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Friday, January 8, 2016

"Blue Note Preaching in a post-Soul World" (Otis Moss III)

TITLE: Blue Note Preaching in a Post-Soul World: Finding Hope in an Age of Despair
PUBLISHER: Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2015, (136 pages).

There is much we can learn from the different kinds of preaching. My preaching professor once shared about the dynamism of Black Preaching, which according to Otis Moss III, is not about "preaching with a Black face" but a completely unique style that mixes preaching with storytelling; theology and technique; rhetoric with exposition; and vocal variety with bodily posturing. Moss adds that it is a "unique cultural narrative and theological enterprise where African motifs meet diverse western influences of North America. A beautiful, bold, homiletical voice, poetry, prophetic witness, southern storytelling, lament, blues, and celebration are born out of this tradition." What exactly is "blue note preaching?" For Moss, it means three things.

First, it means the traditional Black Preaching in a blues-filled environment. This requires the use of style and substance to speak the gospel of hope in an age of despair. With lots of bad news that stream through the news and social media nowadays, this need has grown more acute. Instead of preaching a form of private capitalism for the affluent, speak the gospel publicly to hungry souls. Move away from the "clamor of material blessings, success without work, prayer without public concern, and preaching without burdens." Re-embrace the literary beauty of the art of preaching. This mood is encapsulated in the history of the Blues art form, rooted in African cultural legacy that looks at life from the side of the marginalized in society. For Moss, this is well expressed by two theologians, August Wilson and Zora Neale Hurston. Wilson believes that "Blues Speech" has the "power to save" in the sense that the individual can be liberated from "spiritual isolation." It is prophetic preaching that is bold to speak about tragedy, yet hopeful enough not to fall into perpetual despair. Hurston takes the role of storytelling, whose novels give subdued emotions an eloquent avenue for honest expression. Blue-Note Preaching is like Isaiah's preaching that is filled with "poetic power and prophetic boldness" coupled with "Blues sensitivity." It opens the path for seekers to envision the Christ the Giver of all Hope. It creates a new world that is open to all, out of the shackles of the old world that is closed to many. Those who preach it know the pain of oppression, like Martin Luther King Jr. Those who understand it nods like Maya Angelou who refers to it as "sweet brutality." In such a preaching mood, Blue Note preaching not only makes Jesus central, it makes Jesus real.

Second, Blue note preaching is that delicate preparation of the heart that is between the shouting of future hope and the awareness of present despair. It is not the mere explicit calls to sing, to dance, to shout, or to preach what people long to hear. It is about giving the Word that points people to God. This makes preaching an art to galvanize the hearts that hang down to cling on to God. With a keen understanding of limited freedom and a glimpse of the liberation of the gospel, we sense the movement of God. It is that boldness to see the light amid darkness. It is being united. It is empowerment of the weak, the poor, and the marginalized. Preaching is also a form of "performance" that embodies all of these.

Third, Blue-note preaching is not about methodology but about soul. It is not homiletical techniques and methods but the living Word existing in the preaching. Preaching involves the preacher as well, and Moss calls the preacher a "prophet of the modern age." Using the technological metaphor that compares "analog" as stationary (where people come to the device) and "digital" as mobile (where the information goes to people), Moss shows us that Blue note preaching is about us coming back to the "digital" age in which Christ comes to us. Hip-hop preaching is about movements through the elements of "graffiti, break dancing, DJing, and rapping." Graffiti is about the "aesthetic expression" through the "appropriation of space." "Break dancing" is about movement and "kinetic energy" that do what words alone cannot do. "DJing" looks at the use of technology within the context of worship. "Rapping" is about "oral dexterity, rhetorical proficiency."

Moss then concludes with four sermons to demonstrate all of the above. As I read this book, I find it very fascinating to see how Black preaching and Blue-Note preaching has so much diversity that traditional evangelical preaching lacks. My preaching professor once showed me a video clip about what Black Preaching means. It is not only powerful, it connects personally with the audience. It is something that cannot be simply read or heard. It has to be visualized to help our eyes see and our ears hear the whole preaching of the Word. It has to be experienced in order for us to understand. It has to be lived out in order for us to be deeply aware of the movement of God in our hearts. Churches and Christian communities need greater diversity in their preaching styles. Seminaries and Bible colleges need more training and exposure to wider expressions of preaching and homiletical skills. Audiences need to be active participants in the worship of God through the Word and not leave it only to the preacher in front of them.

Moss is pastor of Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago. With his passion for inner city black youth and his conviction about black liberation theology, he writes this book as if he is preaching. While this book tells us a lot about what blue-note preaching is all about, I would urge readers to check out videos and audio recordings of actual blue-note preaching. Let this book be the accompanying guide as you watch and listen to how blue-note preaching speak the words of hope amid a climate of hopelessness and despair. Living in a broken world with broken people, we all need it. Every one of us.

Rating: 4.25 stars of 5.


This book is provided to me courtesy of Westminster John Knox Press and NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.

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