I’ve reached the conclusion of my initial sermon series. The reception has been warm enough; I’ve heard lots of compliments, most commonly, “Thought-provoking!” I’m not sure how one goes from that to community-shaping. Perhaps when I present on Apocalyptic Advent at the next local UCC association event (good people!) I will get a clergy-eye view. However, it seems typical of my academic work as well that it makes an impression and garners sympathy but does not generate much discussion. Perhaps I present things in a way that is at once complete and yet always only one-sided; that openness perhaps makes it difficult for others to comment.
And yet I can’t help second-guess my carefully radicalized approach. Tonight I participated in an ecumenical Thanksgiving service in which my fine pastoral peers presented wonderful prayers and a homily. I saw nothing direly wrong, nothing in need of my radical surgery (an apt metaphor, since I was, in gestures of generous awkwardness, made to stand out many times as the only “Rev. Dr.” in the room).
Except perhaps for a few considerations. Mainstream Christianity has generally been very right-minded: God calls us to be thankful and giving to others. And yet it has presided over a failure to use its considerable power to really impact the use of American power here and abroad in a potent way. It has remained an appendage to the American mainstream, rather than a leader or, in the very least, a disenfranchised Jeremiah. And on a related note, can the church do a perfectly good job forming individuals for Christ-shaped lives, but fail to confront the trans-personal structures that so much shape our globe and so evidently emanate from our continent? To shape individuals of course much more easily falls under the purview of clergy than confronting trans-personal structures, although more and more, the transpersonal is strangely enmeshed in our daily, personal lives. And lastly, mainstream Christianity is generally failing and dying. And all around us, radical energies arise and dissipate quickly into the ether of trends; but why can the church not be a stable home to nurture and direct those energies?
In any event, being bi-vocational allows me to cross my local and pastoral ministry with a theological ministry to the whole church (however mediated by a a fractured and wayward academic elite); and so I am placed in an optimal position to preach with a vision broader than what will plausibly meet the immediate spiritual needs of individuals. In other words: what Word rightly speaks to the church not just here today, but as set within a global and historical scale?
And so I persist. And I’m planning to begin in Advent a Thursday evening prayer service, which I’ve come to call “Detox Vespers.” The image of toxins is an interesting one–slightly demonic and insidious, but very physical and bodily. I’m working on a modern version of Gregorian chant. And incorporating sacramental signifiers–always some reference to baptismal waters, and always a supper. I want to give people something physically nourishing too, to tide them over until they get home.