Tuesday, February 21, 2012

My Fear of Sermons

When I was probably eight years-old, I remember hearing the story of Steve Arrington (the ex-drug dealer, convict, shark diver for Jacques Cousteau, who also happens to be Seventh-day Adventist). He came and shared his story at our church. Afterward, my parents bought the movie made about his life and it officially made the videos-approved-for-Sabbath-viewing list. Which means I watched it about once a month (alternated, of course, with Charlton Heston's The Ten Commandments, Veggie Tales, and Mary: Mother of Jesus).

I don't remember a lot of his story, but I do remember this: he was Adventist and he struggled. He got wrapped up in drugs. He was sent to jail. He contemplated suicide. He lost sight of God. He found God. He became an advocate for drug-prevention. I watched Arrington's story unfold nearly every fourth Saturday afternoon and each time it confronted me with a startling fact I didn't know what to do with: How was he Adventist and, yet, fully human?

Arrington and others who have been brave enough to share their stories have fueled my own.

Now, fifteen years later, I gain strength and passion from sharing my story with people.

Not because my story is unheard of.
Not because my story is thrilling.
Not because my story is witty or funny or more special than anyone else's.
But because my story is mine.

I know the relief of looking into eyes where I expected judgement and seeing only love and acceptance.

I know the liberation of saying out loud, "I'm not doing okay."
And having a friend reach across the table--surprise in her eyes--and say, "Me neither!"

I've been doing some traveling and speaking this semester. My next adventure will be to Colorado and Texas. I am slotted to give six different talks, two of which seem to be causing me the most stress: two Sabbath morning sermons.

There's something formal and official about a sermon. Something sacred and prestigious. Something somehow more important. Something that leaves a bitter taste in my mouth. Maybe it's because of all those assumptions we all make about how a church service should go, what the music should be, what the person should be wearing, how long it should take; and feeling that it would be impossible for me to measure up.

Wikipedia tells me that a sermon is "an oration by a prophet or a member of the clergy" (whoops). "Sermons address a Biblical, theological, religious, or moral topic." Something I found interesting is in researching the etymology of the word "sermon." Popular hits were "a discourse," "a stringing together of words," and "a conversation."

"Sermon" sounds daunting.
But I can string words together.
I can have a conversation.
And I think that's precisely what I'll do.

I have been asked what my sermon title is. Oy. I know that I lack the Biblical knowledge of a prophet and wouldn't want to tackle Levitical law just because I felt like that's what I should do. So I e-mailed both churches:

Sermon Title- "The Things We Don't Talk About in Church"

Ahh, why do I do this? Why risk angry comments? Why bother stirring the pot?
Because it's worth it.

I want to talk about why we don't talk about these things.
Why we avoid them.
How it harms us.
How it "helps" us.
And why it's shaking the Adventist church empty of young people like a kid rattling a piggy bank. We're dropping like flies and I understand why.

I'm not angry at the church.
I'm not disgruntled.
I'm not out to point fingers or place blame.
I want to focus on what we can do better.
On how I've been discovering, more and more lately, that maybe there's a place for me here after all.

Not because the church is perfect.
Not because I'll never be hurt/frustrated by another person's insensitive and presumptuous comment about what a "true" Christian or a "good" Adventist should do.
But because there's truth there.
I'm still learning about it.
I'm still struggling through it.

But if there's actually a place for me, I'm willing to give it a try.


kessia reyne said...

I wish I could be there to hear some of those words being strung together from the pulpit. I'm sure you'll be blessed and be a blessing, Heather! :)

Anonymous said...

I am so proud of this woman.

-Jeremy Sterndale