Sunday, May 11, 2014


Masters of their craft. J Stewart (best preachers - website). STOTT, THIELICKE, b b Taylor, Tom long, WMD Williamson.

RC - memorable; blind borrowed white cane, train, money? Nice lady how long? Swans ton st. How know cross st? Humorous blind friend - screech of brakes.



Once a month, while pastoring a busy church in the 1970s/1980s, I’d receive John Claypool’s printed sermons in the mail. Invariably the rest of the morning was spent devouring them. He was – still is - the best ‘writing preacher’ I’ve ever read. If there is one spot on this planet where I’d choose to spend a six-month study-sabbatical, it would be in a quiet room at the Southern Baptist Historical Library and Archives, reading their collection of his sermons.

John Claypool didn’t fit easily into the conservative milieu of the Southern Baptist Convention. He was regarded with some suspicion as one of those ‘Moderates’ or ‘Cooperatives’ who inhabited the cutting edge of theological enquiry and socio-political issues – especially racism.

John Claypool was ordained to the Baptist ministry in 1953 and pastored five Southern Baptist churches - in Kentucky, Tennessee, Texas, and Mississippi. Tiring eventually of the hard-line fundamentalism of his denomination, he left, and was ordained an Episcopal priest in 1986, ministering as Rector of St. Luke's Episcopal Church in Birmingham, Alabama, for nearly fourteen years. He retired from full-time parish ministry in 2000 and then served as Professor of Preaching at McAfee School of Theology, Mercer University in Atlanta, Georgia…

Why ‘writing preacher’? I’ve met John Claypool, and heard him preach. His preaching-style was thoughtful, and his vocal presentation a bit ‘dreamy’. But his words and ideas-about-ideas, if you ‘hung in there,’ were often mind-blowing.

But John Claypool was not simply an intellectual. His brilliant book The Preaching Event (the 1979 Lyman Beecher Lectures at Yale Divinity School) discusses the what, why, how and when of preaching. The preacher, he says, is a reconciler, who seeks to re-establish trust at the deepest level. We are ‘gift-givers’: too often preaching can fulfil our own needs for love and status. We are witnesses: making available our own grapplings with woundedness to help others in their pain and grief.

Claypool approves of  P. T. Forsyth’s distinction in his 1907 Beecher Lectures, between ‘oratory’ and Christian preaching. The orator’s goal is to "[get] people to do certain things… to motivate individuals and arouse them to act in a certain way. However the goal of the Christian preacher is very different – it’s to facilitate a spirit of openness, trust, at-one-ment’ between the creature and Creator. How was/is this trust broken? Through human beings’ suspicions about God’s love for them. How is it restored? Ultimately, as John Killinger once expressed it: ‘Jesus was God’s answer to the problem of a bad reputation." And, Claypool adds, the miracle of the Easter event is central here. Easter is all about "the patience and mercy of a God who would still have hope for the kind of creatures who had treated his only begotten Son that way. Three days after human beings killed him in cold blood, the word was out, not only that he was alive again, but that he was saying… 'Let’s keep on keeping on. Let’s get back to the task of dispelling suspicion and reconciling the world back to the Father…'."

The Christian preacher thus has an awesome task to perform. It’s not simply about moving people around at the level of behavior, but participating ‘in the miracle of primal reconciliation.’

His magnificent conclusion: "Why do we preach? Not to get something for ourselves, out of need-love, but to give something of ourselves in gift-love. How do we do it? By making available as witnesses what we have learned from our own woundedness for the woundedness of others. When do we do this? At times and in ways that are appropriate to another’s growing as a farmer nurtures a crop. To do this is to participate in the extension of the gospel into our own time. Could anything be a higher human joy? I think not! Let us go, then, under the mercy, with the great story, and in abundant hope…"


In a memorable interview with Claypool conducted by The Wittenburg Door magazine (April/May 1978) he revealed the core issues which made him the person he turned out to be. His spiritual awakening happened in College when he read C S Lewis, and with a "real flash of insight saw that Jesus was the clue to ultimate reality".

Why did he enter pastoral ministry? Among other reasons, to 'earn the blessing of his mother’. When this realization hit him later, he developed a ‘confessional’ preaching style – which, he would tell students in his seminary classes, can be a subtle form of exhibitionism if you’re not careful.

