I don’t listen to a lot of rap or hip-hop music—I know, you’re shocked, deeply shocked, to hear that.
I am familiar, though, with the practice of “sampling” in many recordings in those genres. Basically, to sample is to borrow a portion of a previously recorded song in the making of a new record. Classic examples (I’m sure that you preachers who are also hip-hop aficionados will scoff at my use of such obvious illustrations) are the use of Chic’s classic Good Times in the record that is generally regarded as the first hip-hop record, Rapper’s Delight by the Sugar Hill Gang (1979) and M. C. Hammer’s sampling of Rick James’ Super Freak in Can’t Touch This (1990).
A debate once raged about whether such sampling was appropriate but it seems to be an accepted practice now. It’s just as well since, musically speaking, there is not much new under the sun; pretty much any blues or rock lick that any guitarist will play tonight has likely been played many times before and been passed down from generation to generation of guitarists.
Preachers engage in sampling, too—and we should.
We should acknowledge those thinkers and preachers and writers whose words help to shape and guide us—whose words strike us as being especially true—and we should allow their words to help to shape and guide our words as we try to tell the truth. Frederick Buechner, Barbara Brown Taylor and Eugene Peterson play that role in my preaching.
It goes without saying, I hope, that when we quote our models we should say so, but sometimes our sampling will be more a matter of viewpoint or tone or phrasing.
Still, all preachers have to find their own voice; we need, however, to avoid the prideful pitfall of believing too much in our own originality; we are, after all, the heirs of a great tradition.
When it comes to our use of the Bible, however, sampling won’t do…