It seems I must write

no more avoiding the truth

Preach it to me

On Monday, our professor seemed alarmed at how many of us mistook “making great speeches” for moral leadership. It’s practice, not position, he insisted. It’s in the one-on-one conversations and the small groups –not being a charismatic emotional force. Gandhi was…boring. Cesar Chavez was a terrible public speaker – but with a rhetoric of action, it worked. Charisma could just be manipulative.

But as someone who often gets invited to preach and to speak and yet wrestles with that call – this is a significant part of what moral leadership entails for me. Will I seek, search, and study a question until I can really preach it? Will I try to hide behind other ways of presenting information: “read this booklet and then let’s discuss,” or posing the question back to them because I don’t have an actual answer? Will I insist I’m just a teacher and not a preacher – just a guide for discussion – or will I be like Jacob, who will wrestle until the blessing of God comes?

I recently have been going to a Chinese evangelical church that doesn’t affirm women as Sunday service preachers – but they can do everything else: teach Sunday school, run children and youth ministries, and be the pastor’s ministry assistant. I started attending in the fall of last year, not thinking this would affect me. But subtly over time, it has. Watching an amazing male pastor preach most weeks of the year – and knowing it is the church’s stance to only permit men to preach – has slowly chipped away at my earlier confidence in my reading of scripture and doubts have crept in. Are women given the Holy Spirit and all of his gifts for the sake of building up the church – teaching and preaching? Do I have the gift of preaching, or are people just being nice to me when they tell me that I do a good job? Should I still preach if I haven’t formally finished my training – and am losing the desire to finish? I ask back from my friends all the books about this topic that I lent them in the fall, when I was sure of my position.

In the meantime, I’m slated to speak at an Indian church conference this Saturday of Holy Week.  I try to dodge the bullet, and I can feel it in me. I propose guiding the group through scripture study during each 30-minute block. I propose buying these little booklets for us to read and discuss in pairs. I rationalize it by saying, “this is a tough topic. YOU need to come to answers on your own, find it in the text.” And to some extent this is true. But the age group is 12-35. (That’s a youth fellowship?!) And so the leaders tell me, “Because of our age range, we need you to be clear and directive. Preach to us in three 30-minute blocks. Teach us how to think about this topic. Tell us what you really think to direct our thinking.” I cringe. The topic is the exclusivity of Jesus Christ: is he the only way? How do we know? How do we love people of other faiths if this is true? I will have some real work to do in preparation; this strikes at the core of our faith – and I have managed to get by for some years without having to tackle this head-on.

If watching MLK Jr. deliver the “I have a dream” speech last week was deeply stirring and striking in its power—reading his sermons and speeches this week unexpectedly filled me with hope, confidence, and inspiration. This is what a sermon can be like!  Resounding, confident. A clarion call in words. Personal, prophetic.  Declaratory, proclamatory – unambiguous.

I don’t think all of us are called to be great speech-writers or prominent public voices, as Marshall cautioned us against believing. But some of us may be. And, more honestly, though I may not ever be great or prominent –I might be. Moral leadership in the face of my community’s uncertainty means that I must speak out and speak up for their sakes. If I accept the responsibility to enable them to achieve God’s purposes for them in the face of uncertainty, it will mean making authentic, truth-filled and carefully examined speeches to an audience whose reality I have considered. This Saturday, at least – if not for a long time. God, help me.

 

April 20, 2011

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2 thoughts on “Preach it to me

  1. I’ve been working my way through your writing, and I’ve felt bad this past week because I never have any comments after reading things. Really. None. Not that your writing doesn’t evoke commentary. My brain is just dead. But this killed me. These sentences. “Are women given the Holy Spirit and all of his gifts for the sake of building up the church – teaching and preaching? Do I have the gift of preaching, or are people just being nice to me when they tell me that I do a good job?”

    I’ve spent the day thinking about how to respond to it, because my response is purely emotional and a “gut feeling” … which really has very little place here, and I’m probably the least Christian “Christian” you know. But I’ve decided that doesn’t matter. I’ve always told you my emotional thoughts. So here it goes.

    HOW COULD YOU EVER QUESTION THE ABILITIES OF WOMEN? Though we are different from men, I still believe that there are very few tasks that only women or only men are designated to do. Humanity is more than gender/sex. And most of humanity is capable of doing most tasks. So if you felt called to become a preacher, pursue it. If you’re having fears and doubts, pray about it. I don’t know where you are right now with this thinking exactly, but I hope you’ve left the “I’m a woman, so maybe I’m not meant to do this” mindset behind. If you have other reasons, then take a look at them. But I HATE seeing “being a woman” on the list of “why I shouldn’t/can’t.”

    Anyway, I support you. I really enjoyed listening to you at the Indian church. The only thing I would emphasize is the strength/volume of your voice. Be sure (though humble) of yourself and speak loudly!!! You have something to say!!! You have a beautiful relationship with the Creator, and your words WILL reach people because of it! Loud and proud, right?

    And, yes, God help you.

    Love you, Tina!!!

  2. thanks, Lauren… I wrote this post almost a year ago, but I do find still in me more than a vestige of uncertainty about my calling into pastoral/preaching ministry… I was definitely shaped by a more conservative stance growing up about the ordination of women — and it’s been a process to reconsider that in order to fully let that go.

    I know. Sometimes I think the church is ridiculous for having this position historically. Then I think about how having babies seriously changes the trajectory of a woman’s career as a pastor!! You can pray for me as I find my slow way forward in this step by step!!

    Preaching so often in 2010-2011 was a special gift… and you’re not the only one whose main feedback is “we can’t hear you! speak up!” … so we’ll see how often (if at all) I get to in 2012 😀

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