Friday, December 9, 2011

Naming the Monster

In the current issue of Liturgy, dealing with the topic of liturgy in times of crisis, Carol Norén offers a discussion of the homily and its functions within the larger context of crisis-occasion liturgies. As her fine article considers various sorts of crises: personal, local, national and global, she opines that an essential task of the preacher is the accurate naming of the crisis at hand.

Joseph Jeter makes some suggestions for the structure of the crisis sermon and the tasks that must be accomplished through it, but Jeter’s primary focus is homiletical, not liturgical. His first suggestion is that the preacher ‘‘name the monster,’’ that is, acknowledge the crisis in which worshipers find them- selves.11 He harkens to the ancient belief that naming something gives one power over it, such as in Genesis 32 when Jacob tries to force the angel to reveal his name. Acknowledging the crisis may not be as easy and straight- forward as it sounds; it can require theological discernment and courage to name the monster accurately. For instance, American troops were recently massacred in Afghanistan, allegedly in response to a Christian fundamental- ist pastor in Florida burning a copy of the Koran on March 20, 2011.12 How does a pastor speak about this in a crisis service, and name the monster? Should the spotlight be on the troops, the terrorists, religious intolerance in the United States and Afghanistan, or U.S. foreign policy? Homiletically speaking, one may have to lance the boil—a painful act—before healing can begin.

The current social landscape in the United States is characterized by an extreme degree of polarization, which exists, in many cases, even within the community of faith. This polarization makes it difficult to “name the monster” in ways that do not end up alienating half of those assembled to worship. How should preachers address the difficulty of “naming” in congregations of severely mixed opinion?

“Crisis Preaching and Corporate Worship” Liturgy, vol. 27, no. 1, p. 48.

Carol M. Norén is a United Methodist minister, and the Wesley W. Nelson Professor of Homiletics at North Park Theological Seminary, Chicago, Illinois.

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