Reading a blog-post from a pastor friend of mine, I started thinking about the last in-person conversation we had. (Yes, my brain operates via the thinnest of threads!) We were quickly exchanging thoughts for each other that didn’t belong in our meeting, and I had at last handed him a particular poem of mine. I’d written it nearly a year before, sparked from an aside in a different blog-post of his, so I thought it only fair to share it.
He paused, read it through, and said, “I like it! Someday I’ll tell the story of my baptism… in a sermon.”
Not what I thought he’d say after “Someday I’ll tell…” -!
Still, I nod. What is this venue here, after all, but a collection of my stories? Stories from inside my head, from my interactions with the world, and mostly the collisions between the two. If I didn’t stockpile stories, I wouldn’t have a way to begin, and you wouldn’t have a way to connect.
I suspect that last economy is perhaps even more precious for preachers of God’s Word.
When I teach with Scripture, I’m in an intimate setting. We can see each other, and I make sure we have plenty of time and social/emotional room to speak. I’m most interested in each person exploring their own understanding—developing their theo-ology—and less interested in what I might or might not know, or the stories I have to illuminate that.
In the set of social conventions that is preaching, one speaks to a group too large to be intimate, and so the focus remains on the speaker. What the speaker knows and says, and the connections the speaker builds, is all the group can leverage in the time allotted. No connection, and the words flow off the mind into consciousness’ storm-drain. Straight to the sea.
There are plenty of challenges in my economy of stories. Who’s involved, how they might react to being so exposed, whether their experience of the story aligns with mine enough for them to consent to its truth. In a way, my not publishing poems while the girls were young protected me from these dilemmas: I desperately needed to write my way to the other side, but in the intensity of the moment I doubt they would’ve wanted my experience to be the visible one. Time, I hope, has given us all enough breathing room so that I can let them stand.
I’m sure those challenges are even truer for preachers, for sometimes the story’s participants are in the very room, and part of the fabric of the community. If it were me, I would develop an even stronger discipline of assessing what I could use and what would be off-limits… and for how long. If I were mining my stories week in and week out, I certainly would have learned to save them up. And not let them trickle out to one person at a time.