I am a planter. This means that I not only extract and re-arrange, but I deposit. We do not leave the soil empty, disturbed, and void. Far from it, we leave the ground altered by adding to it. We plant seeds! We plant seeds of hope, that hope that is in Christ and His gospel. That hope that shows the more excellent way of being and doing. We plant seeds! The seeds of self reliance and mutuality. We plant seeds! The seeds of community, and communal interdependence. We plant seeds! The seeds of hope that result in outgrowths of power, the ability to bring about necessary change and action. We plant seeds that result in the flourishing of new theological underpinning, new self understandings, “new narratives for lifeâ€™s broken stories,” and “new framing stories from which to hold life together.” We plant seeds which are kernels of hope, new beginnings, and life. Every sermon, every Bible study, every interaction, hug, kind look, and kind word has been the well intentioned attempt of a planter to sow seeds.
My planting task is not an easy job. It involves getting oneâ€™s hands dirty, and it alters oneâ€™s posture. It is not a work to be done standing erect; no, it requires one to bow at times, to bow in perfect submission and as an act of contrition. This work requires that one touches and manipulates less than desirable objects. A planter has to touch dung. Bad attitudes, mean heartedness, and dissenting, deviant, pessimistic outlooks on life, opposition from all angles, are the dung that we have to handle. We do this all not because we want to, but because we have to, it is part of our job for we are planters.
There are problematic parts of planting, but all in all this is a wonderful job. It is a way of providing the future sustenance and nourishment of humanity. It is a way of leaving a memorable, yet immeasurable, lingering mark on the world. It is the best way imaginable to pay back the “debt of love I owe” to my mentors, and the professors who labored tirelessly tilling the soil of my incredibly hard head. It is the best way imaginable to show forth my love for Christ, who gave up His life for my flourishing. This job of planting is one of monkey see and monkey do, we planters do as Christ did for us, we lay down our privilege and agendas for the sake of another just as Christ did according to Philippians 2:5-7. Lastly, this job is a wonderful job, one in which we are rewarded heavily for, both on the job and in retirement. On the job we watch the things we have given life to grow and give life to others, and in retirement we receive the best retirement benefits package of all time, we receive the uncanny privilege of being with God for all eternity. Yes I am a planter…And I would not have it any other way.
I am a planter which means that I have the duty of tilling the soil. I literally have to break the soil, and turn what was up, over so that it is down. They reverse things when necessary. Likewise, I have the task of placing what was down and under the earth up and on top. Likewise, I have to take that which is up and put it down.
I have to turn things upside down. To put it simply, I have to upset the equilibrium. I have to be a trailblazer if that is necessary. I have to just put things on their head. This can cause some problems for those who are attached to the status quo. This can upset those who are used to business as usual. In fact this will ruffle feathers, but if I am to take my job as pastor/planter seriously, I must till the soil.
Some of the things we as a church prioritize and major in are minor, minute, and moot issues. It has been my job as a planter to turn those things that were up, those things that were priorities upside down and reverse them until the right priorities are realized and the right perspective is achieved.
While reflection on my brief tenure in the pastorate I can say in all honesty that there is no greater joy than to work in the area of oneâ€™s passion. For about two months I have been living in a region of the country completely foreign to me, involved in an immense act of service towards individuals who constantly perplex, surprise, and at times even serve as a source of agony. Nonetheless, I can’t think of anything else Iâ€™d rather be doing! In the next few posts, I will discuss this time in light of the very helpful image from the Apostle Paul.
I am like a gardener, a planter to be specific. Paul loaned me this terminology in his first pastoral correspondence to the church at Corinth. Paul, in the third chapter around the fifth and sixth verse (1 Corinthians 3:5-6), apparently frustrated from the division within the church, records that he and Apollos are not rivals but teammates pursuing the same goal. He further asserts that all in that church have specified roles. Paul says that one plants, another waters, and then God finishes the job by giving the increase. I like this! It actually is a suitable way of summing up my pastoral ministry thus far; I am a planter.
Planters, have a tough multifaceted job. They have the back breaking work of digging up weeds. Now weeds come in all sorts of shapes, forms, and fashions. And some weeds have deep roots that extend way down deep into the ground. Some weeds are flourishing, and have been for a while. Nonetheless, weeds are the enemies of the desired output of any garden because weeds choke out produce.
