Tourist preaching and doubt...

I love the expression, "tourist preaching," Frederick Buechner's term for shouting at people in a sermon rather than really speaking their language. He uses it in much the same way American tourists often shout at those who don't speak English in the arrogant and rude expectation that their volume will equal another's comprehension. "Unfortunately, the only language people really understand is their own language, and unless preachers are prepared to translate the ancient verities into it, they might as well save their breath."

This came to mind while reading Peter Rollins' book: The Fidelity of Betrayal. In exploring the role and place of doubt in true faith he suggests that modern debates about God's presence and/or intervention into our lives is essentially a dead end because they posit absolutes: either "Hobbes is right... and most of life is nasty, brutish and short" and filled with darkness, or, "God probably does exist but... not in any way that gets involved in what happens in real life." These two options - Nietzsche or Newton - are not the only alternatives.

There is another way in which doubt concerning (God's presence in our real lives) can raise its head... namely, the idea that we doubt the existence of God but we retain the belief in intervention. Here the belief in God is not primary but the movement of God is. One says, "I have been touched by God in a manner that is undeniable to me. However, I am still open and free to wonder, at times, whether this God of which I speak can be explained in natural terms."

Rollins' point, of course, is that God is beyond rational thought - essentially an encounter and experience rather than a collection of ideas and doctrine : For Christians, God is a happening, an event, that we affirm and respond to, regardless of the ebbs and flows of our abstract theological reflections concerning the source and nature of this happen... for doubt comes in the aftermath of a happening that is itself indubitable... (for) doubt is given its proper place, not as that which strikes up against the truth of faith but as the natural outworking of faith.

More soon cuz I think Peter is really onto something for me...


Rev Nancy Fitz said…
You continue to have a way with words that cut to the heart of our experience as humans encountering, or hoping to, the God who is always here, in between us and infinitively beyond and more than anything we can imagine. How is it that we can even think of trying to preach about this Divine experience?
Black Pete said…
A group of Judaic scholars and rabbis and a group of Buddhists (Tibetan, I believe), decided to have an interfaith dialogue a few years ago. They found that they agreed on very little, but on one thing they did agree completely: that the nature of God and existence is a profound, impenetrable mystery.

Nancy's dilemma is something like mine, and when i am called to preach, I invariably go toward my or someone's Experience of the divine, not the divine itself. All we can truly and honestly speak about is our experience. It's subjective, it's unverifiable, but it can also be lifegiving and illuminating for others.
RJ said…
Thank, Nancy and Pete, for your observations: I, too, wrestle every week with something to say that points or evokes the mystery and understand that most of what I say is more shadow than light. That is why I continue to play with different forms of powerful music - Cathleen Falsani says that music (and film and certain other of the arts) can break the moment open and point us towards that sacred mystery better than words - and I think she's really on to something.

Last night at our faith and film discussion, we spoke about when it was we first "felt or discerned" something of God's divine presence?
It was illuminating both to hear the different ways people had encountered the holy, and, the fact that they had never been asked about this before in church... hmmmm?

Anyway, thanks for sharing with me - thanks for your blogs and writings, too which nourish me - and thanks for helping me along this journey. I am grateful.
Luke said…
"Here the belief in God is not primary but the movement of God is."

absolutely! we've fallen too much towards a modernism model of the world. there are things out there we can't explain. like in Exodus, we aren't able to view God directly, but we are able to see where God was (Exod. 33:23). (see God's "behind" is an extremely poor translation).

and this could be my ego or my lack of seminary training, but i do not have the problem Rev. Nancy and black pete have. i always tend to speak of my experience and how i view God. it's the only way i know how to speak! my prayer then is that someone else out there knows what i'm talking about and can relate. i pull in others to help state my point more clearly, but that's the extent of it.

rawk out dude! great stuff!
RJ said…
No, Luke, I don't think it is either ego or seminary but it is age related: you have a post-modern sensibility in the best sense of this worldview so you naturally embrace paradox. And you don't have to explain everything, you can rest more in the mystery. I think this is one of the charisms your generation could bring into the existing former mainstream, now side-lined churches if we could get out of the way long enough to give you space. I am glad this resonates, brother. Keep on rockin' in the free world, yourself!

Popular Posts