I've recently agreed to a semi-regular preaching gig. In many ways, I'm excited about this. I think in terms of my craft, I'm still improving. And I'd like to see what that looks like on a more regular basis.
But in other ways, I realize I'm out of practice. Sermons aren't just speeches. They come from what Barbara Brown Taylor calls the preaching life. It is more than just reading a text and finding something to say. Sermons come from life as much as they come from the Bible--and they come from a particular kind of engagement with life. And I think I might have a little rust in this regard.
For instance, I used to be in the habit of having two kinds of books going all the time--a novel and a biography. I wasn't surfing for sermon illustrations. I was widening my interpretative horizons by listening to other stories and other lives. I can't tell you the last biography I read (maybe Dylan's, Chronicles) and the only novels I've read recently were the Harry Potter books I read from Thanksgiving to New Year's last year (yes, I read all of them straight through). I've been reading other kinds of books the past few years. And while they have changed me, deepened, me, challenged me, they haven't done what stories of other lives do. (I've decided that getting a PhD is reading the same 10 books over and over for four years. I'm ready to read some different books).
I refer to this kind of reading as funding the imagination. The more thickly textured your imagination, the more you have to say about things. There's more raw material lying around that allows a spark to become a fire.
I'm more and more convinced that really interesting people read across diverse literatures. They know more than one thing, and because of that, they are able to draw inferences and make connections in ways that surprise us and leave us wanting more. I think this is the genius of my friend, Richard Beck, whose blog is never dull. And I never see Richard when he doesn't have a book in his hand, and not just a psychology book. He reads broadly in diverse literatures. Good preachers do the same thing. And I will need to find a rhythm again for this kind of life.
And please don't tell Richard I think he's interesting. He's insufferable already.