Thursday, September 08, 2005

Monologue Preaching in a Multi-Media World

I sometimes get the feeling that I'm something of a dinosaur (a colleague once referred to me as, "an idiosyncratic old fart"). Nowhere does this seem the case more than when it comes to preaching. The advent of an age known best for split-second media shots has made the challenge of ascending the stairs to stand behind the "sacred desk" daunting. John Chrysostom, the patron saint of Christian preaching, warns stridently of those who preach to "tickling ears," trying to create celebrity status for themselves and telling people what they want to hear. For, as my colleague Dr. McPeak often warns (paraphrasing Irenaeus), "If you give them what they want, what will they become?"

Walter Brueggemann has suggested that the preacher's task is to "recreate the world" by, "the evoking of an alternative community that knows it is about different things in different ways." He calls for a prophetic ministry, "to nurture, nourish, and evoke a consciousness and perception alternative to the consciousness and perception of the dominant culture around us." This is a subversive task which requires preachers to see themselves primarily as poets (see further Brueggemann's Introduction to Finally Comes the Poet: Daring Speech for Proclamation).

As a lover of poetry, I have realized of late that, not only is the love of language largely missing in our culture, but very few people read poetry--at least as it has been classically defined. The creation of "new worlds" is largely seen as an extension of Hollywood via the media of film or Nashville through the power of pop music. But even with the latter, there has been a movement away from a primarily word-oriented approach to the visuals of so-called "music videos" popularized by the creation of MTV a couple of decades ago.

Perhaps today's preachers, then, are like the prophets of old--speaking largely to an audience that is not listening or is, more likely, in denial. But, I refuse to believe in the death of language and the power of passionate prose to convert hearts and change minds. If I'm confined to being an "idiosyncratic old fart," at least it's good to know that I'm in good company!