A former Lutheran pastor sharing thoughts on faith and life. Please join the conversation! I love your comments!

Thursday, February 5, 2015

The Sledgehammer of Truth

When I sat down after preaching recently, the first thought which went through my mind was “maybe this will be the time when they have finally had enough of my liberal preaching and will throw me out.”  Then I thought “@!#$ it!”  How is that for a holy, meditative frame of mind? 

Then I spent the rest of the service thinking about how wonderful this congregation is, what good and often difficult work they do, how I don’t do enough for them, etc.  Well, along with things like “my tooth hurts, I have to remember to make a dentist appointment”... “I wonder if I will remember who gets gluten free today”... “jeepers that communion wafer was crunchy”... and other random thoughts.  Pastors are people too.  My point is I didn’t think “!@#$ it” because I don’t care or think poorly of the people in the pews.  I thought those thoughts because it can be exhausting to know my beliefs differ from those to whom I am preaching and to continually attempt to figure out what I can say which will be true to what I believe without causing extreme anger or hurt.  Again this isn’t about anything being wrong with those to whom I am preaching.  I am not sure I have ever preached to a congregation where there weren’t a significant portion with beliefs very different from my own.  Changes in my own faith in recent years accentuate these differences.  The question is what to do about it?  

I found myself wondering if I was being hypocritical.  I have been annoyed with some of my colleagues who seem to believe they should just preach the truth as they see it and if people get upset it is just proof those people are sinful jerks.  Or proof the preacher is a prophet.  How different is it for me to decide I have to preach what I do even if it makes people angry?  

Maybe I am fooling myself but I think the difference is I try not to go after a topic with a sledgehammer when more delicacy might be helpful.  My goal is not to prove others are jerks or to make myself into a prophet.  My goal is to speak truth in ways which might move someone to greater compassion or to work toward justice.  I don’t feel like I am in the pulpit to speak the truth and never mind the consequences.  I feel like the point is for my words to have some effect.  Usually the best way to do this is more subtle than telling people they are wrong or casting about judgment.  How to speak truth in a way which might have a chance of changing hearts?  The really tricky thing for me is my theology is so different from many in my area I often don’t realize how controversial my words are until they are coming out of my mouth.  So, maybe I am doing no better than my sledge hammer of truth wielding colleagues.   

 Assuming we want our pastors to speak honestly about what they believe and since it is doubtful we will always agree with them, how would you like pastors (or politicians, or teachers or whomever) to speak about controversial issues?  What are some methods of communication which you have found helpful, refreshing, or at least less offensive?  What gives you pause to ponder rather than provoking defensiveness?  


Rachel said...

I think you make a wonderful point here. We are all more likely to listen to someone who approaches a topic with humility and respect for other views than one who comes across as self righteous. I know I find it easier to hear someone and evaluate my own beliefs if they let me know that they struggle sometimes too, and that they don't believe they have all the answers.
Side note: A friend of mine today referenced your blog and asked if you ever did speaking engagements. She said she would love to listen to you sometime.

Sheri Ellwood said...

Thanks, Rachel. I think humility is an important part. Your comment makes me feel better about my preaching because I have stated in various ways how much I struggle, doubt, and only share my thoughts so they can make up their own minds.
It is nice to hear someone would be interested in hearing me speak. Surprising, but nice. The closest I have come to a speaking engagement is being invited to speak about my disappointment in the church. Which I really enjoyed doing since I have just a few things to say on that topic:) Stirred up some lively conversation which was also fun!

Laurie said...

I think the most important thing is to be non-contoversial most of the time. If you are always swimming up stream, you lose your credibility. You become just a crabby or crazy person. I also think it is good to state things as opinion, when that is the case. Another thing to remember is that it is difficult to change someone's point of view if you start off by telling them they are wrong. Example: if you attack evangelism, most Christians are going to immediately tune you out. We all know someone whose life was radically improved after someone spoke to them about Christ. How can that be bad? It seems a better approach would be to focus on the positives things we could be doing, than to lambast people for trying to do something good.
Hope I didn't lose my audience.

Sheri Ellwood said...

Yeah, Laurie, criticizing evangelism would probably not go over well. Though I will say because something has sometimes produced positive results does not necessarily mean it is good but that is another topic for another day. I hope I am not a crabby or crazy person in my preaching. The things I say in this blog are different from what I say from the pulpit because the purpose of this blog is different from the purpose of preaching. In my preaching, I am always mindful of saying what someone who is hurting would need to hear (this blog is more about saying something interesting, something different, sparking thought and conversation and such). The tricky thing is sometimes what is controversial to one person is exactly what another person needs to hear. For example, avoiding an issue like homosexuality would avoid angering some people but it might also fail to communicate God's love and acceptance to others. Sometimes this can have heartbreaking or even lethal results. I could probably stand to think a bit more about not being controversial all the time. It is kind of hard for me because the controversial things often tend to be justice issues which to me are sooo important. Thanks for the obviously thought provoking comment!