Monday, February 20, 2017

What Was Said and What Was Heard

Yesterday I preached a sermon which clearly had impact.  On the way out of the sanctuary a larger than usual number of people said that I'd really challenged them to think; others were quite clear that they wanted me to know that they disagreed (some quite vehemently) with what I'd said; still others wished there was a way to get together with other folks to discuss the ideas I raised further.  (I've even received some email from people who, after having a chance to think about it, wanted to tell me their thoughts.)

There's a classic definition from within the Christian traditions that an ordained minister is called to be, "pastor, prophet, and priest."  I would add, "provocateur."  I don't believe that preachers should intentionally throw out controversial ideas just for the sake of evoking a response, but neither should we shy away from it.  In our tradition, no preacher speaks "Truth" -- with a capital "T."  Instead, we are charged with speaking the truth as we understand it.  That's our part of the bargain.  The congregation's part is to reflect on the things the preacher says, and to try to discern their own understanding of the truth of things.  It's sometimes said that a sermon is only half finished when the preacher steps away from the pulpit; it's not finished until congregants have danced with it on their own.

All of that said, though, I would like to be clear that my sermon changed between the first service and the second.  I received some very helpful feedback on what I'd said that helped me to see that I hadn't said what I'd intended to say as clearly as I'd hoped.  There's a problem all writers face.  We know what we mean to say -- having played with our ideas for a while we can make connections, or interpret things, in ways that seem obvious to us yet which really aren't.  The people who listen to -- or read -- what we've written do so without the benefit of all of that background thought, so they are in a much better position to comment on what we actually said.  (This is why I've always been so grateful to editors!)

It became clear from the feedback following the first service that I had not been as clear as I'd hoped, and that I'd said some things that I hadn't intended to.  I'd overlooked the need to clarify, and be explicit about, some of my thinking.  The result was that at least some of the critiques people have expressed are things I, also, would disagree with myself about.  So I re-wrote the sermon between services, and if you were one of the people who attended the first service I would encourage you to read the version that benefited from this further reflection.

You still might not agree with me, and that's fine.  I know of a congregation that each week said, as part of their Unison Affirmation, "We respect differences of opinion."  From time to time their clergy person challenged them by asking, "How do we know that we really do respect differences of opinion if we never allow ourselves to have any?"

So it is right, and good, if you find yourself disagreeing (even vehemently) with something I've said or written.  I do hope, though, that our relationship is based on mutual respect and trust, so that if you think I've said something really off the wall you'll talk with me about it.  It's possible that I'm simply wrong, of course, and in that case I welcome the opportunity to learn from you.  It's also possible that what you heard is not what I'd intended to have communicated, and we might not actually disagree as much as it might seem.

Pax tecum,


Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Islam was here at the beginning.

This is the text of a Letter to the Editor that I've submitted to the Daily Progress:

Donald Trump’s recent executive order banning entry into the United States of “immigrants and nonimmigrants” from seven majority-Muslim countries is nothing more than he had promised he would do, and nothing less than an affront to the values our country was founded on.

He and his supporters have argued that we need such a ban to protect our country from the threat of potential terrorists arriving on our shores, pointing to the hijackers who perpetrated the September 11th attacks as an example.  It is interesting, then, that Saudi Arabia is not included in the ban, even though the majority of those hijackers came from there.  In fact, a study by the policy research institute, New America, reports that:
"[T]he large majority of jihadist terrorists in the United States have been American citizens or legal residents. Moreover, while a range of citizenship statuses are represented, every jihadist who conducted a lethal attack inside the United States since 9/11 was a citizen or legal resident.” 
I serve a congregation named after Thomas Jefferson.  In 1765 Mr. Jefferson purchased a copy of the Qur’an, and it led to a life-long interest in Islam.  History tells us that as our founders discussed and debated just how far the ideal of religious freedom should go, Islam was explicitly lifted up as a “test case.”  In Denise Spellberg’s 2014 book Jefferson’s Qur’an: Islam and the Founders, she argues that the consideration of Islam was “decisive in the Founders’ ultimate judgment not to establish a Protestant nation, as they might well have done.”  Islam has been a part of the story of the United States since before the Declaration of Independence.

In the full text of Mr. Trump’s executive order he wrote:  
“The United States must be vigilant … [to] ensure that those admitted to this country do not bear hostile attitudes toward it and its founding principles. The United States cannot, and should not, admit those who do not support the Constitution.”
This begs the question:  what are we to do when such a person is already here, and residing in the White House?

Rev. Erik Walker Wikstrom

Albemarle County

Pax tecum,

Rev. Wik