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Day Four

Will Willimon was good to finally hear in person. He both preached and lectured. His sermon ended with "People of God, the Holy Spirit is with you. Watch out!" In his lecture he attacked what he called "PowerPoint Preaching." Not necessarily using the computer program, but sermons that boil everything down to bullet points that give you the five easy steps to make life better, stuff like that. He was very critical of Rick Warren, for instance, and said that Warren was actually doing what 19th century liberals had done who hadn't taken the Bible seriously enough. Willimon said you can't sever the form of the gospel from its substance. At another point he said that sermon listeners must have a willingness to be confused. At the end he took question (the only person to do that thus far) and ended up dancing and dancing around a question about what he would say to George Bush if he had the chance. It was disappointing from a man who has spoken prophetically in many places and there was much discussion afterward that maybe becoming a bishop had had an effect on him. I will say that during his sermon he more bodly took a pro-gay stance than he has before. In fact, his exegesis of the Ethiopian eunuch was COMPLETELY different than his published commentary on the passage. In the commentary he dismisses that the Ethiopian was even an eunuch, while this morning he embraced the queer reading of the text.

Frank Thomas was impressive. He's a younger minister from Memphis who spoke on the African-American preaching tradition with the title "Making music with what you have left." He said that African-American preaching had always operated out of a paradigm of hope despite current circumstances that was based on four principles 1) God is the unquestionable sustainer of the world; 2) the world maintains a permanent physical and moral order; 3) God is loving, powerful and in control; 3) God is able. Among notes I wrote down from his lecture: the greater the adversity, the greater the potential for hope; construct and marshal a vision of hope that then allows you to protest your way through to it; he called militarism, racism, and extreme materialism the "Axis of Evil." It was a very good speech with the amazing rhythms of the African-American preacher.

Mostly I've taken notes from the lectures and not the sermons, so I didn't take any notes tonight of the worship service led by Kenneth Samuel and his congregation Victory for the World which is both baptist and UCC. It is an African-American mega church that lost 2,000 members when Dr. Samuel led them to become welcoming and affirming and to join the UCC. Now they have been rebuilding and have over 4,000 members. He preached one of the most powerful sermons I've ever heard. It was on the widow before the unjust judge. He preached about the power of the powerless, the power to speak up, express yourself, and persevere. The sermon was filled with one amazing line or turn of phrase or insight after another. Toward the end he led in this buildilng litany about how we needed to "agitate, agitate" that ended in a standing ovation and a Pentecostal furvor in this room full of mostly white, mainline Protestants. I felt like dancing afterwards.

He preached at the Cathedral in Dallas in Lent; I'm sorry I missed him then.


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Kevin Sinclair

Fantastic reports of the conference!


Thanks for offering your take on the day. I've never seen someone dance so hard around a question as Willimon did when asked about George W. But I somehow expected it from him, since he (and his buddy Hauerwas) love to go against everyone's expectations.

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