He had a close friendship with Martin Luther King Jr. (a ‘first-rate thinker’) and was active in the civil rights movement. Once he was in a coffee shop with Dr. King, and a journalist took a picture of the two of them. When that photo appeared in the Louisville Courier, he and his family received hate calls and mail, crosses were burned in their front yard, and his children were threatened. When he championed the idea that a Nigerian seminary student (‘that our missionaries had converted’) should be permitted to attend their church ‘a lot of people left and the money dropped off’.

Another significant event was his surprising resignation – after only 5 ½ years - from a church of 5,000 and 11 staff, to go to a much smaller pastorate. Why would a gifted preacher step down the rungs of the ‘success ladder’ and do such a thing? Simple: he was tired, and for him ‘fatigue became a moral category’. He was challenged by Gail Sheehy’s book  Passages about the dangers in mid-life of over-investment in work and under-investment in relationships. Conducting hundreds of funerals of people he didn’t know (and hoping he pronounced the names right) became wearing. "A major mistake," he confessed later, was that "I didn’t call in the community. I acted in isolation: there were surely many options in any situation that address the panicky fear of a tired person". So he negotiated a paid month off before starting in his new pastoral role to study at Yale Divinity School. Slowly he was re-invigorated, and learned that "God is the God of fertilizer: God can take dung and bring things of beauty out of it".


John Claypool’s most ‘wounding’ event was the death of their little eight-year-old girl, Laura Lue, diagnosed with acute leukemia. She lived only eighteen months and ten days after that first shocking news was given to her parents. Tracks of a Fellow Struggler, his first and probably his best-known book, comprises sermons he preached during that time, together with a final chapter ‘Learning to Handle Grief’, preached three and a half years later. It’s the book I’ve shared with many parishioners who’ve had to journey ‘into the valley of the shadow of death’ with a loved one.

He often told this story about his way of handling grief: 

“We did not have a washing machine during World War II and gas was rationed. It was going to be a real challenge. At about that time one of my father’s younger business associates was suddenly drafted into the service. My father offered to let them store their furniture in our basement while he had to be away. Well it so happened that they had an old grey Bendix washing machine. And as they were moving in, my father suggested that maybe they would let us use their machine in lieu of our giving them some storage space.

“The next question became, who is going to become the wash person in the family?

“In that mysterious way that families assign roles, I became the wash person at the grand old age of eleven! For the next four years, I had a ritual every Tuesday and every Friday. I would come home from school, gather up the wash, take it down into the basement, fill the old Bendix with water, put in the clothes, add some soap, and then watch as the plunger would make all kinds of configurations of suds. It had a hand roller to wring the washed clothes out and I can remember as a child trying to stick my finger between those rollers to see how far I could go without it cutting off circulation. In other words, I became affectionately bonded to that old mechanism in those four years.

“When the war was over my father’s friend came back. One day when I was at school, a truck came to our basement, took out all of their things, including the washing machine, and nobody had told me. It was a Tuesday. I came home and gathered up the clothes, went down in the basement, and to this day I can remember my sense of horror as I saw that empty space where the old Bendix had been. I put down the clothes and rushed back upstairs and announced loudly, ‘We have been robbed! Somebody stole our washing machine!’

“My mother, who was not only a musician but also a wise human being, sat me down and said, ‘John, you’ve obviously forgotten how that machine got to be in our basement. It never did belong to us. That we ever got to use it was incredibly good fortune.’ And then she said, ‘If something is a possession and it’s taken away, you have a right to be angry. But if something is a gift and it’s taken, you use that moment to give thanks that it was ever given at all.’

“That was the memory that resurfaced for me the night Laura Lou died. [That little girl] was in my life the way the old Bendix washing machine was in our basement and I heard the voice of my mother say, ‘If it is a gift and it’s taken, you use that occasion to give thanks that it was ever given at all.’ And that memory helped me to decide that night to take the road of gratitude out of the valley of sorrow. The Twenty-third Psalm speaks of walking through the valley of the shadow of grief. I would suggest to you that the road of gratitude is the best way I know not to get bogged down in our grief but to make our way through it.

