Saturday, June 07, 2008

It Really Is True

One of the jokes made by reasserters is that conversation in the Episcopal Church is them speaking and us listening. I have thought there was some truth to it, like all humour, but what it really was about was some bitterness and a lot of exhaustion.

Then I came across this essay in the Washington Post. The author is a writer and Episcopal priest, rector of a very large church in New York City. His main point is that it's unfair to criticize Obama's former preacher, the Rev. Wright, because we don't know the context. It's all very relativistic and wrong-headed.

But the headline made my pause for a second: "Preaching is an extended conversation". The Rev. Tully liked that phrase so much he used it again five paragraphs down. Preaching can be a lot of things. It can edifying or harmful, exciting or tedious, provocative or soothing. But what it can not be is conversation. Merriam-Webster defines conversation as the "oral exchange of sentiments, observations, opinions, or ideas or an instance of such exchange". Sermons are monologues. Conversations must be at least a dialogue.

Once again, Johnson's third law of Episcopal thermodynamics is proven yet again: "Every joke you make about the Episcopal church eventually becomes true."

Maybe what the Episcopal Church needs more than remedial theological education is remedial English education. Could most of our problems be solved with mandatory vocabulary drills?


{H/T The Reformed Pastor}

9 comments:

Tregonsee said...

One of the differences between conservatives and liberals, whether church or secular, is the way they use words. For a liberal, words mean whatever you want them to mean, and it is boorish for someone to correct them or present them with a dictionary.

Perpetua said...

+Schori uses conversation a lot in this way. She says that in the middle ages conversation did not have to include talk at all. Her implication seems to be that if it didn't have to include talk at all, then only one person talking would also be included. Then she usually follows up with the example of the legal phrase "criminal conversation" to refer to adultery. See this example from 2007.

Hmmm, she is using adultery as a close correlation to her method of communication?

Dr. Mabuse said...

Oh, who knows what an Episcopal homily really is anymore? Lisa Fox's lady minister thinks that it's a prayer. "But she refuses to share copies of the homily, because – as she puts it – the homily is a prayer prayed by preacher and congregation together. It's about the speaking and the listening."

So it's a prayer which is addressed to...the congregation? The preacher talks to the people, the people listen to the preacher, and God is...where, exactly? This strikes me as even stupider than the "conversation" theory, because a sermon can at least have jokes which parishioners laugh at, lending it some air of give and take.

Lisa Fox said...

I venture here with trepidation, because I know you folks are likely to ridicule anything I might say.

But my comment about my priest's homily actually makes the point that she has a very "high" view of preaching. By saying her homily is a "prayer," she means that it is something we offer up to God together. Her sermons are solidly based in Scripture. With them, she challenges us. She speaks to God and to us. And I believe she thinks (as do I) that we had all better be seeking God as she delivers this homily, as we all reach to God together.

Why in the world would you have a problem with that, Dr. Mabuse????

Perpetua said...

Hi Lisa,
Reading what you wrote on your blog, I wonder if your preacher is actually working from rough notes and mostly responding to the emotions on the faces of the congregation as she fills in. So, much of what is going on is the group shared emotional resonance that is not captured in the words.
I have those kind of experiences with close friends and with certain family members. We laugh and say, if someone were listening in on this, they would have no idea why we are actually making sense to each other.
So, if I am understanding correctly, she has a rare gift and/ or a very tight relationship with the congregation.

Lisa Fox said...

No, Perpetua, she's speaking from a prepared text. And -- from what she told us when she arrived last fall -- it's a text over and through which she has spent the week praying.

Of course, I have no idea when or whether she's departing from her prepared text. I suppose all preachers do some of that.

And, yes, she seems to be keenly attuned to the people each Sunday.

A large portion of our parish are Africans. When we went through out search, they were very eager to find a priest who would "preach from the word." I think we found one. Her preaching is 95% grounded in scripture, with very few "asides" regarding current events.

For what it's worth. If it even matters here.

Matthew said...

Welcome, Lisa! As the proprietor of this here blog, I read every comment. I have yet to censor any. About the only reasons I would censor or ban someone is for extreme abuse directed at someone else or libel.

We are very fond of the Bill of Rights here at Billy Ockham's and value freedom of speech accordingly.

So please feel free to make your points without any fear whatsoever.

Lisa Fox said...

Thanks, Matthew. I mostly appreciated the comments here.

It makes me sad when folks just assume that I and my priest must be heretics ... which seemed to be the tenor of Dr. Mabuse's comment.

I wish you folks could visit my parish. You might be shocked at how orthodox and mainstream we are.

Perpetua said...

Hi Lisa,

I am not sure if you realize there is a post over at Stand Firm "Mere Anarchy" today praising you for your post Sunday "Law and Order". Then the praise comes to a screeching halt as he hits up against you calling all of us conservatives "schismatics":
"Meanwhile, if folks on "our side" violate our canons and polity without taking some disciplinary consequences, then I don't believe we have an honest leg to stand on when we deal with the schismatics."

Greg went ballistic and said that not all of us on the other side are schismatics. He has dictionary definitions and everything.

So I am a little surprised to find you here saying one of the conservatives implied your church was heretical when you flat out called us all schismatics yesterday.