Against all Rationality

I don’t like most sermons. (Note: this post is adapted from a sermon I gave this week. Not at my church, though.) As a preacher, I’m skeptical of the sacred regard we give to the sermon. Most Sundays I can’t justify a lecture-based all-ages banking-model of religious education, but it’s expected of me—so I do it, and I try to make it enjoyable (for me, if not everyone else).

I couldn’t locate the source of my distaste until recently, over at the Restoring Pangea blog, when Nathaniel Grimes offered an explanation. Grimes (who happens to attend my church), describes a church where “sermons present principles which everyone is expected to be familiar with, but which the congregation inexplicably does not exemplify. The underlying assumption is that, in order to become more [insert noble ethic here], people mostly need a combination of information and motivation.” The sermon is a persuasive essay designed to change your behavior or bore you out of the pews.

The underlying assumption of this preaching style, though, is that it begins with “the expectation… that all people are rational, moral, individual actors who only need to summon the will or learn the proper techniques to do what is right.”

This was a lightbulb for me. I don’t really believe humans are rational, moral, individual actors.

If I am being completely honest, I will say three years of pastoring has not strengthened my faith in humanity—it has made me more misanthropic, more skeptical, and more irritated by the very nature of humanity. Continue reading

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Simply Seasoned: Cooking through A Cookbook in Three Years

Don’t worry. Gathering the Stones is not becoming a food blog. Probably. But the longer I pastor, the more convinced I am that one of the stones that needs an awful lot of gathering is the way we eat. It is one time I thank God for foodies and hipsters. Food is ethical. It should be treated with care. Always. It’s an act of faith.

When I talk about my faith, I talk about the Trinity. Of cookbooks. I talk about the Trinitarian God, too, who interdwells in a relational paradigm and all of that seminary fluff. But when I talk about being Mennonite, I talk about cookbooks. The three ways of eating revealed to us over time, practices that shape faith into our daily lives and   daily bread.

World Community cookbooks

Besides the trinity, of course there are other cookbooks–Mennonite Girls Can Cook or Fix-it-and-Forget-It or all the church and community cookbooks we’ve grown. To my mind, those are saints alongside the trinity. But only the trinity is canonical. Continue reading

Take Me to Church? Nah Man, I’ll take you to School

Nobody loves a good God-in-pop-culture reference likes pastors do. The inverse is also true: nobody hates a throw-away, faux-philosophical divine reference as much as pastors. By which I mean: Grammy nomination or no, I’m not fond of Hozier’s hit song “Take Me to Church.”

The song is painfully slow, and every time I hear it on the radio it drags and drags and drags…. I change the dial eight times, and it’s still playing. Maybe this is artistic genius, making it as slow and dull as a poorly sung hymn (it’s Sunday morning, not a Tuesday afternoon funeral). I’ll give the song points for that one, but it’s downhill from there. Continue reading