“Life is gift, birth is windfall, and all, all is grace. And I give you the gift that was given to me and I pray that somehow the sense of life as gift will enable you to make a brave and hopeful journey, not just into the valley of the shadow of bereavement, but through that valley to the light on the other side. May your journey be a brave one. Amen."


John Claypool wrote eleven books, and in 2008 a new collection of his sermons on the twelve disciples, entitled The First to Follow, edited by his widow Ann Wilkinson Claypool, was published.

He died on September 3, 2005 aged 74. In a eulogy Kirby Godsey, President of Mercer University, said, “John Claypool touched our souls. Amidst our wounds and our triumphs, his voice became for us the voice of God - a special measure of grace and with unfettered gentleness. John's presence in our lives and our histories is more than mere death can ever take away. He will continue to walk among us, giving light to our steps, wisdom for our hearts, and hope to our souls. John Claypool's life and presence and teaching were profound and enduring gifts to the entire Mercer University community."


Many of John Claypool’s sermons are available online, including a few on our John Mark Ministries website ( I have borrowed some ideas from his notable homily on Ananias and Sapphira and adapted them here: .

Rowland Croucher

“Loving as Jesus Loved”
John 13: 31-35
The Reverend John Claypoool May 9, 2004
The Rev. John Claypool, an Episcopal priest, is the professor of preaching for the McAfee School of Theology at Mercer University in Atlanta, GA.
Many times the last thing a person says before he or she is dying takes on a very special significance. It is as if the very essence of that individual is somehow summed up and compacted into a single message.
I imagine this is how the earliest disciples felt about the words that are in our reading of the day. They were all at table with Jesus, and the impending crisis that would take his life loomed ahead of them inescapably. And then came those final, poignant words, “A new commandment I give to you; love one another. As I have loved you, you are to love one another.” This will become your unique signature in the world, the way folks will sense your true identity, your essence. This will be your ultimate reason for being.
There is actually nothing original or brand new in these words. The commandment to love one another goes back much, much further than Jesus himself. It is one of the themes that is cited again and again all through the Old Testament. And Jesus had certainly repeated those words again and again as he walked the ways of the earth during the days of his flesh. What, then, was the special nuance that made this final mandate so special and so memorable, as it is, right down to this very moment?
I believe it was that qualifying phrase that Jesus added to these words, “Love one another.” He made it quite specific by saying that they were to love one another as I have loved you. In other words, the unique way that Jesus had incarnated that ancient ideal was to become the pattern of how the disciples, and that includes us, were to love one another. Here is one of those places where the famous imitation of Christ’s ideal got its origin, and it raises the seminal question, “Exactly how did this one, who became what we are so we could understand more fully who God is, actually and realistically love?”
St. Augustine has given me two clues to such a question. He once observed that Jesus loved each one he had ever met as if there were none other in all the world to love. In other words, Jesus radically individualized the affection he acted out toward others. Instead of never seeing the trees for the forest, as the old adage goes, Jesus reversed that process and never failed to focus on the particular and the unique in each human being. This represents an extraordinary commitment and discipline, especially because, even in Jesus’ day, he came in contact with many, many people and, therefore, must have found it tempting to lump people together in categories, in classes, and to allow the forest mentality to blind him to the genuine uniqueness of each human being. However, I do not think I am being totally naive to say that even though such an ideal is a tremendous, tremendous reach, it is within the possibility of everyone of us. Here is an aspiration to which I suggest all of us should commit ourselves and that is to grow in our capacity to individualize our loving energies. Now to be sure, only the Holy One can actualize this ideal completely.
