Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Incredible Afternoon

This afternoon I and my fellow students in the preaching class got to sit in on a discussion between the D. Min. students and Rev. Dr. Gardner C. Taylor. Dr. Taylor is considered the dean of black preaching in the US, and some say that he should be considered the dean of preaching, period. I'd learned of him during a course I took last summer, and gotten to see a video of his preaching then. What struck me, in the videotaped appearance, was his tremendous erudition and tremendous preaching talent, and also a quality of personal warmth. To sit in a room and listen to him speak was an extraordinary experience.

Dr. Taylor is a striking man 87 years old. He's got a voice I could listen to all day, and the quality of warmth I saw on video is magnified in person. He was so generous in his comments and his responses to questions, so vital and engaging, that one could not help but love him. He said something to which I resonated to the bottoms of my feet--he said, to each of us, "No one has ever preached the Gospel the way you do, and no one ever will, not to the end of history, not exactly the way you do." First of all, to have the Rev. Dr. Gardner C. Taylor assume that I am actually capable of preaching the Gospel, well, that is heady stuff right there. And that stress on the uniqueness of each voice is both liberating and frightening in its implications. He spoke of the need of a preacher to have "a sense of the Scriptures" that is deeper than the knowledge of text. What he meant was that, to him, each person responded uniquely to some one of the myriad threads that runs through the body of Scripture, and that sense informs our preaching. Taylor spoke of the loneliness he experienced as an only child, and stated that that experience may be reflected in his "sense," his response to the theme of God's loneliness, God's desire to be loved by God's human creations, and the lengths to which God goes to win that love. Taylor's God is a God who loves humanity profoundly and who recognizes that love is not true love unless there is a choice--and who longs for us to make that choice. It is a powerful image and one that will stay with me. Mind you, Taylor's theology is not a mushy "theology of Love" that is ungrounded in reality. He spoke about "counterfeit preaching" that he sees in the world today and especially in some of the more popular preaching "stars," including what he calls "the health and wealth Gospel" and preaching of peace that does not include the cross. For Taylor the cross is necessary, because that, he says, is reality, and preaching must be about reality.

He will preach tomorrow at school. I'll miss it due to a medical appointment. He told us he is thinking about "the tyranny of the majority" because he believes that to be a huge problem facing this country. I'll want to hear it on audio recording, but if I had to pick one experience of Dr. Taylor I'd have picked today, just sitting, just listening, just hearing how a preacher of his status goes about his work. The other thing he said that I loved was that the best preachers have wonderful senses of humor. That goes along with what I've noticed, that the best at ministry over time do carry a sense of lightness, of appropriate humor, perhaps of not taking themselves too seriously.

To complete my infatuation, I learned (and saw) that Dr. Taylor has long been a supporter of women in the pulpit, and also that the congregation which he serves as emeritus pastor is listed on a website of African American Welcoming Churches (welcoming to GLBT persons, that is). I hope that Dr. Taylor has more years to bring his wisdom to the world, and more years to read and study and travel and enjoy. What a marvelous afternoon!!!


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