Submit Your Own!
Preaching as Story and Adventure
By Randy Saultz
Some friends of mine and I have been reading A Million Miles in a Thousand Years by Donald Miller. Miller is brilliant in print. While reading his books I often find myself laughing out loud. But this book is not simply comedy. Miller is reminding the reader of something important. That we all live as part of a story, we all have a role to play.
Miller knows that the dominant culture puts in a great deal of effort to train us to think about our story without God. That is clear from his opening illustration about the movie about a guy who wanted a Volvo. He questions why people “spend years living those kinds of stories and expect them to feel meaningful.” And he responds “we are all being robbed.”
I am quite certain that A Million Miles is not intended as a book about preaching and I don’t think that Donald Miller considers himself a preacher. Yet he is encouraging the very thing that preachers ought to encourage. Preachers should be inviting listeners into an adventure that is unlike the unimaginative stories with the prescriptions that culture dishes out.
Preaching should not be self-help from a pulpit. It should not suggest that Jesus is the way for you to get what you want. It should not convey the same wisdom that folks are already getting in other areas of their lives. It should not suggest that the listener can play their part in this adventure without the body or without God. Preaching is an announcement of an adventure with God.
One of the things I like most about A Million Miles is how Miller attributes the story to God, even the parts of the story he does not like. He recognizes that the story does not change just because we do not enjoy our role. It doesn’t go away if we try to avoid it. I suspect that Miller likes the fact that Bilbo is hand-picked by the wizard, that Alice does not fall into the rabbit hole on purpose, that Dorothy does not volunteer to go to Oz. We do not choose our stories, we are just in them. This is the story and we are part of it. The bible is full of stories like this. No one enters the story on their own terms.
To be Christian is to narrate our story differently. As one written by God. To be a Christian preacher is to call others into God’s story. Preaching is an attempt to help others understand that God is the author of their story. Every day we are told to narrate our lives without God as a significant character. Preaching interrupts that worldview and insists that God is the significant character. Anything less and we are being robbed.
Solar by Ian McEwan
By Rick Brand
A Nobel Prize winner in Physics lives a very self-centered good life. It is all about him and his desires for food, whiskey and women. Somehow he never has a problem getting those. But having spent his life dodging all of the consequences and responsibilities for his own life in the last pages they all come together. Dire Straits "sometimes your losing it all" and he does in the last few pages. There should have been some sense of satisfaction at the end, but I never related enough to the story to even feel good about the end.
By Gary R. Hall
In her novel Changing Light1 Nora Gallagher sets out in a new literary direction. Long known as a writer of theologically reflective memoirs about life in the church (Things Seen and Unseen, 1998) the spiritual dimensions of life crises (Practicing Resurrection, 2003), and as a print and online essayist (Los Angeles Times, New York Times, Beliefnet.com, Explorefaith.org), Gallagher has now written a novel that explores the emotional, religious, and ethical dilemmas of human beings in a new mode. Changing Light is at once a love story, a thriller, and a reflection on the demands of conscience. It is a serious novel about serious problems. And it is a wonderful read.
Set in the high New Mexico desert during the last summer of World War II, Changing Light tells the stories of three people: a young painter (Eleanor Garrigue), a nuclear physicist at work on the atomic bomb (Leo Kavan), and a parish priest (Bill Taylor) whose lives intersect in complex and surprising ways. Eleanor has come to the Sangre de Cristos to escape a failed marriage and rediscover her artistic vitality; Leo has run away from the labs at Los Alamos in a crisis of conscience about the bomb; Bill is struggling to understand the implications of his Christian faith for both his emotional and moral existence. While Changing Light must to some extent depict the arcana of painting, physics, and Episcopal priestcraft, Gallagher’s novel feels at once authentic and not-too-obviously researched. Her characters are intelligent and compassionate adults trying to make sense of their lives. They are placed in a plausibly recreated time and a beautifully rendered place. They follow the trajectories of their callings in authentic yet unpredictable ways. The result is a reading experience which seriously explores issues of art, science, and faith at one level, and the complications of love, justice, and faithfulness on the other. And it does so as part of a coherent and compelling fictional experience.