I’ve always loved the little story about the boy who’s trying to learn the Lord’s Prayer, and one night as he knelt by his bed, these words came out:
Our Father, who are in heaven How do you know my name?
Such individualized affection will always remain a mystery to us mortals, and at the same time, let us never forget we’re made in the image of that extraordinary love. And doing what Jesus did in loving each one he ever met as if there were none other in all the world is at least an ideal toward which we can reach even if it always remains utterly beyond our complete grasp.
The second clue St. Augustine offers is that Jesus loved all as he loved each. The way he loved was not only individualized, but it was also incredibly universal. I do not know which of these qualities is more amazing, but, once again, the great saint’s description remains true to the memories that we’re given of Jesus in all four of the canonical gospels. Those eyes out of which he looked when he lived upon this earth were never filled with contempt or disdain. Even when the words Jesus spoke assumed a note of harshness, it was because of a concern that he felt for those whom he addressed. They were never words of hatred. We must never forget that the opposite of love is not anger or hostility but indifference. But there is not one example in all of the gospels of Jesus ever turning away from another as if what happened to that one made no difference to him. I find St. Augustine’s words to be a wonderful description of that unique way that Jesus loved and invites us now to love also. He loved each one he ever met as if there were none other in all the world to love, and he loved all as he loved each.
As I have meditated on this extraordinary reality, I find myself agreeing with one of the most important things C.S. Lewis ever taught me. In one of his very last books, the profound English scholar examines all the famous Greek words for the concept of love and then concludes that at bottom they come down to one seminal distinction: the difference between what he calls “need love” and “gift love.”
Need love, Lewis says, is always born of emptiness. It is basically inquisitive to the core. A need lover sees in every beloved object or person a value that he or she covets to possess. Need love moves out greedily to grasp and to appropriate for itself. If one were to diagram it, need love is always circular, reaching out to the beloved to transfer value back to itself. In a popular image, need love sucks essence out of another and into itself. It does not take exceptional imagination, Lewis contends, to acknowledge that many times when we humans say to another, “I love you,” what we are really meaning is, “I need you, I want you. You have a value that I very much desire to make my own, no matter what the consequence may be to you.”
Now over against this graphic image, Lewis contends there is another reality that is utterly different. It is what he calls gift love. Instead of being born of emptiness or lack, this form of loving is born of fullness. The goal of gift love is to enrich and enhance the beloved rather than to extract value. Gift love is like an arc, not a circle. It moves out to bless and to increase rather to acquire or to diminish. Gift love is more like a bountiful, artesian well that continues to overflow than a vacuum or a black hole. Lewis concludes this contrast by saying that the uniqueness of the biblical vision of reality is that God’s love is gift love, not need love. And then he says, “We humans are made in the image of such everlasting and unconditional love.” Lewis’ depiction of gift love really is the foundation stone of the way St. Augustine describes the way Jesus loved. And the great good news for everyone of us to hear today is not only that we are loved by God in this marvelous way, but also that this is our deepest identity as well and is a way we can choose to live our lives.
The theologian Karl Barth once said, “Jesus is the name of our species, in relation to whom we are still subhuman but, nonetheless, called ultimately to become.” Jesus would not have given us this new commandment if it had not been possible.
You and I, with the help of God’s unfailing grace, can grow into the wonder of loving each one as if there is none other in all the world to love and loving all as we love each.


