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“At least the sermons are practical…”

That was the best thing a friend had to say after a church visit.

Is that really a good thing, though?, I responded. Is that what we are getting up early for on Sunday morning and schlepping our families to assembly for?

What have we settled for? What is it that we really want and expect and need to hear?

Another friend:
“I shared something in Sunday school, as I was bursting inside about the wonder of how Christ was so alive in the text. The pastor responded, ‘Now, let’s not get carried away…’”

A pastor, saying Let’s not get carried away about the wonder of how Christ is being revealed in his word and in his people. Keep it manageable. Keep it practical. Keep it in the left hemisphere of our brains, please.

The state of the church is stale. And our children see that no rock praise band is going to be able to cover that up. Sexual abuse, cover up, obsessive gatekeeping, corrupt views of power and hierarchy, sexism, racism, agism, and classism are all prevalent in the church.

Wow, am I really going to paint such a broad stroke across all of Christ’s church? I hope not. But this is what not only outsiders, but also insiders see. Our children who are looking for meaning see. So with the churches who want to counter this image, this atrocity, this blasphemy, what do we have to offer? A practical message? Are we willing to see and name the tragedy and offer any hope?

As I’m reading through a magical, creative, while also raw, truth-telling novel, Cloud Cuckoo Land, I’m thinking about this. The deep longings in our souls that are forever searching. They tell us that there is another world that is breaking into this one. It’s something we can barely believe. Something we almost “do not know how to dream.” Almost. We need to hear it from others and then something inside of us recognizes it. Gets a glimpse of its beauty. It’s invitation. And if we let ourselves get carried away, we begin to see it in the faces of others, even. In the face of suffering, even. We see the beckoning. The withness in the mystery of hope. The horizons where it emerges. The deaths to the sole self and the little resurrections happening all around us. The heavenizing of earth that has begun.

In this, we face and speak of the tragedies of the way things are because they are so incongruent with the true value and wonder of what is and the glory of what is to come. Name the darkness. Weep with Jesus. We need a pastor who surprises us with the fairy tale of it all. The spark of what is supposed to be too good to be true. Frederick Buechner wrote of this. Too often

…homiletics becomes apologetics. The preacher exchanges the fairy-tale truth that is too good to be true for a truth that instead of drowning out all the other truths the world is loud with is in some kind of harmony with them. He secularizes and makes rational. He adapts and makes relevant. He demythologizes and makes credible. And what remains of the fairy tale of the Gospel becomes in his hands a fairy tale not unlike The Wizard of Oz.

Telling the Truth

And now, we see behind the curtain. The curtain of the managed gospel. The curtain of the hustle and the striving to be good Christian churches. And all the harm that it covers. Buechner challenges us:

Let the preacher stretch our imagination and strain our credulity and make our jaws drop…

Telling the Truth

Carry us away, preachers!

Tell us the truth, The Gospel As Tragedy, Comedy, and Fairy Tale:

Scientists speak of intelligent life among the stars, of how at the speed of light there is no time, of consciousness as more than just an epiphenomenon of the physical brain. Doctors speak seriously about life after death, and not just the mystics anymore but the housewife, the stockbroker, the high-school senior speak about an inner world where reality becomes transparent to a reality realer still. The joke of it is that often it is the preacher who as steward of the wildest mystery of them all is the one who hangs back, prudent, cautious, hopelessly mature and wise to the last when no less than Saint Paul tells him to be a fool for Christ’s sake, no less than Christ tells him to be a child for his own and the kingdom’s sake.

Telling the Truth

Let the preacher tell the truth. . . . And finally let him preach this overwhelming of tragedy by comedy, of darkness by light, of the ordinary by the extraordinary, as the tale that is too good not to be true because to dismiss it as untrue is to dismiss along with it that “catch of the breath, that beat and lifting of the heart near to or even accompanied by tears,” which I believe is the deepest intuition of truth that we have.

Telling the Truth