By Charlsi Lewis Lee
I used to walk around a cemetery to write sermons. I lived in a small town with no sidewalks and really nice cemetery. I did figure eights and I would preach to all the ones who didn’t have anything else to do but listen to a rambling preacher. It worked pretty well for me because I engaged both my mind and my body in the process of creating. After a couple of days and 4 or 5 miles I had developed a sermon that I could then go to the keyboard and formally construct.
I miss those days, quite frankly. It was a time of creative freedom where I believed I could say just about anything and not feel hemmed in by the “rules” of the pulpit. When I was walking around that cemetery I could try out ideas that I might not have been brave enough to preach from the pulpit, but needed to express anyway. See, I have this thing: If a thought enters my brain, I pretty much have to say it, or write it, or Facebook it. I have to do something with it. So, walking through the cemetery, talking with the generations of the church that have passed on, and trying out new material gave me that outlet.
Oh, so what are the “rules” of the pulpit? Well, some of them are pretty basic: 1) Speak the truth of the gospel to the best of your understanding; 2) Expand your understanding by listening and learning; 3) Expand their understanding—step on toes, but carefully; 4) Keep your job. Well, those were a few of the rules of the pulpit. There are others. And I pretty much did all of that, except for the keep your job part. I lost my job once. Ultimately, I resigned because I was not the minister they wanted me to be.
Life didn’t look very pretty or feel very good at that time. I had 3 kids, a rocky marriage, and was only able to find a part-time job that was related to ministry in the area. It turns out that job was a pretty good one. I worked in the offices of a denomination that was different from my own. I learned about hearing the word with new ears and sharing the gospel with a new voice because I had to learn a new language and speak a new vocabulary.
During that difficult time, I worshipped in a new congregation where I just walked in and felt loved. Again, the words of the gospel were made new. The experience of faith jumped from the pages of scripture and called me to a new understanding of living. I was being asked to take risks and face challenges that I was unsure whether I could withstand. And, yet, here I am some 10 years later—almost exactly 10 years later.
I am no longer walking around cemeteries writing sermons even though I do preach from time to time. But, I miss that pasture of tombs wherein laid the faithful spirits of a tiny town and its beloved. The country air was clean, the birds sang, the breeze blew and someone was always listening. I was always pushing myself to be true to the text that was before me and to God that who called me. Even if it meant making people a little squeamish in their seats.
The rules of preaching are a little like the rules of life and somehow we have to find a way to stay true to them and keep our jobs. I have kept my job: I am still a preacher, a teacher, a counselor, and a friend. I am a mom and a wife for the second time. I continue to hear God’s voice calling me to listen and learn more and to stretch the faith of others when the Gospel insists.
My creative process has changed because I don’t live in the country anymore. I’ve been citified and my life has changed a great deal. I can no longer push my kids around in a stroller. Now, I pick them up from school, or their friends, or their dad’s house, or the library. I spend a lot of time in the car and it has become a creative space, a studio if you will. You might pass by me if you’re ever on 270 passing through St. Louis and see me preaching some sermon or talking myself through a paper for school. I have found that the presence of the communion of saints still moves with me and calls me forth. Even in my old beat up Hyundai.
Life changes, worlds are rocked, peace is found and sometimes lost and found again, but the rules don’t change that much for any of us. Keep moving, learn and grow, help others learn and grown, and rely on the presence of God and the communion of saints that surrounds you. That’s the job to keep.