dom helder camara

My top three (male) heroes are Jesus of Nazareth, Dom Helder Camara, and Francis of Assisi, in that order…
(He’s one of three 20th/21st century Catholic Archbishops I admire, each of whom chose slightly different routes in opposing violent regimes. The other two: Pope Francis, and Archbishop Oscar Romero).
Dom Helder Camara addressed a packed Melbourne Concert Hall on May 15, 1985. After a rapturous welcome, he stilled the crowd by saying ‘I’m just Christ’s little donkey…’ When a baby in the balcony cried he stopped, looked intently towards the sound, and with the tears glistening in the spotlights said: ‘We want to make the world safe for you, little one!’
In his playful, down-to-earth, simple way he told us: ‘Friends, we have 40 times the nuclear potential needed to kill all life – not just human life – on our planet.’ ‘Let us be Christians not only in name, but by our lives.’ ‘The perpetrators of violence who are sinners, yes, but we’re all sinners. Help us Holy Spirit!’ ‘Vatican 2 insisted that the whole church, not just its hierarchy, are the people of God… So we priests must work not just for the poor, but with the poor… Alone we are weak; together we are a force…’
Many (like Jose Comblin introducing Into Your Hands Lord, 1987) say he’s the ‘only Catholic bishop who has a true audience in the non-Catholic world’.
Dom Helder Camara (1909-1999) was for millions the male counterpart of Mother Teresa: a tireless servant of the poor.
He was born into a poor Fortaleza family (his parents had 13 children, but five of them died very young in a croup epidemic). Ordained a priest in 1931, until 1947/8 he was an educator. But his appointment as auxiliary bishop (1952) and archbishop (1955) of the diocese of Rio de Janeiro led to his developing a high profile – with weekly TV and daily radio programs. He denounced the city’s social and racial divisions. With the help of Presidents Juscelino Kubitschek (1956-1961) and Joao Goulart he initiated many programs to help the poor, acquiring an international reputation as the ‘bishop of the favelas’ – and making many powerful enemies, not least of which was the US government. A socially progressive Latin America did not fit with US policy in the wake of the Cuban Revolution. On March 31, 1964, President Goulart was overthrown in a military coup supported by the US.
The next day Helder Camara arrived in Recife as Archbishop. He said to the diocese: ‘I am a north-easterner talking to north-easteners… In imitation of Christ I have not come to be served, but to serve.’ He avoided wearing the bishops’ purple sash, and quickly abandoned the pretentious palace for three rooms in the outbuildings of a parish church. He ate at the taxi-drivers’ stall across the road and hitched lifts around the city instead of running an official car. He gave away church land for the landless, set up a credit union, took students out of seminaries to form small communities in the parishes, and set up a theological institute in which future priests studied alongside laypeople, even receiving lectures from women.
He was one of the few bishops critical of the military’s reign of terror. Progressive priests, social activists, trade union leaders, members of Congress, writers and journalists were tortured and/or imprisoned. Accused of being a ‘communist subversive’, Helder Camara was exiled in his own country; for 13 years from 1970, the government banned him from public speaking and forbade even the publication of his name in any media. Although under constant threat of assassination he refused a bodyguard or even a lock on his door.
One night a frightened family sought Dom Helder. One of theirs had been arrested and was being tortured in the police barracks. The bishop phoned the chief of police: ‘This is Dom Helder. You are holding my brother.’ The policeman, surprised, stutters: ‘Your brother, Eminence?’ ‘Yes, despite our different names, we are sons of the same Father.’  The chief made all sorts of excuses and ordered the release of the man…
One of Dom Helder’s collaborators, Father Henrique Pereira Neto, was barbarously assassinated in Recife, after being tied up, dragged along the ground, shot three times, and hung from a tree… Another priest, Father Tito de Alencar, was given electric shocks, kicks, and blows with a rod. His torturer asked him to open his mouth to ‘receive the sacrament of the eucharist’. When he did they inserted an electrified wire… Helder: ‘It’s absolutely terrible. I go regularly to hospitals or prisons, or the morgue, to collect or identify collaborators who had disappeared – priests or laypeople…’
But internationally, he was a ‘star’ – receiving over 80 invitations a year (accepting only four or five). ‘And I go not to attack Brazil, but injustice everywhere.’  Nominated three times for the Nobel Peace Prize, he missed out (once to Henry Kissinger and Le Duc Tho). So the ‘People’s Peace Prize’ was created for him – worth two and a half times as much (which he donated to agricultural projects in his diocese). He was also awarded the Pacem in Terris (‘Peace on earth’) Award (named after a 1963 encyclical letter by Pope John XXIII that urged all people of good will to secure peace among all nations). And many doctorates – often from prestigious universities (Harvard, Louvain, the Sorbonne etc.). ‘It’s never for myself: I’m simply the representative of the people sem vez sem voz, with no hope and no voice…’  
