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Preaching Prompts: Freedom and Courage

The writer, Marilynne Robinson, was interviewed recently by The New York Times about her upcoming book Reading Genesis.


The beloved author of Gilead is a member of the Congregationalist Church and a thinker with the best of Calvinist sensibilities. She often appeals to and sometimes challenges preachers about their role. Here’s a passage that hit me as we lean into Holy Week and consider the courage of Jesus in the face of both religious and political authorities juxtaposed against the lack of courage we see in the disciples before the resurrection.


The idea that we’re freer than we’re led to believe — I’m thinking of that in the light of much more scrutiny about the choices artists make and what they represent and the language they use and their stance toward their subjects. You think we have more leeway than we might believe? A lot of freedom is curtailed by people assuming that their freedom is curtailed. I hear people saying: “I wouldn’t dare say that. Someone might object.” That’s how tyrannies operate. Artists and writers have, during my whole life, presented themselves as if they were flying in the face of bourgeois expectation. That’s the black turtleneck of the whole thing. And here they are, perhaps flying in the face of somebody’s expectations, and they act as if they have to be intimidated by that, as if they have to mold their behavior around it. If, for the first time in my life, it’s actually true that there is some risk involved in being contrarian, well, take the risk! That’s the point!


It does require a degree of courage. So? Who decided we shouldn’t have courage? That kind of appalls me to think that people need not expect that of themselves.


Every preacher counts the cost week by week of speaking a prophetic word. We have more freedom than we realize, but it does take courage. There is risk involved for us. But there is also the matter of the risk to the people of not having a pastor who will speak the word they need to hear.


Frederick Buechner concludes his important book on preaching, Telling the Truth, by citing concluding lines of Shakespeare’s King Lear

The weight of this sad time we must obey,

Speak what we feel, not what we ought to say.


~ George A. Mason

19 March 2024

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I remember you quoting that King Lear line at the beginning of a very difficult funeral. There is so much truth there. Thank you for your courage, George. And for this reminder.

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