Saturday, March 28, 2009

preaching a complex scent simply

The latest U2 album, No line on the horizon, has a song ( “Cedars of Lebanon”) that intrigues me. It’s one of my favourite songs on the album and it’s been making some odd echoes in my head over the last few days.

The song seems to be written from the point of view of a journalist in Lebanon. In the first verse we find him waking up after a late night, meeting a deadline.
Yesterday I spent asleep
Woke up in my clothes in a dirty heap
Spent the night trying to make a deadline
Squeezing complicated lives into a simple headline

I’ve been wondering if the last line actually captures some of the task of communication in general, including preaching.

It’s a fact that the Bible is complicated. Multiple genre’s, from poetry to story, from apocalypse to epistle, from gospel to poetry, from proverb to parable. The literature emerges from lives spread over hundreds of years, across diverse languages (Greek, Aramaic, Hebrew) and unique cultures (nomadic, Ancient near eastern, Israelite, Greco-Roman). It’s complicated.

So to are the lives of people. Every Sunday a range of lifestories eye me up. Some are high, others low. Some are forgiven, others burdened. Some are open, others closed. All are trying to make sense of a rapidly changing world and the complications of life in a credit crunch.

Into all this complication comes the cry for simplicity, to be clear and sharp, to say one thing well. Preaching becomes “Squeezing complicated lives into a simple headline”! I’m not saying this is good or bad, it simply is. Nor am I saying anything about how one goes about the preaching task – whether one exposits, or discusses, or imagines or creates. Simply that the task seems to be summarised by the juxtaposition between complicated/simple.

Come the third verse, another line jumps out at me.
This shitty world sometimes produces a rose
The scent of it lingers and then it just goes

That’s my prayer every Sunday. That in the mercy of God, my “complicated/simple headlines” might in fact be a rose, in the midst of people’s turmoil. Even better, that the rose scent would linger, beyond Sunday and into Monday and the week ahead. It might be an idea, a connection, a concept, and wouldn’t it be great if it lingered beyond the door, and wafted into the week ahead.

In writing this, I am not trying to claim anything special for my preaching, nor for the task of preaching itself. The scent might come from a pastoral prayer, or a moment of creativity, or a song well chosen, or an instrument played creatively, or a rich conversation over coffee afterward.

But the goal seems captured by that sense of “complex scent simply.” Some random connections as I’ve travelled through the week.

Posted by steve at 10:57 PM

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