Thursday, 16 August 2018

Spoiler warning

If you haven’t seen ‘Mamma Mia - Here we go again’ and intend to do it:
Stop reading here!
I want to make a few comments about the end of the movie.

In the first movie Meryl Streep plays a central role. In the second movie the audience has to wait until the end before she enters the scene. Why? Because her character – Donna – is dead. We only get to know Donna as a much younger person. In flashbacks.  So, how can the grown up Donna enter the scene – if she is not alive?

This is why I want to make a comment. The possibility of Donna’s daughter, Sophie, actually meeting her late mother comes through a sacrament. At the christening (baptism) of Sophie’s child, Donna enters the church. It comes across as a vision. My impression is that only Sophie can see her mother. When she, Donna, leaves the church building, she walks into the sunshine – or into the eternal light.

Sophie (Amanda Seyfried) and Donna (Meryl Streep) meet in the church.
At the end of the movie, however, everyone can see her. Both in her grown up (Meryl Streep) version and in a younger version. Likewise the three possible fathers of Sophie are also present in two versions. As teenagers and as adults. As well as Donnas two best friends. Temporal and spatial distances are being bridged.

My own mother died in 1999. I often feel close to her when I participate in another sacrament, Eucharist. It is my understanding that time and space in a sense cease to exist when we break bread and share the cup.

Hence I am not surprised that this is a perspective that the movie makers make use of. One can of course ask questions about how the two composers of the music, Benny Andersson and Björn Ulvaeus, who also appear in the movie, have reacted to this end scene. It is not the first time religion plays a significant role in their production. The musical: ‘Kristina from Duvemala’ has faith as a central theme. Benny Andersson has composed the music of several modern church hymns but Björn Ulvaeus is known to be an atheist.

Be that as it may. When I participated in a conference about preaching in the beginning of this month, one of the key note addresses was about Pauli Murray. The speaker, Dr Donyelle McCray, told us about how Pauli presided in her first Eucharist (prima missa) as an Episcopal priest in the church in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, where her great role model, her grandmother Cornelia, had been baptized and how that meant a lot to Pauli. A sense of closeness to an important person in her life and family.

In both the movie and in the story about Pauli Murray I find resonance to my own experience. My wish is that more people should find their way to the sacraments, where time and space can be bridged, through Christ.

Wednesday, 8 August 2018

Societas Homiletica – day six

Incoming President Alexander Deeg receiving wishes of good luck from
outgoing President Dawn Ottoni-Wilhelm
Last day of the conference. Already on our way back to Sweden. Today we only had two sessions. First business meeting, which for instance means electing a new President and new board members. But also tabling applications from us who want to become members of the association.

There were 21 new applications and I was one of them. All 21 were accepted (they usually are), so I can gladly announce that I now am a full member of Societas Homiletica. A good network for inspiration and sharing of ideas and research.

The conference ended with a Worship Service. The closing hymn is also my prayer:
Be Thou my Vision, O Lord of my heart
Naught be all else to me, save that Thou art
Thou my best Thought, by day or by night
Waking or sleeping, Thy presence my light

Societas Homiletica – day five

Frank was also leader
of our reflection group.
One of the highlights this day was definitely the sermon at the morning service. Rev Dr Frank Thomas is an Afro-American preacher, who really preaches in the tradition of call and response. I will not try to convey what he said. The theme was
What about the children?
Based on a reading from Exodus 1:15-22 where the two Hebrew midwifes, Shiphrah and Puah, saves children whom the king of Egypt wanted them to kill, he spoke about the situation that children in this world face. We were all moved.

Just as most of the other days, this one was filled with interesting addresses and presentations. I want to point to one of them. Rev Dr Ulla Morre Bidstrup presented thought on how to preach at weddings. It was clear that the Danish church emphasizes this and other similar sermons more than we do. Like sermons at baptisms and funerals. After the presentation we talked and as far as I understand they spend almost double the amount of teaching on those sermons compared with us.

