Archive for the ‘speech acts’ Category

Dr. Joel C. Hunter gets it right on conflict resolution:

This Sunday we launch a new teaching series called, “5 Easy Steps to Wreck Your Life.” Typically, I don’t – or even like to – preach topical series. It’s too easy to twist God’s Word, bully others into your image and allow people to become dependant on what the “church” says rather than form imagination and become discerning. But this series, I hope, will be different. Why? Because I’m not teaching people WHAT to do, rather I’m highlighting what we’re already doing.

This, I think, will cause all of us to consider more deeply the modes of living and being that we hardly ever consider; the reflexive, yet unthoughtful words and deeds that make up our lives. Though our consideration of certain modes may be low, they impact us greatly.

My desire is to help people deal with the obvious mistakes and missteps people make and encourage us to choose differently. So, if you’re in Northern California in February, swing by and join us at Redwood Church (901 Madison Avenue, Redwood City, CA), at 9:00 am or 10:45 am. If you can’t join us live, please listen to or download the podcast and become part of our virtual fellowship.

As we continue to examine preaching and the preaching imagination, let’s turn again to Mark’s announcement in Mark 1: “…after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, and saying, ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near, repent, and believe in the good news (1.14-15 NRSV).” Previously we took a brief look at what it means that Jesus’ proclamation occurred, “after John was arrested,” but the next statement is equally as thought-provoking. It is a statement about location and speech; “Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news….”

I note here that Jesus began his teaching in a place of His own choosing, but more importantly, He began His preaching to an audience of His choosing. I have noticed that a great deal of contemporary preaching is aimed at people and populations that are not present in the room. I once had a mentor tell me about a 25-year standing men’s prayer group. Early on the group decided to talk only about themselves. At no time were they permitted to talk extensively about their wives, work or children. The rule: Don’t talk about people who aren’t in the room. Another way of saying this is “take responsibility for you own stuff.” It is a move to end the deflection and obfuscation that all too frequently occurs within groups. While keeping the world outside of church building ever-present and a pressing concern of our worship, I’m arguing that the preaching event should address the people in the room.

Preaching should announce the good news with which the present hearers must deal. Too much preaching talks about “those people,” the people that “aren’t us.”  I recently heard a TV preacher railing against federal, “activist” judges. I immediately wondered: How many federal judges are members in his congregation? In the end, preaching that launches attacks or feigns “concern” for people not in the room is largely useless and oftentimes far more reveals the self-righteousness of the preacher and the perceived “goodness” of the congregants than announcing the good news of Jesus.  Unfortunately, this move contributes to the divisions and distance between those inside the church and those not yet inside; adding to human nature’s “us-versus-them” tendency.

Jesus announces a public word! No person or population is excluded and/or targeted. God’s will for the one is God’s will for all. No “us” and “them.” He is not trying to scandalize “them,” He’s scandalizing us “all.” He’s not offering freedom and hope to “us,” but freedom and hope to “all.” Therefore those within the room, should hear in the proclamation a call to make those outside the room both their destination and ally, rather than the opposition and enemy. The word is for all, entering the world through the ears of those who have already heard the word.

What if modern preaching approached its task as Jesus did, reversing the typical, “us-versus-them” orientation and called the church to deal forthrightly with her call – which is to announce “good news” to the all rather than proclaiming bad news just for the people we don’t like? Nietzsche commented, “the harm the good do is the most harmful harm.” He meant that good people, coming to believe that they possess goodness – by contrast, those who differ must be preternaturally evil – do violence because they do not consider the potential for their own evil. This, to me, is why, preaching must resist polarizing narratives that target and divide those within the ecclesia from those without. We are all, and at all times, in need of “the good news.” That, this Sunday, is what you should preach.

In the coming weeks I will celebrate my one-year anniversary as Senior Minister at Redwood Church. At the one-year mark, I am reflecting a great deal on my emerging theology of preaching.

You’re likely saying, “Sean, you’ve been in ministry for a while now, don’t you already have a theology of preaching?” The answer is “yes” and “no.” “Yes,” in that I have long-held commitments about the preaching event but “No” in that each commitment must be localized in specific communities. Therefore, fresh theology emerges in each new proclamation in each new location.  For example, commitments materialize differently in a church filled with PhD’s than it does in a church choc’ full of GED’s, or a congregation in southern Georgia than one in South Africa or even Oregon.

