I am currently making my way through Frederick Buechner’s masterwork Telling the Truth. The subheading is “The Gospel as Tragedy, Comedy and Fairy Tale.” Upon a friend’s recommendation, I found the book online for cheap and set a course once received.
I was only a few pages in before audible gasps and sighs were heard by my wife trying to sleep. It’s no secret ’round these parts that Buechner’s abilities are wonderfully poetic – a salve in my currently dry reading time (most books lately have left me wanting). In the midst of this piece, I found something particularly moving for me as a pastor and something I thought would resonate with the Rabbit Room audience no matter the vocation.
This is from the chapter entitled “The Gospel as Tragedy”:
The old ones and the young ones. The smart ones and the dumb ones. The lucky and the unlucky. The eggheads and potheads, the Gay Libs and Hard Hats. They all listen as they may listen even to the preacher if he will take the chance himself of being embarrasssing, appalling us by exposing the nakedness of the poor naked wretches and his own nakedness. The world hides God from us, or we hide ourselves from God, or for reasons of his own God hides himself from us, but however you account for it, he is often more conspicuous by his absence than by his presence, and his absence is much of what we labor under and are heavy laden by. Just as sacramental theology speaks of a doctrine of the Real Presence, maybe it should speak also of a doctrine of the Real Absence because absence can be sacramental, too, a door left open, a chamber of the heart kept ready and waiting.
I was so moved by this – the reflection upon absence (that goes on for several more paragraphs) and also the artistic responsibility to accurately and honestly portray that absence as much as the presence. That every poet and writer and pastor and artist and friend and neighbor and family member would be so bold as to proclaim their abundant faith and their crisis of faith, their joys and their sorrows. It’s a sweet, sweet endeavor Buechner describes and something I long to aim toward.
Matt Conner is a freelance writer and music journalist. As the founding pastor of The Mercy House, he led a church community for more than six years in intense community development across racial and socio-economic lines. As a writer, he’s interviewed thousands of musicians for multiple print and web-based publications.