There was an article in the most recent issue of Poets and Writers magazine in which Rachel Kadish gives what she calls a “pep-talk” to writers who write in trying times like these, when the publishing world is changing so rapidly and nothing is certain. It is lunacy, she says, to keep writing – but that’s exactly what writers do.
I couldn’t help but think that she could have just as easily been talking about preaching. It is crazy for preachers to keep preaching the good news when it is clear that the world is full of bad news. It’s nuts for churches to keep on existing when numbers are declining and there are way more efficient ways to run an organization.
Kadish pointed out, though, that for writers, there’s no magic that gets them through lean times. The writers who are still writing ten years later, she says, are simply the ones who kept on writing. Isn’t that true of the church? The churches that are still here proclaiming the good news are the churches that just kept on proclaiming the good news.
I’ve been reading Journey to the Common Good, a relatively new book by Walter Bruggemann, in which he points out that God’s generosity is what helps the Hebrew people envision an alternative reality to their enslavement in Egypt. They move, he says, from a place of anxiety and scarcity, through abundance and generosity, to a new understanding of neighborliness and the common good. Bruggemann’s focus here (and the reason I was reading it as sermon prep recently), is that notion of neighborliness, but I was glad to be reminded of his call to envision an alternative reality. In his book about preaching, Finally Comes the Poet, he challenges preachers to use poetic language to help people imagine that new reality in their own lives.
It reminded me of what Kadish was saying about writing. Writers write because they write, because they have something to say, because they know of a world they want to invite their readers into. Last month, through the words of a writer who imagined a world, I lived in the ruins of a British castle with a poverty-stricken teenager who was falling in love. Right now, I’m heading into the Amazon rain forest in search of an explorer who disappeared 85 years ago. I’ve been to the top of Mount Everest and in a barbershop in a tiny southern river town in the 1930’s. Words do that, somehow: the create new worlds for us.
Genesis 1 was the text for worship recently, and I realized that this is why I love words: God speaks the world into being. God says, “Let there be light,” and somehow, those words form themselves into light. God says, “Let there be…” and there is.