My commitments spring from two texts: Nehemiah 8 and Mark 1. Let’s being with the later, Mark 1. Mark announces, “…after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, and saying, ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near, repent, and believe in the good news (1.14-15 NRSV).” There is a great deal here to unpack, but let me unload a few key items.

First, Jesus begins His proclamations “after John was arrested.” Preaching engages the midst of reality and is frequently captured amongst life’s trials. Too many preachers – or cultural architects, soul-leaders, communicators, or whatever other new-fangled titles we’re giving ourselves these days to give people the illusion that we are not “preaching” – paint a picture of the world they wished we lived in; something on the sort of Ozzie and Harriet. In turn, the logic seems to go, a right reading of scripture and application thereof leads to a certain utopian fantasy.

Because of this kind of imagination, churches have largely become burning caldrons of the unreal – unreal being different and distinct from unrealized, mind you. “Everybody’s fine, no one sins except those heathens who never come to church, church leaders are nearly perfect, and the last thing we want to hear or say is that we are broken people or doubtful,” – these are the Rockwelian suppositions of the unreal.

These suppositions stand precisely because so much contemporary preaching does not deal with the dirt of life. Yet we don’t get that from Mark’s gospel. When Jesus comes “proclaiming the good news,” the world was in a pretty tough state. Jesus Himself suffered under an oppressive governmental system, the religious leaders had compounded the yoke of the Romans on God’s people, and His cousin, John, had been arrested with the axe of beheading dangling above him. This is real life. And with all apologies to the pimps of the prosperity gospel, Jesus does not promise that any bit of John’s suffering would be alleviated and the forerunner of God’s Christ would receive a new Bentley for his trouble. Jesus’ preaching dive-bombs into the middle of life’s complications and struggles and so should ours. Proclamation that begins and behaves as if “I’M OK, you’re OK” misses the point! All is not well.

Preaching, to be anything, presupposes that the world is in terrible tumult and trouble. At the same time, we should stand guard against the easy nihilism that could be read into this prescription. Suffice my launching preaching commitment to this: Preaching should not pretend! But here’s the good news, while the world is in trouble, preaching naïvely believes that preaching can help.

That’s where I start.

The Cost of Winning

Posted: September 16, 2009 in life, perspective, speech acts, unity

I love winning. I grew up in Mississippi loving to play both soccer and baseball, but mostly loving to win when I played soccer and baseball. From an early age, the question, “Did you have fun?” never mattered. I wanted to win! And couldn’t understand those kids on my teams that were there to “have fun.”

It was fun to win; it was not fun to lose.

At the same time I was winning and losing, my family and my coaches – which were often the same people – taught me that good sportsmanship was part and parcel of playing sports well. Even when I lost, or while the game was hanging in the balance, I understood that my opponent wasn’t my enemy. At the end of games both teams would shake hands and leave our striving against one another on the field. My father taught me that winning was a good thing, but it wasn’t everything. But sadly, in our world more and more of us are finding winning to be the only thing. If you haven’t noticed, American culture, perhaps more than anything else now, is about winning.

This summer as opposition arose the President Obama’s healthcare goals, undecided on the subject myself, I asked my friend, Kraig, a series of questions about the uproar and the anger (town-halls, birthers, etc…). Kraig and I e-mailed back and forth our thoughts on the subject. Kraig articulated hosts of reasons why some people were so angry. A staunch conservative, Kraig has issues with “Obamacare,” as do many people I know, trust and love. Yet in our exchange, he said, “Some of these people have come to see politics as a kind of sport, and it’s not necessarily about the issues so much as it’s about winning.” That was a new take on politics to me – as naïve as that sounds. For some, there is an opposition and when there is an opposition, the most fundamental thing that can be done is defeat them. In fact, if you’re able to convince yourself that the opposition is inherently evil then you must defeat them – even if that means degrading one’s own self to do so. Don’t mistake me, though naïve, I know there are people of all political persuasions, left and right, who see their primary political motivator not as advocacy of a position, bi-partisanship, or statesmanship, but the elimination of the opponent.