The fact is that we probably preach to more people at these services than at Sunday services. After this presentation I need to go back home and give our syllabus a thought.

Ulla gave us much to think about.
Dr Bidstrup also gave good examples of how one can structure a sermon at a wedding service. This I will make us of in my teaching.

The day ended with a banquet with cultural sharing. From a number of countries that were represented different items were delivered. The Swedish group sang an old song known as
Away with all that causes anguish [Bort allt vad oro gör]
It fitted quite well to the theme of the conference, about fear.

After five interesting days we just have a few sessions tomorrow morning and thereafter we will go back home. With a lot of new thoughts and also new friends and colleagues. Grateful!

Monday, 6 August 2018

Societas Homiletica – day four – Pauli Murray!

Dr Donyelle McCray, Yale Divinity School
Monday. This is the day with different excursions in the afternoon. I am not going to write about them. I will focus on this morning’s Keynote Address:
Pauli Murray In and Out of the Pulpit.
The speaker was Dr Donyelle McCray, Assistant Professor of Homiletics at Yale Divinity School. She was brilliant. And the story about Pauli Murray was so interesting.

First of all I have to confess that I had not heard of her. But now I have. She was an activist before the civil rights movement really took off. She was also a lawyer and a poet. Rather late she was also ordained in the Episcopal Church. As the first Afro American Woman Priest.

Already as a young person she described herself as inwardly male and outwardly female. She liked to dress in male clothes and carry out traditionally male duties.

Dr McCray painted a lively portrait of Pauli Murray. And she also introduced three of her most important inspirations.
Cornelia Smith Fitzgerald (Her grandmother).
Langston Hughes (A famous Harlem renaissance poet).
James Cone (one of the most renowned proponents of Black Theology in the US, who died April 28 this year).
Her grandmother was a preacher, but not in church. She held sermons to her neighbors and that inspired young Pauli. From Hughes she learnt about poetry. Murray meant that sermon and poetry are overlapping genres. I could not agree more. This is partly what I said in my own presentation. I am aware that I only am in the beginning myself.

Hughes also stressed how important it is to use one’s voice in more than one way. On this note I remember how we spoke about the grunting of preachers in Africa. A connection to the traditional praise singer, in isiZulu called ‘ibongi’. Either Hughes or Pauli Murray had said that
Language conceals the human voice
This means that a preacher should use other sounds. Even weeping as a way of expressing deep emotions. (This is far from our western preaching style, but in southern Africa we experienced this a lot).

When the address dwelled on Cone much was said about the role of anger in sermons. Anger as something that should not be feared but something that is informative.

The address was long but very inspiring. I want to learn more about this remarkable woman. I have found a website but I cannot see that much about her sermons is being mentioned. The link comes here.

Pauli Murray was ordained in 1977 and died in 1985. At the General Convention of the Episcopal Church 2012 her name was added to the Calendar of Commemorations of The Episcopal Church, and thus to Holy Women.

Something that especially spoke to me was her love for dogs. She liked to pray with her dog at her side. This I have done a lot myself, especially early mornings in South Africa.

Societas Homiletica – day three!

Duke Chapel. Or Cathedral?
Sunday meant late morning. The Church Service started only at 11 am. Some of the participants went to a Southern Baptist church for worship. Others to the chapel on campus, Duke Chapel. (With the size of a cathedral.) I decided to take part in the latter.

The Church was almost full. There was a choir singing and a well prepared sermon by the dean of the chapel. The congregation is interdenominational. Mainline. One thing happened, which I have never experienced. After the service, that took approximately one hour a short communion service started in a small side chapel. We were around fifty persons gathering there. Starting with the Eucharistic prayer with a liturgy similar to the one we have in Church of Sweden we shared the body and blood of Jesus Christ and all was done in fifteen minutes. I saw that many of us Swedish participants took part in the communion. I guess we are used to weekly Eucharist. It was a precious moment although I prefer to have the Eucharist included in the main service.

