Thursday, January 27, 2005

green eggs and ham: the new Last Supper

Have you ever seen these things called poetry "slams". Its very similar to the rap wars as depicted in the movie 8 Mile. If you haven't seen the movie, basically two guys get up and try to "out rap" each other. Much of it turns in to rhyming insults with a wide assortment of ghetto slang woven into the fabric of their art.

Well, poetry "slams" are a little different but much the same. They don't necessarily try to insult another person to cut someone down. And the competition usually isn't one on one. It is a showcase of poets in their truest form. Rather than reading their poetry the audience gets to hear it and see it. They get to feel the power of the words and see the emotion that is bursting forth from the author. Some of it rhymes but most of it is free verse. It is a very captivating form of public speech.

In contrast, speeches abound in our culture but are rarely captivating or entertaining. Although, Jon Stewart from the "Daily Show" on Comedy Central often brilliantly finds the humor in some of the most boring of political speeches.

So when do we have to endure speeches? Well, if we see some political figure trying to push his/her agenda. We grew up getting speeches from authority figures like teachers, parents and principles when we got in trouble. We might catch a CEO giving a speech to try to rally his/her troops in the market place. I would say that most of us don't listen to speeches as much as we endure them. Most of the situations where we would have to endure a speech are not positive experiences.

So I ask the question: Why do our sermons still sound like speeches? Sure there have been great speeches by great leaders over the years. But they are so rare that we memorialize them. Its as if our whole society wants to remember the day that a speech was actually worth listening to.

What if our sermons sounded more like poetry "slams?" Would it fly in church? I think at the "emergent" type community of which I am a part and by which I get paid to be a Christian, this poetry type sermonizing could work. But even there, in a community that is used to change and comfortable with very different "looks" and "sounds" on Sunday morning, it seems that poetry would push the envelope.

Brian McLaren speaks of the need for more mystical language like poetry in his new book Generous Orthodoxy. Leaders are talking about the next leadership style not being CEO or Coach but "Gardner poet" (Whatever the heck that might look like). Donald Miller reminds us in his new book Searching for God Knows What that when the biblical authors reached the limit to their theological language, they broke out in poetry. Many biblical scholars help us see the reality that so much of scripture is indeed poetry.

So would it be possible to take poetry to the pulpit? And I am not talking about the old school "three points and a poem" routine. I am talking about pure poetry from start to finish. Food for the heart, soul and mind.


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