouncing greed or idolatry. Preaching a sermon that condemned the Alt Right and the KKK on Sunday was a routine homiletical task, something Saturday’s marches in Charlottesville demanded but not something that took a great deal of courage.
Honestly, should I have any reason to fear that, in a progressive church in downtown Chicago, condemning neo Nazis was going to cause controversy?
The courageous sermons required of us preachers today are the ones that address the racism that doesn’t march through the streets, the kind we’ve grown accustomed to and comfortable with, the ones on the lower two thirds of this chart.
An anti racism sermon this Sunday took basic sense, not courage.
Reworking your sermon on Saturday to speak to a weekend tragedy is stressful. Many of us have done it, some more than once. Usually, that stressful work is met by Sunday congregants who are grateful for a nimble preacher’s ability to speak to something they are struggling to make sense of.
Maybe sermons should not need to be totally reworked, though.
A colleague texted me on Saturday afternoon: “How’s that sermon coming in terms of Charlottesville?”
I responded without even thinking: “I was ready for it.” I hadn’t seen the news yet about a car driving through a crowd and killing a pedestrian, so shocking things were still developing that I didn’t feel completely prepared to address. But the sermon I had in hand was ready to speak to evil. The bulletins were already printed with, “Evil cannot achieve lasting form in a coherent, workable plan,” a quote from R.R. Reno’s terrific Genesis commentary, on the cover. The events lighting up my phone on Saturday just gave that evil a name.
The sermon wasn’t yet done, but neither did I feel it needed torn down and rebuilt.
I want to be an agile preacher. I want to produce sermons that are grounded in careful study of both the Word and the world and that can pivot to speak to the broad range of challenges my congregants are facing, only some of which are national tragedies. The more I preach, the more I like the idea I’ve heard attributed to John Wesley, that every preacher only ever preaches some variation on the same three sermons.
Yesterday’s was the one about the Christian response to evil, even before we all agreed on the evil we were talking about.
Anniversaries are only partly about marking time that has already passed and celebrating the (perhaps improbable) arrival of another annual marker of persistence.
Anniversaries are also about committing to the future. Again.
The future probably looks different from the vista of this anniversary than it did the last one. Maybe that last one was in a valley. What are we committing to between now and the next anniversary? What do we hope the next one looks like?
My wife and I celebrate our 15th wedding anniversary today. By this day next year we hope to be completely rid of student loans. It will be our first debt free anniversary.
Every anniversary is special, and 15 is multiple-of-five extra special. But we’ve got our sights set on 16, for sure.
The person who said the thing that so inspired you may no longer believe it. Their conviction–the one that set you on your present course–may have changed.
Is our certainty about our present course dependent upon some opinion, uttered in context, that we have fixed in time, even though the figure who shared it with us has very likely grown and changed since that time?
People change. Ideas should too.