Friday, March 24, 2006

Click

I think I've figured it out.

When I moved to St Louis, I started attending Small Service at Large Local Church, because that was the Sunday service for our campus ministry. Week one, I didn't so much like the sermon, but ok, whatever. We can disagree.

Week two, the same priest preached, and I got my first lesson in pulpit-violence. The text was Ephesians 5: - "Wives, be subject to your husbands. Husbands love your wives." The sermon, it turned out, was also "Wives, be subject to your husbands." The preacher explained that, unpopular though it might be, this was really the correct interpretation, and (as I remember it) here's why that was a good thing: Husbands are to love their wives as Christ loved the church. That's the sort of unconditional love you give a puppy dog, and so wives should be glad to receive such love. (Something like that. He wasn't the most organized preacher either.) Then he went on to explain (to a congregation of college students and single people) that married love is the highest way for us to know Christ. The sermon (as I experienced it) was sexist, heterosexist, and maritanormative (sp?).

And I sat there, and listened, knowing that I could do nothing - I couldn't respond, I couldn't leave (because I was there in a semi-official capacity), and when he was finished doing violence to my world it was time for him to preside at the table, and for me to receive Eucharist from him. I went up for Eucharist knowing that the only chance I had of being reconciled was for me to start with that, but I was deeply, deeply injured. Because I didn't know him, and I wasn't really part of the church or community, I didn't feel like there was a context for me even to respond afterward. The sermon just hung out there. It hurt my ability to develop a relationship with that priest or that parish, and it just hurt me. It was a violent sermon to a captive congregation.

Talking to Les tonight about other things entirely, it occurred to me that that sermon is a big part of my terror of preaching here. It didn't keep me from preaching in the campus ministry, because that community was set up to encourage response and relationship, and if I slipped and did violence to someone during a sermon, it would most likely become apparent and I'd have a chance to make amends.

At Seabury, that's a lot harder. While people regularly congratulate each other on good sermons, students are not supposed to criticize other students' performance in liturgical roles. That means I have a hard time responding when another student preaches a sermon that I find violent or manipulative. And that means I have a hard time trusting that if I were to miss and unintentionally hurt someone in a sermon, I might not ever know. That person might not feel free to tell me. What I'm terrified of is less preaching itself, though there's some of that, and more the vast opportunity for something to go terribly awry without my meaning for it to happen. Sure, there's a certain amount still of "what do I have that's worth saying?" and "what if I screw up in a general way, like being boring or stupid?" But I think that one violent sermon has a lot to do with it.

Something to think about, at any rate....

6 comments:

Songbird said...

Hmm. It seems like there could be some way to give feedback without having it be criticism. How else are we supposed to learn? I'm sorry you felt captive that day. Sometimes we are called to be prophetic, and that may feel like being held captive to those in the congregation, although in the case you describe, I wouldn't agree with the priest's assessment of the message needed!

Sally said...

Hope you are feeling more settled now, it is so hard when you find yourself in that type of situation when everything inside you is disagreeing with the preacher. Hopefully knowing that violated feeling will enable us to be sensitive preachers and teachers...it also brings up a good question about how we should enable feedback to our messages...

Lindsay said...

thanks beth...i totally know what you mean.

Kate said...

a) This is totally my own paranoia about sermons, and why sermons in ECM are okay, and

b) it totally wierded me out to see Les referenced in your blog. I should get over this. The church is small, and I know this.

Beth said...

You know what would fix that weirdness? You and Rory and Ryan should all come visit us. :)

Kate said...

You know, you're right. I'll have to work on them. Maybe in the summertime. hmmmm.