The side chapel where we celebrated Holy Communion.
The rest of the day was filled with a key note address, workshops and paper presentation. The terminology is interesting. Even if the presenter don’t have a physical paper in her or his hand, it is still named a paper presentation. This happened for instance when Lis Valle shared a video with the heading
Queering Preaching
It was a moving recording of a service where she, as a sermon, had danced a burlesque dance. Rather provocative but also touching. Why is it that some artistic expressions are welcomed in church but others are not? Food for thought!

In the same session Anuparthi John Prabhakar spoke about the Dalit community in India and how worship in this context looks like. A group that traditionally have been prohibited to worship in the temple, because they were untouchable. They had their own religion, using the shade under the trees as their temples. The Deity could possess any person and use this person as a priest – not like in a Hindu temple, where only the Brahmins could talk. So, the religion became very corporate and democratic. When Protestant mission came they built churches and ordained pastors, which meant they were copying the Hindu style, which made the Dalit community uncomfortable. John’s suggestion was that the Church must reconnect to the Dalit roots.

Both the Queer and the Dalit example is about exclusion or inclusion. How do we preach in a way that not only welcome people but also affirms?

The day ended with group reflections. So helpful to reflect together with homileticians from all over the world. The conference and the conversations give me much material to bring back to my own teaching at the Institute.

Sunday, 5 August 2018

Societas Homiletica – day two!

The second day of the conference has now ended. Vi started with morning meditation. Anne Gidion claimed that you cannot argue with fear. The only thing one can do is to tell counterstories. She told us about a project in the German Church where you tell hopestories as counterstories to hatestories. The hashtag is
From #hateSpeech to #hopeSpeech
After that the President, Dawn Ottoni-Wilhelm, whit Swedish origin on her maternal side, gave her Address. This speech was followed by group reflections.
After lunch and an international panel with participants from South Africa, India and Venezuela it was time for presentations. I presented a paper on prophetic preaching. I got a lot of valuable feedback and was also encouraged to continue working and maybe publish a book on the topic.

My colleague, Gunilla Renöfält, who teaches in Lund, also presented her paper in a panel. She did very well and got many positive comments.
The day ended with Jazz Vespers. John Brown “little” Big band played and at the end of the service we were all on our feet dancing and rejoicing.

I am going to sleep well tonight!

Saturday, 4 August 2018

Societas Homiletica – a society of love

The first evening at this homiletical conference is over. We meet at Duke Divinity School, in Durham, North Carolina. Around 70 participants from different parts of the world. I count between 15 and 20 countries on the list of participants. After registration and dinner we gathered for a Service of Worship in Goodson Chapel.

Listen to this prayer of confession, inspired by Proverbs 1:20-23:
God of rushing wind and silver moon,Wisdom cries in the street, and we have not heard.
She raises her voice, and we hurry past.
With distracted eyes and divided hearts, we have ignored her counsel.
We have ignored You.
Forgive us, we pray.
We are weary of our false assurance and would hear truth.
After that we hear the words of assurance.

Meslissa Gamble performs a Liturgical Dance.
We sing together. There is a Liturgical Dance performed by Melissa Gamble a 3rd year Master of Divinity student. It is powerful.

Powerful is also the sermon of one of the founding members of the Society, Rev Dr Richard Lischer. It is he who describes Societas Homiletica as a society of love. An alternative to all societies of fear, that exist in this world.

The theme of this years conference is:
Fearing God in a Fear-Filled World?
He underscores this possibility: instead of fearing everything else – fear God. It gives me something to think about. The idea of fearing God as a help to get rid of much other fear. His final example is amazing. Obviously the President of the US had said, some time ago, that he wanted to protect the Christians in the US. The preacher ended the sermon with something like this:
Mr President, we don’t need your protection. The only one we fear is God. (I mean, how could anyone protect us from God?)

In the sermon and in the prayers I understood that the separation of migrants’ children from the parents is something that really troubles people here.

I look forward to Saturday. At 15.15 I will present my paper. I feel happy about this opportunity.