Wednesday, October 24, 2012

The Preacher

The Preacher

When times were hard, no work on the railroad, no work down on the farm, some
of my ancestors took to preaching. It was not so much of what was said as the way
in which it was said. "The horn shall sound and the dog will bark and though you
be on the highest mountain or down in the deepest valley when the darkness comes
then you will lie down, and as the day follows the night you will surely rise again.
The Lord our God hath made both heaven and earth. Oh, my dear brothers and
sisters we know so well the ways of this world, think then what heaven must be
like." It required a certain presence, a certain authority. The preacher was treated
with respect and kept at a bit of a distance, like a rattler. There wasn't much money
in it but it was good for maybe a dozen eggs or a chicken dinner now and then.

"The Preacher" by Louis Jenkins, from Before You Know It. © Will O' the Wisp Books, 2009. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

I read this poem today on "The Writer's Almanac" and was struck by memories of how we, when I was growing up in the 50s and 60s, treated our "preachers" and thoughts of how those called to public ministry of Word and Sacrament are treated today. I also recalled a "conversation" between two preacher-types in John Updike's Rabbit Run.

“Do you think,” Kruppenbach at last interrupts, “do you think this is your job, to meddle in these people’s lives? I know what they teach you at seminary now: the psychology and that. But I don’t agree with it. You think now your job is to be an unpaid doctor, to run around and plug up the holes and make everything smooth. I don’t think that. I don’t think that’s your job.”

Now it seems for many of us, the "preacher" is our friend, confidant, golfing buddy -- no longer "kept at a bit of a distance, like a rattler."  She "plugs up the holes and makes everything smooth;" he makes as much money as us and buys his own dozen eggs and chicken dinners.
Now this is certainly more in keeping with my Quaker-ish understanding that there should be no clergy -- all Christians are called to ministry, after all.  But, even in my Friend-ly experience, there are people I recognize as possessing "a certain presence, a certain authority."  And while I long to be spiritual friends with them, I still approach them with a certain respect and distance. 
And reading Jenkins' poem and Kruppenbach's preaching (if you have a chance, read the whole section) to his younger counterpart, I began musing if this super-friendly connection with our preachers (clergy or not) has also trickled down to our relationship with the Divine.  In the same way we no longer keep our preachers at a distance and now embrace them to our hearts, thereby robbing the position of a certain bit of presence, authority, and ... dare I say it? ... danger, has that filtered down into our relationship with God.  A bit too friendly and not quite wary -- as in a rattler -- enough?
I certainly preach (when invited or called to speak) of our God of love -- the One who Loves us more than we can imagine.  But I still find encounters with the Divine mysterious, awesome -- and more than a bit dangerous at times.
I don't long for a return to the days of either Kruppenbach or the preachers in the poem. At least so far as how they were treated.  Still, a bit of respect might not hurt -- and might help us, who so easily gaze upon the God we feel comfortable with and do not die (Exodus 33:20), step a bit more carefully into that eternal "Certain Presence, Certain Authority."
-- Brent 

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