Our political blood-lust for winning bubbled up and spilled over into the President’s address to the nation last week as we saw Joe Wilson embarrass all of us with his ill-advised shout at the President. Shouting in Congress does not produce a useful bill, it’s done in order to hurt the President’s cause. In turn those opposed to Wilson have and are calling for endless apologies, not because the apology will do anything besides weaken Wilson and his chances for reelection. The issue is long past and never really mattered much anyway, now it’s about winning.

Obviously, this kind of behavior isn’t limited to politics. As we’ve seen through Serena Williams’ U.S. Open profanity laced tirade, the winning edge within sports itself can be taken too far. Here a talented athlete, frustrated by the prospect of losing, demeaned herself, her opponent and a lineswoman in view of millions – some of kids. Why? Because winning was the most important thing. Worse than that, even, has been the treatment of South African runner, Caster Semanya. This poor woman has been made to undergo a public testing of her gender. There is very little else that strikes so closely to who we are than our gender. And why has she faced this wholly embarrassing testing? She was winning and other runners weren’t. As a father of two daughters, I can’t imagine the pain, hurt, discomfort and mortification Caster’s family must feel.

I have to ask: How much are we willing to lose for the sake of winning?

Too many of us have forgotten that Jesus calls not for the defeat of our enemies but for us to love them. And Martin Luther King, Jr. reminded us that love for our enemies entails, “refusing to defeat them.” Of course, on the ball field, someone has to win or lose, but there is a way, both on and off the field of play to treat others in ways where everyone wins, or at least is not about defeating. In the end, Christ followers believe that love wins, and because it does all words and actions should be done in love.

What would our world look like if all of us held deeply to the truth that loving our enemies, rather than defeating them, was the ONLY way to win? Hopefully the millions of us who darken the doors of churches every Sunday would be the last people to shout out in anger, regardless of the venue, and the first to know why and how to speak out about the heinous behavior that places winning above all else in sports, politics and the workplace.

At root, we should live as though the most significant victory in the world has already been won, and indeed, with Christ’s salvific act on the cross, it has.

On facebook, I’ve been chronicling my ups and downs – mostly downs – in dealing with my former landlady here in Redwood City. From our arrival six months ago, she has been – in our opinions – intrusive, abusive, and over-bearing, to say the least. At first she stopped by the house every day to see if she had mail, later she asked if she could house an automobile and some possessions in the garage for a nominal fee, which she alone set. Plus, she would drive by the house daily, sometimes stopping to sit across the street for long periods of time. According to her, she “wasn’t bothering anyone.”

But that wasn’t enough.

Light in Darkness

Light in Darkness

Once while Rochelle and I were out-of-town she went by the house everyday to “check on things” and angrily recounted her unhappiness that we hadn’t told her we were going away. She visited my office asking my secretary where we were and if she could go by the house to screw and unscrew the porch light, she also erroneously reported to my secretary that we were late on the rent. When our family returned from our travels we found her parked across the street. As summer wore on, she stopped by early in the morning to check the sprinklers; sometimes we would only know that she was on the property when we saw her walking in the back yard with the gardener. More recently, after we returned from a summer trip to Texas, she was sitting in the yard watering the grass upon our return. Mind you, all this is against the law in California, as well as most other places. More incredible than all that, several times she was openly belligerent and verbally hostile to both Rochelle and me in front of our children.

So when she requested that we break our lease in order to allow her to return to the house and secure a reverse mortgage we agreed. As you might guess, our landlady continued to harass and hound us for her benefit. Some of these exchanges have occured with the full knowledge – and sometimes in the presence –  of my church members. At least one of these church members has known my former landlady for over 20 years and has had multiple contentious interactions with her. The testimony of this member combined with that of our neighbors and our personal experience has led me to believe that she is singularly the most difficult, truculent person I’ve ever had the misfortune of dealing with.

But I’m a Christian and a pastor, so I couldn’t take her back to the woodshed, and trust me when I tell you that there have been multiple times when I wished I could.

In these waning days of dealing with this vitriolic personality, I’m faced with the difficult question of how to behave towards a pugnacious woman while everyone in my church is watching (Note: This home is 365 steps from the church building.) The advice I had from some was to match her venom; to return fire with fire, and indeed in the end, I might have to take legal measures.  But my instincts, and the New Testament, tell me that I should be the last, not the first to go legal or make threats. At times, this ethic has made me feel interiorly weak, as if I’m not standing up for myself or advocating strongly enough for my family. And it is in those times that I must force myself to reclaim the idea that I AM fighting, I’m just doing it with different weapons.

