When I’m 94, I hope I’m half as wise and cut-to-the-bone honest as the Rev. Dr. Gardner Taylor, known as “the dean of American preaching.” In a 2011 interview on “Preaching When Parched,” Dr. Taylor was asked how one can preach and minister during the “arid” times in life. His answer comes across with the bracing honesty we at Mockingbird try to encourage, the gut-level truth-telling which was a focus of our recent too-hot-to-handle-too-cold-to-hold (Vanilla Ice) NYC conference. (He also echoes some of PZ’s past thoughts on Kerouac and the task of preaching). Listen up, preachers:
Q: How do you preach from aridity without betraying the gospel? Or, perhaps, preach the gospel without betraying the reality of the aridity?
A: One cannot preach the gospel faithfully without including a certain alienation. If you did, it wouldn’t be true to life, because there is alienation in life. We experience it. And the people, who are in church worshiping and listening, are themselves experiencing alienation.
The preacher’s job, at least in part, is to give utterance to what is going on in them. The preacher is a sounding board for their experiences, with the addition of the Word of God.
Q: Tell us more.
A: In my pulpit, I almost always preached to them what was happening in me. I believe I have some evidence that what was happening in me was, to some extent, happening in them. I think the preacher makes a grave mistake when he or she sets himself apart, either too lofty or too low. We are to be a mixture of pride and humility. I think the best thing we can reach for is being honest with ourselves and with our people.
We are in an era that has so many knotty issues. The preacher’s responsibility in the midst of all this is also to keep a sense of humor and to proclaim what Jesus proclaimed.