When I played field hockey in high school, my job was to carry the ball down the field as the right wing and at the last minute cross the ball right in front of the goal so that the center could take a shot on goal. The person who was playing the left wing would rush the goal when a shot was taken on goal. It was this person job to flick the ball into the goal right at the last minute if it came by or if it ricocheted off the goalie’s pads. We called it cherrypicking because the wing who had brought the ball down the field and crossed it had really done the hard work, but the wing waiting at the goal post to flick it in at the last minute was the one credited with the goal.
I’ve noticed a trend as I am talking to friends and family now that I am a preacher. Our conversation are often bracketed with the disclaimer: “This isn’t something to share in a sermon.” At first it caught me off guard, then I realized that it wasn’t as much about my preaching, but more about ministers who they have heard who have used illustrations without asking, “Can I share this story?”
As a minister, I hear so many stories. Stories of hope. Stories of pain. Stories of horrific things that I don’t necessarily want to hear, but stories that the people need to tell to someone who will listen. They’ve done the hard work. They’ve lived through these stories and in a lot of ways, as a minister, I could cherrypick that story to make it something it’s not. I could flick it in at the last minute and claim the goal of theological reflection on stories I hear.
I try really hard not to cherrypick.
Because I want to be a presence that guides people to their own theological reflection and takes pride in their own story (no matter how painful). Cherrypicking also takes the responsibility off of me to work and struggle through my own story each and every week. Our stories are powerful testaments to the evidence of the divine at work in and among us. May I never be the only one who is speaking of that work.