Comings and Goings is a blog written by Theology, Worship and Education Director Charles B. "Chip" Hardwick as he travels throughout the church. God is on the move out and about in the world, working to redeem all things in Jesus Christ. As we join this mission, by the power of the Spirit we see God on the move. This blog contains glimpses of how Chip finds this to be true in his comings and goings.
You can follow Chip on twitter (@chiphardwick) or find him on Facebook (Chip Hardwick).
Last weekend I went to Bay City, MI, to preach at the Westminster Presbyterian Church (pictured left) where my good friend Matt Schramm (former chair of the Presbyterian Mission Agency Board) serves as pastor. The evening before I had the chance to see him perform in the musical “Next to Normal.” This musical, remarkably, deals with mental illness in a way that is both fantastical and realistic—and offers some clear implications for ministry.
The show’s plot centers on a family where an infant’s death triggers long-term mental illness in the mother, and the combination of the illness and the aftermath of the death wreaks havoc on the father and surviving daughter. The audience experiences a harrowing walk alongside the family as they try counseling, medication, electroshock therapy to make strides against the disease, which eventually leads to tragedy and separation.
In the title song, the daughter sings these haunting words:
I don’t need a life that’s normal
That’s way too far away
But something next to normal
Would be okay
Yeah, something next to normal
That’s the thing I’d like to try
Close enough to normal
To get by
During the musical my mind tracked with friends who have had experiences like the one embodied onstage. I thought about a pastor friend whose wife’s struggles mirrored those of the lead character. I think he would have given anything for a “next to normal” life during those years. I thought of a former parishioner whose infant daughter died, perhaps suffocating while she breastfed. Yes, a “next to normal” life would have been a godsend for her.
I thought about these things as I preached my sermon the next morning—a sermon which the listeners seemed to find meaningful—but which, like too many of my sermons, tended to stay 10,000 feet above concrete challenges like those displayed in the musical. As I consider my preaching over time, I realize I am reluctant to dig into the really meaty, overwhelming realities that many listeners face: mental illness, addiction, divorce, career disillusionment, etc. This is especially true when the topics have some kind of taboo to them (such as mental illness). I have failed to follow the advice that I blogged about a year and a half ago (which you can read here).
I also believe that preaching is God’s word, and that the Holy Spirit is actively at work when a pastor delivers her sermon. That same Spirit longs for each of us to live a more abundant life—even though a “next to normal” life might be all that’s on the immediate horizon. A sermon can be the agent by which the Spirit moves someone one step closer to this “next to normal” life—and it certainly seems that sermons which actually wrestle with the meaty, overwhelming issues of life is more likely to be used in this way than one which simply skips over them in more generalized terms.
If you’re a preacher, what might you do to be an agent of the Spirit in helping others move closer to a “Next to Normal” life? If you are a listener, how can you graciously encourage your preacher to dig into deeper issues, so that yours and others’ lives can move from “Next to Normal” to more abundant?
PS I am glad to be blogging again after several months off. For the last six months I have been covering many additional responsibilities while serving as Acting Director for Evangelism and Church Growth for the Presbyterian Church (USA). This prevented me from blogging regularly. Although those responsibilities have not ended, I hope to blog more regularly beginning with this entry.
PPS I mention Matt Schramm above—you may know him better as the director and producer for the “GA Floor” video which went viral after our last General Assembly. Watch it here.
I am so grateful for the chance to return this past weekend to the church where I most recently served before heading to Louisville: Second Presbyterian Church of Bloomington, IL. Participating in the ordination of the Rev. Susan Tindall (below left), a daughter of the church whom I got to know at seminary, gave me great joy. She is an outstanding pastor and it is exciting that she will now have the “Rev.” in front of her name to help others see that God has called her to serve in this extraordinary way.
The calling God has given us is immense: to join the Spirit’s work to transform the world through Christ’s redeeming love. It is daunting, especially when we consider how often churches churches and worshiping communities struggle to introduce new approaches or perspectives. Resources seem scarce compared to the enormity of the challenges facing us.
I was honored to be able to preach at Alma College’s Homecoming this past weekend. I graduated from Alma in 1988 and my commitment to the school skyrocketed last year when I returned to the central Michigan campus for my 25th Homecoming. I was so impressed to see how the college’s physical plant has been transformed, and how amazing the musical programs have become. (My fraternity house seems as sketchy as ever, but that is a story for another day.)
Earlier this week I had the chance to be a part of the Western National Leadership Training conference for the Presbyterian Church (USA) in Jackson Hole, WY. Around 100 church leaders, mostly from the area of the Rocky Mountains, came for a three-day get-together of networking, Bible study, keynotes, and workshops. The theme of the event was leadership in changing times, and my workshop explored what it means to do ministry in a post-modern, post-Christendom, post-Christian, and post-denominational culture.