Some people are pivotal in our lives. They are present to us at just the right time with just what we need. Fred Craddock was one of those people for me. This dear man died 2 days ago.

As a sophomore in college, I was in Dr. Craddock’s class on spirituality in novels. The seminar helped us explore the sacred in the mundane. I presented a paper to the class for my final. I wrote it and then presented the essence of it orally. I then turned in the paper. When I got the paper back, I had 2 grades. An A+ for presentation in class and a B for the written paper. The note from Dr. Craddock below the grades read,  “The moral of this is always speak, never write.”

So, I became a preacher. I heard a call to speak and I did.  But, I also wrote. I worked hard on writing sermons and articles, on communicating as well on the page as I did orally. Sometimes a word at the right time gives insight and challenges growth.  A pivotal point in my life.

After I had graduated from seminary I was preaching. I was struggling. My early training in preaching taught me to give a speech structured this way: “tell them what you are going to tell the, tell them, and then tell them what you told them.” (And occasionally end with a poem!) I struggled to know, “Where do I get the right to tell others what is truth?” And then I read the newly published book by Dr. Craddock, “As One Without Authority” and my life was changed. I remember the first sermon where I guided people on a journey of discovery rather than trying to tell people what to do.  I had much more fun and the listeners seemed to enjoy the journey of discovery much more than my telling them what I thought was true.  A  pivotal point that made preaching the delightful center of my ministry.

I think about Fred Craddock as I grieve his loss. His presence in my life was sheer grace. He had the courage to share his gift which struck me at a point where I needed that gift. Neither he nor I manufactured the relationship nor knew what would happen when we met. But my need and his gift resulted in my life changing. I call that grace.

And Dr. Craddock had another gift. His humility. He simply offered who he was, not forcing himself on others, not trying to control what others thought or did. He shared with quiet passion and compassion his insights and his wisdom. I never felt coerced. I was simply invited into his journey of discovery as he allowed me to run my fingers through the treasures of his  mind. I call that grace.

So, Fred Craddock is a pivotal person in my life. And no one can ever know how grace changed me. But, in this time of grief and loss, I can only say “Thank you” to God for having my life touched by such a kind and graceful soul.


The following is an excerpt from my book about creating oral spaces for healing:

“A cathedral is entered through gigantic doors. They are far taller and wider than one person would need to enter. They are doors created with size, welcoming all who come to enter. Their size is invitational, not demanding. One has a choice—to enter and be swallowed by shadowed mystery or turn and retreat.

Through these vast doors, a whole community—stranger and friend, alien and enemy—gathers in the presence of a mystery grand beyond each and all. A cathedral is a space where light and shadow wrestle on the floor, where knowing and unknowing play tag among the pews. A cathedral is not a space where color and light are fixed and unchanging. It is a place where light pierces color and creates changing images in the air. Colors tumble over each other in a kaleidoscopic delight.

Cathedrals create a space in which the soul’s cacophonous voices can be drawn out into a safe space. They create stimuli to seduce the words from the depth of the repressed and controlled world in which many live and encourage them to center around a mysterious reality of grace and mercy. Cathedrals create communities whose character is formed by the space.

A cathedral is a space where words are bathed in beauty, and language is laced with incense. It is a place where music reaches beyond the heights and below the depths. It houses fire that flickers, casting its heat to warm cold hearts and its light to illumine the frightening dark.

A cathedral is also a place where time has an eternal quality. It is a place where the immediacy of urgent time is stretched into the expanse of timeless time. It is a place where time reaches back through the ages in memory and stares ahead into eternal wondering. A cathedral is a place where there is time to wander through the stained-glass stories, allowing ourselves to be stained by their humanity and divinity. It is a place where ordinary people seem to dance from the windows with a quality of illuminating saint-like life.

How does preaching create an oral sanctuary? How do we speak so that there is a sanctuary space in which the listeners might move without fear? How do we speak to create space between the tongue and the ear so that the spirit might have room to embrace both?”

For more about the creating an oral cathedral, you may download my book Healing Relationships: A Preaching Model FREE at


Some things last longer than others. In 2009 I published a book on preaching that grew out of my experiences loss and change and my teaching in seminary. It develops a theory of preaching that operates on the assumption that we are more likely to be changed and transformed by our relationships than we are by what we think we should do. It assumes that “hope discovered is more life-giving than hope declared, that grace discovered is more healing than grace declared, that truth discovered is more liberating than truth declared.”

The book, “Healing Relationships: A Preaching Model” also includes six sermons first preached at the Chautauqua Institution that illustrate the theories I have developed in my book. It concludes with an essay on imagining preaching as the “Creating an Oral Cathedral” in which relationships happen and healing is possible.

Last year the book was taken out of print by the publisher. They burned their stock (the sad fate of books that don’t sell well). Because I think there is some material in the book that is helpful to preachers and others who are concerned about reconciliation and healing relationships, I purchased the rights to it and am now making it available free of charge. To get the book, just go to my website,, and click on the book page. There you can download a PDF of the book.

I share this with the hope that I might contribute to the ongoing dialogue about effective preaching. I hope that the insights might help those who are new at the art of preaching discover an effective method of developing and delivering sermons. I also hope that those who have been at it a while (and may be getting tired of the same old experience) might find a fresh approach that can release new energy for their task of sharing gospel on the “relentless return of the sabbath.”

If you know ministers who might benefit from this resource, I invite you to share the book with them. I hope the thoughts shared in the book can enrich the experience of speaking and hearing gospel in faith communities.