As a planter, it is incumbent upon me to rid the soil of weeds, all weeds in the multifaceted ways in which they can sprout up. This is no easy task; there are weed-personalities that choke-out growth of any sort; there are weed practices which choke out the prospects of human flourishing as they lead to self consumption; and then finally there are weed paradigms which choke out the cultivation of new and exciting ways of being in the world.
In my pastorate, I have been digging! I have been digging up weed-personalities that won’t allow personal or communal growth. These weed-personalities stifle our movement. Often these “weed-personalities” stem from negative self images or negative images of the church. Whatever the case, we preachers have to dig the weed out. I have seen weed-practices in the church that have had to be pulled out. Some wanted to hold on, but God has given me the assignment of digging out the weeds. Finally, the hardest of all, I have had to pull weed-paradigms that stifle any kind of creativity.
Yes I have had to dig up the weeds, but this is not the only part of the job of the planter and it is not the only part of my job as pastor-preacher. in the next few posts we will discuss tilling the soil and planting the seeds. While pulling the weeds is not one of the enjoyable aspects of my job, I know that God will give the increase that God has promised in the word, so I go on ahead and dig up them weeds so that the Master won’t find me sleeping on the job that was assigned to me.
Acts 4:20 (KJV)
For we cannot but speak the things which we have seen and heard.
I believe that these words uttered in antiquity by Peter and John have much to offer those of us wrestling with the pressing circumstances of modernity. Particularly the quandary pertaining to the necessity of the Black church. There are those who seem to believe that the institution known as the Black church has run its course, and is no longer necessary. This paradigm seems to make sense, after all there is little doubt that African Americans, as a collective, have achieved wealth and social status equal to any other ethnic group within the United States. In addition, society has seemingly erased the color line. There is no longer legislated segregation. Hence the question arises, why do we segregate ourselves, particularly on Sunday morning; is there a need for the Black church?
To begin, I need to make a clarifying statement. The Black church neither is now, nor has it ever been a monolithic institution. It has always had as varied a theological and socio-economic outlook as the skin pigmentation of it’s congregants. However, when I refer to the Black church I am referring to that blessed institution which first began as an invisible institution in the backwoods of the antebellum south. That institution which buoyed up the down cast and downtrodden slaves, the institution that mobilized and organized slaves to revolt and fight the social evil of slavery; the institution that spurred the establishment of denominations, and colleges. The institution that birthed King, and the greatest revival in this nations history the Civil Rights movement. This is the Black church.
I believe with out a shadow of a doubt that the Black church is no less than essential to the flourishing of the United States. It has served and must continue to sere as the siren to the soul of this country. The Black church has been the a voice of truth, confession, confrontation, and correction for the nation. When slavery and her bastard child segregation were the normative de facto laws of the land it was the Black church who constantly blew the whistle, gave voice to the voice less and called for change.
In addition, Paul and John’s commentary in the aforementioned passage explain in a sense the dire necessity of the Black church. The apostles state that they can not help but bear witness to the events which they have experienced. This is in short the thesis of Tom Long’s seminal work The Witness of Preaching. Hence experience with a particular text is the basis for proclamation. As African Americans our experiences have been quite different from the experiences of the dominant culture. For this reason, our expression is different. In the immortal words of Rev. Dr. Freddy Haynes, in response to the media’s lynching of Rev. Dr. Jeremiah Wright, â€œdifferent experiences lead to different expressions.â€
The Black church is a reminder that Christianity is not a cookie cutter religion, meaning it is not monolithic. It is an expression of faith in a God who appears differently to different people. God is quite capable of remaining God and yet being relevant in different ways to different people. Just as people in the U.S. May be experiencing Summer presently and people in Sub-Saharan Africa are experiencing winter; and it is presently day light on one part of the world and yet night in another; in the same vein God may be experienced as the guaranteer of success and the vanguard of the status quo to one population, and yet still be considered as a resting place and co-conspirer for those longing for revolution.
God is simply that vast and inexhaustible, so much so that we as individuals with our limited experiences can’t even hope to grasp the magnitude of God. Instead, it takes the whole of community, the human community to begin to get a peep-hole glimpse of the enormous grandeur that is God. In essence, without the Black church’s unique perspective of God based on it’s experience the whole of humanity can not hope to ever get a better understanding of God. For it is the Black church who taught the world that God is a mother to the motherless child a long way from home, it is the Black church who taught the world of God’s approachable-ness in that we could steal away to God. The Black church taught us all that Precious Jesus would come and take our tired week and weary hands and lead us on and let us stand. The Black church taught us that King Jesus is a listenin’. Is there a need for the Black church certainly Lawd, certainly, certainly, certainly Lawd.