Dom Helder Camara was a prophet, rather than a revolutionary or theologian. Within the body of this frail man, there beat the ardent and joyful heart of a troubadour, who, like Francis of Assisi, blessed all people. He often said, “In the heart of a priest, there cannot exist a drop of hatred.  We share the same Father, we are blood sisters and brothers, in the blood of Jesus Christ.”
He articulated the suffering of the poor, espousing pacifism (rather than ‘passivism’):
‘The seven capital sins of the modern world: racialism, colonialism, war,  paternalism, pharisaism, alienation and fear.’
‘For me, [humans] are not divided into believers and atheists, but between oppressors and oppressed, between those who want to keep this unjust society and those who want to struggle for justice.’
‘Charity is not justice… Aid is necessary, but not enough. Until… international trade policy [is addressed] the poor countries will continue to get poorer, to enrich the wealthy countries more and more…’
‘Capitalism which  puts profit before people, is intrinsically evil.’ ‘But a radical version of Catholic social policy is as anti-communist – because we are non-violent – as it is anti-capitalist.’ ‘I never saw Cuba as a solution… Changing orbits isn’t really liberation – becoming a satellite of Russia rather than of the U.S.’
‘28% of incomes in Brazil go to 1% of the population; 80% of the cultivated land belongs to 2% of landowners.’ (1970, UN Commission for Latin America). ‘Paul VI was right to say “The earth was given to us all, not just to the rich.” ‘In our continent more than two-thirds live in sub-human conditions.’
‘Read the encyclicals, especially Populorum Progressio which encourages the wealthy to stand in solidarity with the poor.’
More people know Dom Helder’s famous quote than anything else about this great man:
       When I give to the poor they call me a saint; when I ask ‘Why  are they poor?’ they call me a communist!
The 1985 Garth Hewitt song says it well:
And Fortaleza, your most famous son
has shown us all the way,
Dom Helder Camara,
he had the right words to say,
He said when you feed the hungry
they’ll call you a saint,
but never ask the question why…
Why are they hungry?
They’ll call you a communist
for asking the question why.
For they’re hungry from our opulence,
and they are homeless from our greed,
as the rich world makes its living
from the poor world on its knees.
And a nation roams the streets tonight,
you can see them everywhere,
One hundred million children
like an army of despair.
‘They’ll call you a saint’. Will they?  My vote would be ‘yes’.
For example:
# He knew the difference between Pharisees and saints: ‘Pharisees are strict with others; saints are rigorous only with themselves… as generous as the goodness of God, boundless as the mercy of God.’
# Saints are prayerful. Dom Helder had made a vow – “the vow of the clock”  – to rise at 2 am every morning to pray, until Mass at 6:00 am. He kept this vigil every night since seminary.
# Saints tend to inhabit simplicity the other side of complexity. (Dom Helder had a favourite guardian angel, Jose, with whom he conducted entreatries when in trouble – which was often).
# They’re willing to ‘cleanse the Temple/ speak truth to power’. To a young ‘forceful’ bishop who told Camara he disagreed with his ‘non-Christian humanism’ Dom Helder asked ‘What have you read or heard about my view of the world?’ ‘Nothing’. ‘And have you read other works you denounce?’ The bishop answered: ‘I can see that today is going to be a turning-point in my life!’  
# Their friendships include everyone from [some] popes and cardinals (especially Montini and Suenans), to ordinary poor folks.
# They know their spiritual gifts, and use them. One of Camara’s was networking, eg. his brilliant behind-the-scenes lobbying-for-the-poor at Vatican 2 and his various efforts (eg. Medellin) at convening conferences of bishops. 
# Dom Helder was obedient to his superiors, and was a faithful Roman Catholic to the end. ‘Yes, I argue [with everyone] but my bishop must always have the last word’.
Miracles? How about these: those sent to kill the archbishop, disguised as beggars or taxi-drivers, could not bring themselves to do it, but confessed and asked forgiveness from their intended victim.  
#  They’re humble. ‘There’s real danger of pride in humility: “Look at me! I am a poor bishop, a bishop of the poor! Not like those bourgeois bishops!”.’ His regular prayer was that of St. Francis: ‘Pray to the Lord that I may become what people think I am’. ‘My education thesis was a disgrace: I haven’t kept a single copy of it and I hope no one else ever finds one!’ He was short of stature (just over five feet tall, and weighing about 120 pounds): that would have helped. He wrote meditations in his vigil-time, perhaps read them to a few friends, then destroyed them. (‘Flowers bloom, then must fade…’). Fortunately some survived, like these (from A Thousand Reasons for Living, pp. 63, 112):
By the grace You grant me
of silence without loneliness,
give me the right to plead,
to clamour
for my brothers and sisters
imprisoned in
a loneliness without silence!
It is worth any sacrifice,
however great or costly,
to see eyes that were listless
light up again,
to see someone smile
who seemed to have forgotten
how to smile;
to see trust reborn
in someone
who no longer believed
in anything
or Anyone. 
I once invited Dom Helder to write a chapter for a book  (with a ‘discursive meditation’ flavour ) I was editing. His postcard reply (in Portuguese):
‘If the Lord gives I will give… Shalom! Dom Helder.’
How can you argue with that? I’ve used this response ever since when asked to do something beyond my wisdom or outside my time constraints!
Rowland Croucher

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