The late literary critic Cleanth Brooks once defined fiction as "a simulacrum of reality," because, as theologian Sallie McFague explains, "(fiction) is itself an experience and hence imitates the basic qualities of all human experience" (Literature and the Christian Life). In her expository writing, Nora Gallagher has over time shown herself a writer able to make meaning out of the stuff of life—out of what McFague calls "a thing in the world." She now demonstrates the artistic power and vision to knit these things and people in the world into a coherent and beguiling fabric of imagined experience and meaning.
The key to the success of both Things Seen and Unseen and Practicing Resurrection lay in Gallagher’s ability to write memoirs in which the first person narrator refused to occupy the literary foreground. Changing Light extends and develops that aesthetic practice. Gallagher’s prose is always elegant and sinuous, but it never calls attention to itself. As with Flaubert, we know ourselves to be in the presence of a shaping artistic presence, but that presence never intrudes upon the action or the characters. Changing Light accepts its characters as they are, and it provides a remarkable exposition of the social and moral world in which they operate. On its own terms it is an exceptional work of fiction, and its artistic clarity and theological accessibility would make it a provocative text for discussion in a seminary classroom or a parish book discussion group.
Gary R. Hall
Seabury-Western Theological Seminary
1. Nora Gallagher, Changing Light (New York: Pantheon Books, 2007).
By Rick Brand
A wonderful story of life in a southern town during the 60's told from the perspective of the black maids who worked in the white homes. It is a great read.
THE PRINCE OF FROGTOWN
By Tom Ford
THE PRINCE OF FROGTOWN (Alfred A. Knopf, 2008, $24)
Thanks to Luke, we’re familiar with the prodigal son. Thanks to Rick Bragg in his new third Bragg family memoir, The Prince of Frogtown, we meet the prodigal father: Bragg’s violent alcoholic father, Charlie, who caused Bragg so much trauma and anguish in his early years that he and his brother had written their father off as unredeemed and unredeemable. Bragg’s deep deep pain, savored and nourished over a lifetime, finally, at age 45, had to be dealt with. It helped that Bragg, best selling author of All Over But The Shoutin’ and Ava’s Man, controversial former New York Times feature writer, Pulitzer Prize winner, teacher of writing at The University of Alabama at Tuscaloosa, had the good fortune to marry for the second time, after being single for 20 years. Diane, “the woman,” as she is known in Frogtown, has three sons. The youngest one, Jake, (a little child shall lead them) opens Bragg’s eyes again to what it means to be a little boy: for Jake, for Bragg, but most importantly, for Bragg’s written off father, Charlie. Bragg is forced to search for his real father, looking at all the forces that sculpted and shaped him from boyhood, knowing that just writing him off will write much of himself off and will take Bragg himself unredeemed to his own grave, with no peace in the meantime. So Bragg searches for his father by talking to all the cotton mill town folk and relatives and Korean War buddies in Jacksonville, Alabama who knew him in that part of town where the fighting, hard drinking, hell-raising Braggs lived, Frogtown. What Bragg finds and how he goes about telling us about it and what it does to him and Jake and their relationship is on a par with anything William Faulkner or Thornton Wilder or Ernest Hemingway or Harper Lee ever wrote. All people on the Jesus Journey need to read this book, real soon. Real soon. If you delay, delay only to read All Over But The Shoutin’ and Ava’s Man first.
A guest review by Tom Ford, an ELCA Lutheran Pastor who lives in Arcadia, CA. Ford is a 14th generation North Carolinian and an active doting, corrupting Grandfather. He works from time to time as an Intentional Interim Minister. His most recent assignment was at Salem Lutheran Church, Glendale, CA, whose website has some of his sermons (www.salemlutheranglendale.org) . He can be reached at GrandpaFord@roadrunner.com .
[First Page] [Prev] 1 2 3 4 5 [Next] [Last Page]