Many have done it. You listen to a preacher say something catchy and repeat it. Perhaps you have heard a great sermon and re-preached it. Whatever the case, presenting other’s work as your own is stealing and false representation. Whenever, we front like the work of another is ours we are stealing!
Yes I know, we all read commentaries, and we all listen to sermons or at least we should, but there is a difference between being inspired through preparation and down right perpetrating.
But I must ask the important question: When is it no longer preaching but plagerism and piracy? and further, How can we hold ourselves accountable?
I mean it’s a shame! To do this in the hallowed halls of academia will result in dismissal, the same holds true in any other field. It’s fraud! Yet we tolerate it in the church and the pulpit of all places! How can we expect our parishioners to be just in their dealings when we ourselves are notorious in ours?
We need some integrity. It is wrong to steal. It is wrong to lie, and pretending as if you’ve wrote something you didn’t is a huge lie! Especially when we consider the fact that we’re getting paid at least partially to prepare and present sermons.
A definition of pimping is to get paid from the toil of another, so not only are we stealing (plagiarism/piracy) but we’re also pimping! Especially in this multi-media world, where we can broadcast another’s ideas via internet, TV, CD, and DVD, and make money off of them! I’ve heard of preachers doing revivals and getting paid well. However, some of these same preachers were preaching the sermons of other preachers. This is just down right wrong.
I must say to Stop it! To those preachers who are reading this that specialize in Sat. night specials and surf the net, or Libronix, and/or WordSearch to cut and paste together sermons, or those brothers and sisters who constantly re-incarnate what they’ve heard a televangelist say and do, you should just stop it! I must say to those preachers in my most earnest voice, “Stop It!”
God will speak and in those moments when God is silent, do as Renita Weems suggests and live in the meantime, The span of time between the last time and the next time. Preach in the meantime, testify of God’s goodness even in His seeming silence. Walk by faith. This silence is also a part of the journey. Take heart nobody hears the voice of God always and at all times, if they did they wouldn’t need to have faith! So take heart and be encouraged, but do not I mean do not, take the work of others and pretend that it is your own.
Secondly, consider sitting in your own saddle. God gifts us all differently. Some of us just don’t have the same outlook. Rather than stealing the fruits of another’s outlook on the text consider your own. For instance, I have a friend in CT, nobody preaches like him! He shouted me in front of all the sisters I was trying to impress at the National Baptist Convention Summer Congress. All of this while I was on stage, and in my convention suit (yall know how we are when we swear we clean and trying to be cool!)
I mean he KILLED me, killed me dead! I have two other friends who preached in the same convention at a late night service and another who preached there during the day. They can all rip a text apart and then put it back together again. They are masters, while I am a novice. Yet, I still will not steal their stuff, (even though we exchange information, and when I borrow I cite them), because I haven’t lived life in their shoes. So I don’t see things as they do! We come from different vantage points and it’d be a disservice to think that God would have us to see and say the same things. If this were the case He would’ve never called me! I have nothing on them, I ain’t even as nice as them! Instead, I recognize that God has seen fit to navigate me through some tumultuous times and events all to shape my outlook on the biblical narrative. With this being said I have no need to steal, their expressions of God’s navigational prowess, because I have my own!
And so do you, I implore and encourage you to discover how GPS has benefited you in life, no not the GPS that accompanies Cadillacs and other fine coupes, I mean the GPS that comes in the finest machinery known to humanity….humanity itself. And this GPS is God’s piloting system. Activate it through prayer, fasting, and meditation, ask God to open your eyes, minds, and hearts. And then finally, just as you want pour good wine or champagne, or good cognac, or fresh water, or even cold Kool-Aide into a dirty container, neither will God speak to us when we sit cemented and centered in sinful activities, so I suggest that we try to live right, so that God will want to speak to us, through new and exciting means with new and exciting messages!
When inspired by a sermon, use it, but make it your own, and most importantly tell the truth if you got it from someone cite them, nothing makes you look smarter than citing some information!
Remember, knowing it all doesn’t really make you smart because no one knows it all! But the truly smart are smart not because they know it all, but because they know where to go to get the answers!
As always your questions, comments, concerns, critiques, conversation and contention is much warranted and welcomed.