One of the most moving passages of Scripture is found in John 1. The highlight of which is, “He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all men might believe.” And believe it or not, that is what I – even in this most tense of situations – have endeavored to do.

It is unlikely, though not impossible, that my landlady will ever come to have a meaningful relationship with God. But I’m not choosing my behaviors for her. Rather, I’m trying to behave as I think Jesus would, and live a sermon for my church. This morning as I spoke with two church members, who are closely associated with my situation,  and both stated, “You’re a better man than me.” While I’m not testing manhood, I do want to be the kind of pastor of whom my parishioners can believe without hesitation that I live out even the most difficult of behaviors that I teach. In doing so, I believe that I am a “witness to the light.”

Does being a witness mean that I have to hear a lot of slurs, untruths and insults without reducing myself to unwholesome talk? Yes. Does it mean that it cost me money and time, as it did with an unplanned and unbudgeted move as my children try to enjoy their summer and prepare for our first year of school? Yes.

But there is a pay off.

I go to sleep every night with the confidence that I have lived with integrity and honesty. I know that my life has coherence between what I say I believe and how I behave. I see in my daughter’s eyes the trust that Daddy does not debase himself or his language when provoked. I live with confidence that I have testified to the goodness of God through my own consistently good behavior. And I trust that when I am as old as my former landlady, I will not live a friendless, lonely, bitter, bellicose life, as she does.

And that’s worth it!

I’m growing evermore concerned about the debased preaching in many American churches. Here’s how it goes, preachers are talking about how sin “pisses off” God or that some people think Jesus “dressed like a fairy,” or that Jesus “wasn’t a wuss.” I’ve even heard one well-known pastor tell a story about dismissing a young man’s theological questions because he was “a loser that lived at home with his mom.” In addition, more and more preachers/church planters/lead pastors – whatever you want to call us – are spending a good percentage of sermon time yelling at their congregations. Trust me, I understand the desire to shake the church from it’s missional malaise, but I don’t think raising the volume is going to work. Churches are dying, not deaf. I suppose all the yelling is designed to communicate passion, but it so often comes across as anger.

I know what these guys (and they are mostly guys) are attempting to get at. They simultaneously want to wake a sleeping church, make her seem cool, and ostensibly help men see a Jesus they can relate to. But I have to question whether or not they need to be Sam Kinison to do it. I find it odd that some feel the need to make Jesus seem cooler or manlier than the versions they grew up with. Not because Jesus is not cool or manly, but rather because in their effort to shape Jesus into their own image, they make the same mistake their forerunners did by simply not allowing Jesus to be Jesus.

Why are we so afraid of dealing with Jesus on his own terms?

What’s more, in shouting at the congregation and using an 8th graders vocabulary, we undo much of what Jesus taught about speech and speech acts and ethics. Our Lord taught that the mouth speaks out of the overflow of the heart. I would hate the idea that my heart would conceive of making sure people knew that Jesus wasn’t a “fairy,” or that anyone else was. It just wouldn’t occur to me as a theological category. Homo-ology, I guess.

In all our consternation to ensure the world knows Jesus wasn’t effeminate, what do we say about boys and men who are or the women who date and marry them? I love sports, wear a goatee, enjoy the occasional cigar, love explosions in movies and other typical “guy” things, but I think someone can be like Jesus even if they don’t. I’m deeply concerned about the passivity of men and the lack of courage we generally display as a gender, but a faux, painted-chest version isn’t going to help us break out of it.

What bothers me, perhaps, is that it’s all so childish. All the yelling and name-calling seems like something we all should have learned to quit doing when we stopped pulling girl’s hair. But maybe some of us haven’t learned to stop pulling? Jesus can be Lord, King and Conqueror, without me having to preach that, “One day Jesus is coming back to kick-ass and take names.” Doesn’t he already know our names? Shouldn’t our words about God be the very best words we know rather than us playing preacher-shock-jock or going for the quick and easy laugh?  If preaching – this noble, difficult and life-altering task that I’ve devoted my life to – is going to turn into Saturday Night Live, I’d just rather stay up late Saturday than arise early on Sunday.