Monday, March 8, 2010

A little righteous indignation

I had an interesting conversation with my ex-husband and his wife last night. I wrote a sermon for class and got a good grade - but the professor's feedback was that it conveyed a lot of anger in a sermon about love. I got other feedback that didn't mention anger at all. I have been wrestling with this feedback for several weeks now, and trying to figure out if I should or shouldn't tweak it to make it somehow more accessible.

Of course I know that once you say something out loud, people are going to take it in a variety of ways, but this particularly interested me. The professor said that my sermon would alienate people who were already against my topic. :::shrug::: I doubt that anyone firmly entrenched in position is easily swayed by even calm, well-reasoned conversation either.

In any event, our conversation last night was about whether there's a place for some righteous indignation or even anger in a sermon. David's impression was that UU sermons tend to be too conciliatory (that's not the word he used, but I think that's the idea) and that a little well placed passion can be motivating for a congregation to hear. 

What think you? What kind of sermon motivates you? Do you feel offended by your minister being ticked off about a social justice issue?

5 comments:

Karen said...

Some of the most inspiring sermons I've heard have been motivated by a strong emotion of some kind, carried into a conviction. We UUs can be fond of the "informational" sermon, which can be an effective teaching instrument. But integrating one's own experience and emotion can produce a challenge unlike any other.

Bill Baar said...

Anger usually means ceding control... because you've lost it.

Qira said...

I think that vigor, clarity, and even a certain amount of pointy challenge are appropriate in sermons every now and then. Taking stands on social justice issues is important, in my view, even and especially when the congregation perhaps isn't altogether behind your position. Part of the function of a minister is to lead and to ask questions and posse problems for congregants and others to wrestle with.

For example, in the nineteenth century, a minister at our church preached against slavery. He was asked to leave byb his congregation, but clearly had been speaking from his conscience and his sense of the injustice of the issue. Another famous sermon at our church was by A. Powell Davies, who spoke vehemently against the glorification of war. Sermons like these are historic, memorable services, and they may, in fact, be motivated by anger in the face of injustice.

Anger tells us where we feel something important has been transgressed, where it has become intolerable for us to simply rest in the way things are. So I think anger, especially in the sense of indignation, is appropriate as an occasional motivation for preaching. Now, I also think that working to make one's sermon accessible is important. It's tricky thing to learn. I'd love to read your sermon!

Blesings
Catharine

Robin Edgar said...

There's anger and then there's anger Bill. I don't think that low-level to moderate anger causes people to lose control, indeed carefully directed *controlled* anger can be quite a powerful force. Usually one has only "lost it" after one has lost control over one's anger. I dare say that it can be quite entertaining when someone has "lost it". . . ;-)

:I doubt that anyone firmly entrenched in position is easily swayed by even calm, well-reasoned conversation either.

Me too. I dare say that I know of too many U*Us in Boston and Montreal who are firmly entrenched in quite indefensible positions that are not swayed at all by calm, well-reasoned conversation, hence The Emerson Avenger's "less than polite" "bad cop" tactics, plenty of which are still quite well reasoned. . .

:In any event, our conversation last night was about whether there's a place for some righteous indignation or even anger in a sermon.

I would say that there definitely should be when some righteous indignation or even anger is genuinely called for in the sermon's subject matter.

:David's impression was that UU sermons tend to be too conciliatory (that's not the word he used, but I think that's the idea) and that a little well placed passion can be motivating for a congregation to hear.

The key phrase here being "well placed". God knows I have seen too many examples of rather poorly placed "passion" in the sermons, or other public pronouncements of some "less than excellent" U*U ministers.

:Do you feel offended by your minister being ticked off about a social justice issue?

Nope. I feel offended by my intolerant and abusive "fundamentalist atheist" Humanist U*U minister contemptuously dismissing my revelatory religious experience as "your psychotic experience", labeling my monotheistic religious beliefs as being nothing but "silliness and fantasy", and topping everything off by falsely and maliciously labeling the inter-religious celebration of Creation that I had successfully orgainzed as "your cult". Sadly both the UUA and implicated U*U "church" are still firmly entrenched in defending his quite indefensible "positions".

Bill Baar said...

@Robin, Anger always a loss of control and cedes control to the object of the anger.

Speak passionatly, but if one speaks with anger, it's almost always a sign the speaker's "lost it".

I've learned this the hard way by the way.