Saturday, January 28, 2006

Street Cred

If you don't live it, it won't come out your horn. -- Charlie Parker

I majored in advertising in college. One of my required classes was called Advertising Acount Management; it was an upper-level class taught by a full professor. But a few days into the class it became apparent that something was "off"; the prof was vague and tentative about the course material. My classmates pressed her for some practical information about working at an ad agency; one day she finally admitted to us that she'd never actually worked as an account executive in an advertising agency; that her actual experience in the business was limited to a few summer jobs and some consulting work; that, in fact, she'd spent most of her working life in academia, teaching out of textbooks.

Her professional authority, her street cred, at that moment? Pretty much zero.

Our lessons today underscore the importance of street cred when claiming to speak on God's behalf. The Old Testament pulls no punches; fake it and you die. St. Paul doesn't call down the wrath of God on incompetent teachers, but he does issue this call to humility: If you think you know what you're talking about, you probably don't. (Evidently Pat Robertson's Bible is missing both these texts.)

The Gospel lesson underscores a point frequently made by the Gospel writers: Jesus' power and presence as a teacher is something completely different than what people expect. He's not like the other teachers of the Law; he speaks with a gravitas that makes people stop and pay attention.

How did Jesus speak with an authority different than the authority of the religious bigshots around him? I think the answer lies in Charlie Parker's observation about integrity in art. Jesus did not talk about "the good news"; he lived it. His way of being in the world integrated God's shalom into his words, his actions, his interactions. When Jesus talked about God as a loving divine Parent, people knew that he wasn't quoting a rabbinical proposition, but describing his own observable relationship with God. When he taught about radical faith, he wasn't providing a pat catechetical answer, but describing his own giving-over to God's will. Ween he told stories about the inbreaking Reign of God, he spoke as someone whose own trust in his Father's saving power made him a conduit for that power.

Doing ministry, whether as a layperson, a religious or a clergyperson, can be an extremely humbling experience. Personally, I find assisting the pastor -- being asked to pray on behalf of the whole congregation, offering up our shared regrets, sorrows, hopes and joys to God -- an exercise in humility...the paradox of my own smallness juxtaposed with our collective audacity in praying boldly, and my own audacity in offering to help with this. It gives me gooseflesh every time. On the other hand, ministry can also become an ego trip; depending on what we're doing, it can become a performance that leads us to expect praise for a job well done, or a self-serving exercise in "I know more than you do." That's the point where it's important to remember this Sunday's lessons. What's my street cred? Am I living something worth sounding from my horn?

Jesus the Teacher, Gisele Bauch Posted by Picasa


Nicodemia said...

That makes me feel very nervous! Especially as I have been asked to revise and rewrite a book I wrote some years ago, so that a new edition can be published!

Its about hearing God!

P. Softly said...

Yes, I've wondered about my son's college "business" teachers. A friend, who was in business, once told me that it was better to take the business classes from the technical college teachers than from the community college teachers for the same reasons you state, they've been there.

So maybe second career pastors have something that the young rookies don't have? This is a good reason that a young person leaning toward seminary should experience a variety of summer jobs.

This is why AA people can help new-to-AA people.

This is why the Christian preachers who seem to lean heavily in an America-first direction sound hollow to me. Have they been overseas? A former pastor here who had been all over the world and a missionary in Africa twice spoke, at least to me, with authenticity about many issues. Especially demon possession.

Who volunteers at the food shelf? The people who, in the past, have been helped.

Do the suburbanites with a little extra in their pocket relate to the widow with her mite? Does giving a tithe seem a stretch when one is also contemplating his tax deductions? Blessed are they who earn enough to have a tax refund, for they can give more to the poor.

RevHRod said...

The people at Capernaum were in awe of Jesus not because of his teaching (which was probably right on) but because his actions demonstrated that he was one who acted with the power and authority of God. His actions spoke loud and clear.

Proclamation when done well is felt, seen, heard, tasted and maybe even smelled. It's word and deed. And when our words and our actions aren't in synch, we need to confess, repent and renew ourselves to the doing of ministry. Which is why Luther was into all that daily remembrance of our baptism. We need to be reminded every day of our calling to live the love of Christ in word and deed. Not a day goes by that we don't drop the ball. It's our nature. But we are also capable of great acts of grace and justice and forgiveness. The church is a broken tool made up of broken people- but God finds ways to make it work.

And by the by... let's not knock suburbia too hard.

I volunteered in a homeless shelter for ten years before recently moving. The people I worked with lived in the suburbs. The people who provided the food and cooked it were from the burbs.

And the people who came to the local food pantry were often folks from the suburbs who were newly out of work and just one paycheck away from being in a shelter.

Anonymous said...

To move from closed hands to open hands is impossible apart from the Holy Spirit. I'm not sure if your Lutheran culture and outlook allows you to read Henri Nouwen, however this particular column echoes of his need and desire to live as you have written in your column. Thanks for your kind words.

LutheranChik said...

Anonymous: LOL! I'm not sure what you've heard about Lutheranism...why would you think that we wouldn't be "allowed" to read Henri Nouwen????? I mean...I'm quite flummoxed. Nouwen is one of my favorite Christian writers, and I think one of our great contemporary saints; I'd also venture a guess that he's a great favorite of pastors and literate laypeople alike. (My own pastor had Henri Nouwen for a prof back when he was in Yale Divinity School.)

I'd encourage you to learn a bit more about Lutheranism; I think you're getting some misinformation about who we are and what we do. If you're referring to Lutheran-Roman Catholic frictions in the past, I'd note our recent Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification, the new pope's positive words regarding Lutherans and good relationship with the ELCA presiding bishop, and the multitude of cooperative worship, education and service activities that individual ELCA and RCC parishes undertake. In my area, members of the local ELCA, ECUSA and RCC parishes recently embarked on a covenantal relationship that is to include ongoing cooperative worship, fellowship and education.