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I Don't Believe in Preaching Anymore...

Updated: Dec 24, 2023

I say this from time to time, particularly with religious-leadership folks, mostly rabbis, clergy. A friend-colleague who teaches preaching at my seminary will often say at the opportune moment, “Yes, yes, Lisa. We know you don’t believe in preaching,” smiling, rolling her eyes. It rises in me today to explore a little bit of what those exchanges mean to me, given I filled the pulpit in my husband’s church yesterday. (available here, about 37:00 minutes in…).

I've often said no when he’s asked, because I do have a resistance to preaching. It’s mostly what I call “a liturgical-architectural” weariness. One person speaking. Everyone else listening. Clericalism that comes with this longstanding habit. Disempowerment of the community that I now know comes with this practice. An overly-intellectual sense of faith that comes with imagining you can listen and deepen your faith most this way. It’s a circle-way resistance to an historic liturgical practice, honed mostly by men over the last multiple centuries. Yes, women now preach, but the form remains triangular, not circular. Much more linear, much less feminine. It hones an embodied passivity while heightening a mental privatization, even a rigid individualization with impulse to persuade, dominate, evangelize.

This time, the text collaboratively determined with the Hilliard congregation’s preaching schedule was the parable of the sower. It wouldn’t require huge exegetical lifting to tend to the responsibility with integrity. It was a Sunday Brian would actually be there alongside me, so it could be fun to lead together. Preaching the Sunday after he returned home on from an intensive international work-gig on a Friday? It would stress our own home-return together, which I could make easy by having a sermon ready early. So I said yes. It did give me opportunity to bring voices and resources into congregational awareness that would rarely be given voice, in this setting. Octavia Butler. Some Fire-&Water aphorisms and wisdom gleaned these last several years.

So do I believe in preaching only when I do it? asked with an impish smile…

Perhaps a better paraphrase or summary statement leaves the word “believe” out of it entirely. Preaching clearly has its purposes, and I believe in–feel the integrity of–the callings of many preachers I know. My husband, for instance. Or my colleague who teaches preaching. Resistance need not oppose sacred offerings, or disrespect them.

Maybe It’s not that I don’t believe in preaching. I am simply impatient for more of us to get impatient with this “way of being community” that isn’t as communal as I wish it were. Perhaps I am impatient for more of us to tolerate less the socialized and socializing impact on the community: one person speaking while everyone else listens. We human beings need to learn differently, more deeply, in the body.

I’ll still say the words of course. My trickster-leader self can’t help herself. Folks most committed to the practice–clergy, seminary professors, congregational folks–get irritated, which seems both worthwhile and pleasurable.

I am trying to learn to prioritize pleasure these days...

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