Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Buechner: The Awful Risk

naked man personal illustration

In an older post (Aug. 2007), Brian Lowery talks about the danger that preachers face of minimizing the impact of the gospel in our own lives.  Or as Frederick Buechner puts it: "of ceasing to be witnesses to the presence in their own lives of a living God."

In a sermon about anger, I heard a preacher once boldly share, "Even I struggle with anger." The audience leaned forward, anticipating something altogether human. Here's how he colored in his struggle: "I wrestle with what to do when I strike my thumb with a hammer or when someone doesn't let me merge on the highway." Really? That's all you've got to offer us from your past or present—we who, in our more honest moments, would admit to having deep disdain for some of the people who populate our world, are not on speaking terms with our sister, or ran a key down the side of our ex-husband's car, somehow magically forming a few ugly words that run a handful of letters long?

Now, I can't really say I blame most preachers for such a cautious approach. Buechner says most preachers "run the awful risk…of ceasing to be witnesses to the presence in their own lives of a living God." But here's the rub: run away from that awful risk Buechner speaks of, and there are others that await you. You run the risk of your audience camping out on your confessed doubts and not your professed faith. They may see you sob and think you're unstable. Alongside that whispered-with-a-slight-sense-of-awe title of preacher, you may be referred to as a person.

The risk is not in the self-revelation, but in the reaction of the hearers to the self-disclosure.  I think that both by stories that we have heard of the experiences of other preachers as well as hurtful experiences in our own lives, we lose the bold edge of self-disclosure. 

I used to feel that I was fairly transparent.  I am not sure if I was just wrong or if I have become less transparent.  A phrase I hear way too often when I stumble in front of people is, "Well, at least we know you're not perfect."  I hate that phrase.  Not because I desire to project the image of perfection.  But because my perspective is that I have never tried to project that image at all.  I feel like I was often TOO transparent.  (Maybe still am?)

You can find Brian's post here.

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