Books, Brokenhearted Theology, Church, Contemp Culture, Homiletics, Meaning, Ministry, Ramblings, Reading Reflections

Preaching and Culture #4: Other-Wise Preaching

I just finished John McClure’s Other-Wise Preaching: A Postmodern Ethic for Homiletics and it was definitely one of the denser books I’ve read in a while.  In the book, McClure takes on the task of describing (and deconstructing) many of the philosophical underpinnings of the preaching task in the effort to construct a preaching model (which he calls “Other-Wise Preaching”) informed by the Emmanuel Levinas’ philosophy and ethic of the Other. In brief, he describes this approach as a “form of preaching that is constantly interrupted by the proximity of the other, by an obligation to the other, and by what Levinas calls the “glory of the Infinite” given in the face of the other” (9). While I finished the book, I did not engage and follow along with all the philosophical arguments McClure presented and hope to have a chance to go back and read through the book more carefully in the future.

Here are a few quotes from McClure with a few thoughts I found key in bold:

Appeals to common human experience, like appeals to metanarratives, fail to pay true attention to the real experiences of them any people, with their own partial and contradictory stories/lives.  The fact is that we’re not all men, not all white, not all middle class, not all English-first-language, and so on.  I will argue, therefore, that Levinas’ idea of proximity requires that we get into the lives of people through a specific, local, and embodied interaction, rather than generalizing their experience toward either humanist or biblicist rhetorical constructs of the hearer in preaching.  In short, I will argue that Levinas’ idea of proximity disallows any homiletical attempt to identify, where that means narrativizing hearers’ lives into either biblical or culturally typical plotlines or character-types in ways that allow metanarratives to subsume the multiplicity and strangeness of living.  (47)

Other-wise preachers, therefore, are constantly self-suspicious, concerned that the bits and pieces of their messages are not fully consultative of others.  This is not meant to paralyze preachers.  It simply means that preachers much take a strategic, rather than tactical, view of their preaching.  They must see their work as taking place over a period of time rather than as being bound to discrete messages.  There must be ample opportunity for feedback, feedforward, and repair of one’s trajectories of meaning in the overall practice of preaching in a congregation.  This also means that congregations themselves must become communities of feedback and repair, as they too seek to become other-wise.  To hold a preacher unforgiven and unforgivable for messages that unconsciously betray the other is to constrict the communal process of becoming fully other-wise.  Preachers and hearers must be ready to give and receive error-correcting feedback so that other-wise proclamation can flourish.  (147)
Other-wise preachers, therefore, stand in pulpits on Sunday mornings exiting (going under erasure) and taking people with them.  They are humbled by this life calling – this obligation to the word, the perfectly open sign (the one-for-the-other)… Preaching will become an ego-martyring sign to another, and the preacher will become a sign of this giving of signs, a cipher of proximity and non-indifference to the other.  When this occurs, preaching simply says, “Here I am,” here is a witness of the glory of the Infinite with no stable theme, with no fixed evidence, nonetheless commanded by the glory of the Infinite to become this sign of that which is other-wise. (152)
I appreciated reading McClure, particularly after reading Pagitt’s Preaching Re-Imagined which I posted about here.  Both McClure and Pagitt see a need for preaching to incorporate multiple voices (whether in the context of a congregation or a concern for the Other).  While Pagitt is extremely accessible and practical, McClure provides a deeply philosophical argument for new forms of preaching and homiletics.  I was challenged reading McClure to think about how our working philosophies and assumptions about the world, our own lives, and the Scriptures radically shape the way we approach preaching.
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One thought on “Preaching and Culture #4: Other-Wise Preaching

  1. David Carr says:

    “They must see their work as taking place over a period of time rather than as being bound to discrete messages. There must be ample opportunity for feedback, feedforward, and repair of one’s trajectories of meaning in the overall practice of preaching in a congregation. This also means that congregations themselves must become communities of feedback and repair, as they too seek to become other-wise. To hold a preacher unforgiven and unforgivable for messages that unconsciously betray the other is to constrict the communal process of becoming fully other-wise. Preachers and hearers must be ready to give and receive error-correcting feedback so that other-wise proclamation can flourish.”

    I know this is a book more directed at the way we might “approach” preaching, but I’m curious about what you think these ideas do for how a preacher crafts sermons. In other words, do you (or does McClure) think that this changes the nuts of bolts (i.e. not just the sermon content) of how one delivers a sermon to her congregation?

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