Generous Orthodoxy  

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Phyllis Diller has a tip for preachers

Not being a Phyllis Diller fan (especially the plastic surgery bit), I did not pay much attention to her obituaries. However, I overheard part of an interview she gave to NPR some years before she died. I was surprised to learn how intelligent she was about the use of language. She was speaking about the importance of endings in a comedy routine, or even a one-liner. You want to use sharp consonants at the ending, she said, "like pop! puck! cut!"  (I forget the other examples she gave. Obviously she could not use four-letter words on the air.) Then she said that you should avoid mellifluous words like "lavender" and, yes, "mellifluous." (In politically incorrect days, this point was related to "masculine"[strong] and "feminine"[weak] endings of sentences or musical phrases.)

I was amazed by the acuity of this. Obviously, Ms. Diller's dicta are not directly related to preaching, but stretching her points a little bit reminded me of how constantly disappointed I am by the lack of attention that many preachers give to the endings of their sermons. I have the impression that they   spend so much time doing their introductions and illustrations that they have no energy or confidence left for the construction of endings with real punch. Sermons tend to dribble off with no surprise or "pop." As someone (Wesley?) said long ago, a preacher should deliver a sermon as if someone's life depended on it. In the case of most (not all, I hasten to say) sermons that I hear, the endings are timid. The preacher is not really risking anything. S/he is not attempting to "close the deal"--a move that involves personal hazard--the very real possibility of rejection.
Something to mull over, perhaps?   

Monday, August 06, 2012

Olympian gold and Christian faith

Say what you will about simple--and sometimes simplistic--evangelical Christian faith, in certain circumstances it builds bridges like nothing else. The story of Gabby Douglas, the electrifying 16-year-old black gymnast from Virginia Beach who won the all-around Olympic gold medal last week, and her white "family" in Iowa who took her on--in faith--for training for two years grew out of a bond that sprang into being when Gabby's hard-working single mother and the couple in Iowa spoke on the phone about their Christian commitment. One does not want to be sentimental about this, but it's important to acknowledge the power of Christ in breaking down the barriers that divide us.
There are, of course, numerous articles about this series of events, and it will be written up as an "inspirational" story, but in some ways it is straight journalism, such as that in the not-very-friendly-to-evangelicalism New York Times that best conveys the role of faith in the story. (And the light-hearted way the white family handled the lack of black faces like Gabby's in Iowa is amusing and touching.)