“What happened to her voice?” my colleague asked me while we walked out of our preaching class.

 

I said, “The same thing that happens to nearly all of us when we read sacred text aloud: we become possessed by the ghosts of dead community-theater actors.”

 

It is bizarre but true. Preachers can be possessed. We approach the pulpit, open the text, and then suddenly our speech becomes exaggerated and breathy. The people in the pew cannot help but tilt their heads and say to themselves, “The preacher is really feeling it today.” In that moment, a veil separates the preacher and the worshipers. It is not only off-putting and annoying, but this masked delivery also becomes a barrier that prevents worshipers from making meaning. The people come to community to reflect upon their lives, to mourn, to celebrate, but not to be held captive by the pretenses of “the ordained.”

It is important for me to convey an essential ground rule: one person cannot exorcise another person. Exorcisms need to be self-induced. The illustrations in this book come from years of my own attempts at banishing the harmful patterns that diminished my craft and my potential. My problems and my solutions are my own. I do not assume that they will ring true for others because I know my colleagues are wrestling with their own demons.

 

The primary gift of this book is not necessarily the content but rather the method. I will know if Exorcising Preaching is successful not when my colleagues are implementing my exorcisms but when they are creating their own. It is the technique of exorcising thyself that promises to liberate the preacher. The warnings I share in this text are archives of my evolving guidelines; they are not to be used as a universal guidebook for all.

God-talk born from banal platitudes diminishes the power of theology. I strive to emancipate myself from such practices, beginning by taking the vow to only speak for myself. I will not speak for God, for scriptures, or on behalf of any religious community. Using “I” statements allows me to lay the foundation to transform theological clichés into hard-won lessons that lay claim to no celestial rewards. I do not claim to know if “everything happens for a reason” or if a tragedy is really “a blessing in disguise.” Exiling these kinds of stock phrases is one step in my attempt to develop a principled, trustworthy ministerial identity.

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