Poet or Preacher?
It has been three months since I last preached. I’m not sure the last time I went three months without preaching, but I’m pretty sure it was over a decade ago. Interesting though. I do not miss it. Not one tiny bit. I have nothing scheduled on the horizon and at the moment that does not bother me at all.
Ironically, over the past year I have done the best preaching of my life. I’ve been relaxed, less scripted. I still aim for excellence and put a lot of time into my messages, but there has been no striving, no reaching or overreaching. I have been content to not know what I do not know.
The older I become, the less certain I am about what exactly the truth is. I once had a mentor who said, “The truth is hard to tell.” I thought he meant it was hard to speak, but that was not his message. He was saying the truth is hard to discern. Preachers have to be confident they have discerned the truth. They speak with authority and conviction. I believe I have pretty much figured out what the major questions of life are, but I feel less and less comfortable speaking with authority and conviction about the answers.
I was speaking with my therapist, the one who has known me for decades, and surprised myself by saying, “I am a poet, not a preacher.” The writer Mark Nepo says it is unfortunate that art and poetry have been cast in our culture as entertainment, when they are so much more than that. He says they are “air to breathe.” I believe the essence of our humanity is uncovered in the questions we ask, not in the answers we receive.
We live in a world dominated by measurable facts. It’s been that way since the dawn of the modern age over 500 years ago. Facts are good. I like that my doctor deals in facts, my accountant too. But life is so much more than a collection of facts. It includes feelings and values and intuition and soul. A world dominated by facts is not a world in which I am going to thrive.
Poetry, on the other hand, is indeed like the air we breathe. It goes deep within us and through us and around us. I have been memorizing poetry for about 10 years and writing it for about three. I’ve tried quoting my poems, but only with groups of ministers. Not a particularly good idea. Most were looking for “how-to” information that would help their churches grow. I’m not sure poetry is going to help their churches grow.
Now that I am no longer preaching, the way I am choosing to live my life is changing. I do not gravitate toward conversations in which I am expected to have answers. I would rather listen deeply than speak. I have no kingdoms to build, no axes to grind. I do not want a soapbox. I want a flowing river and a pen and notepad. I want good conversation with friends. I am discovering the truth that has been building in me for a long time. I am more of a poet than a preacher.