Speak up…

This morning, I had the privilege of preaching for our “contemporary” chapel service. It was the first time I’d preached since my last sermon at Irving Park last spring. It was my first time preaching at my school outside of the classroom setting. Needless to say, I was somewhat nervous.

Part of my nerves came from having had a lot happen lately. I’m in my third year of seminary. I’m taking a course that forces me to think both of my entitlement and my oppression. I’m interning with an organization that engages the very denominations who look at queer people like me and see nothing but stereotypes and often feel nothing but disdain. I’ve just recently had a talk telling my mother that our phone conversations often left me feeling hurt and unheard, and therefore needed to be put on hold until the holidays. I’ve been working through my grief more. I’ve continued watching my diet, though my yoga practice has been put on hold due to a shoulder injury (a.k.a. stupidity on my part). I’ve decided to go a different route with my ministry, at least denominationally.

After writing my sermon last week, I sent it off to my former preaching professor for some edits and feedback, all of which I took into consideration when compiling my final draft. I got up there, and I just let go. From the first word, it was out of my hands. Now I personally think (or prefer to think) of preaching as an intimate act. It’s a giving of myself to the people listening, and it comes with a prayer that they will be able to use part of that gift to deepen their own spirituality. Part of the challenge with seeing preaching as an intimate act is that I have the habit of dropping my volume as if in the midst of a sincerely intimate conversation. Unfortunately for preaching, this doesn’t work all that well.

Another challenge for me, when it comes to preaching, I have a hard time believing that anything I have to say, to add to the conversation being had, is all that valuable or beneficial for anyone else to hear. Granted, according to what I’ve been reading in Henry Nouwen’s Life of the Beloved, this is just a form of self-rejection, of denying the reality that I’m a beloved child of God with a uniqueness about me that no one else has. In any case, it’s hard… not just for me, but for many of us.

After the service was over, several classmates and professors came up to me with affirmations and encouragement. But one in particular meant a lot to me. This particular professor is a self-admitted hard-ass with a tendency to be intimidating. I feel alright writing this because we’ve already had a conversation about this. In our brief encounter, he offered a much-needed critique about projection and articulation. I know it’s an area of struggle for me, so I wasn’t surprised. What did surprise me was when he looked me dead in the eyes, with a smile on his face nonetheless (something else that’s often hard to earn), and told me, “You’ve got some really quality stuff here. You’ve got something important, really important to say, and I want to hear it.”

It’s hard to put into words what this compliment meant to me. Having come to some difficult conclusions lately about life, the universe, and everything, it’s been challenging to trust my own voice, my own views. It’s been hard to believe in my own value and worth. So to have this man whom I’ve not had as a professor and who only knows me in a fairly superficial sense speak this blessing onto me was invaluable. Personally, one of my strongest love languages is words of affirmation. It’s important to me for those whom I love to know that I love them and to know why I love them so deeply. This is something we all need… someone to tell us that our voice matters, that our smiles and hugs make a difference, that our existence makes the world better. While it might not always feel like it, everyone in our lives is there for a reason, has something to offer us, and and has something to gain from our presence in their lives. It’s a simple reality in theory, but it’s difficult to assimilate and put into practice. Regardless, I strongly believe that when we remind others of their belovedness and we let others remind us of our own belovedness, we make community happen, and we make life better for everyone.

~ by Michael O. on September 20, 2012.

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