Monday, November 26, 2007

o hi. i m in yr chrch, critiqng yr sermon

okay, so by popular demand, I'm going to write about my experience delivering my sermon on Sunday.

I really wanted to take time and write in my real journal (you know, that paper and pen business, where I write the stuff that I don't want googled) but I did not take that time today - I spent most of the day playing in the leaves and feeding the seagulls with the kid.

By the way, the kid is leaning English from TV, like the mermaid in Splash. He walked up to me yesterday and said "I'm a love machine!"
(There's a commercial for a party game, see, and that's the phrase everyone is figuring out. And it's on cable, so if you watch 20 minutes of something, you'll see this damn commercial 4 times. )

But I did want to capture it, my experience from yesterday, because it was really really good. It was a pleasure. And I want to point out that, at this moment in my professional life, one cannot take that for granted.

This is how I have come to preach.
Of course I do announcements, and I get to introduce communion pretty frequently. It's clear to me that that's the most valuable thing I can give people; as it happens, on top of all the beautiful and significant things that it really is, its also a wish-fulfillment thing for me, since 'priest' was the very first thing I ever wanted to be. Even when I got older and wanted to be other things - novelist, television producer, set designer, college professor - the 'priest' thing never really went away, but was always unattainable. (So when I wanted to write a great novel or get a Tony award, I was, in fact, 'settling'.)

Anyway, I have ended up in a job where I get to do a priestly function, and help train and equip other lay people to do it, and that's pretty much the best thing I can imagine. I get the best of all worlds, really - sharing Jesus with people, and getting paid for it, and not having to navigate a professional religious hierarchy. (I'm a cradle Epsicopalian, as I constantly mention, and the polity of 'my' people is damned daunting, on every side.)

So I was asked to do a God In The Movies, and I picked this radically inappropriate movie, because it was the only movie I could think of that I could get excited about - the only current movie that I had seen that was dense enough, rich enough that there was anything to be gained by discussing it.

But it was a tough choice, because our congregation has shown itself sensitive to rough language in our God in the Movies movies. And Little Miss Sunshine is distinguished by some exceptional language. I mean - with good reason. It's not lazy writing, or added in for contrived effect. It's excellent dialogue for revealing character - I personally wouldn't change a word.

But many of those words that I wouldn't change are words that our congregants have told us they do not want to hear in church.

So there was that. Plus there's the whole gayness part - one of the characters is gay, and is doing everything he does in the movie as a result of a badly broken heart. Last year, when one of our staffers discussed a movie with a gay character, it derailed some people entirely - they fixated on what the filmmaker was saying about gayness (admittedly, a major point in that movie, though far from the focus of the sermon) and were unable to concentrate on anything else about the movie.

The heroin subplot - I think I mentioned it in my first draft, after which it went to BackspaceLand, never to be heard from again.

That all sounds like I was walking on eggshells. I wasn't - mostly. I would be lying if I didn't admit that I had lots of misgivings about this movie, and this sermon, for this crowd at this church. I tried to bail on this movie 3 times - I could always talk about Kiki's Delivery Service! I'm sure I could say something insightful about Stop Making Sense! - but the pastors encouraged me to stick to my original thing, and that seems to have turned out to be the right decision.

I was able to relax BECAUSE my very very good friend Michael took many hours to rip the commercial dvd onto a Mac, and edit down the scenes for me in iMovie, and pull out the sound in places where the sound really needed to be removed. That enabled me to talk over sections, so people could get a feel for the movie without having an hour-long sermon; it also allowed us to get all the ticklish parts out before the day, so that I didn't have to be up there hoping that the booth crew could get the dvd paused or muted at EXACTLY the right time. (Not that they're not capable of it - I have really good people in the booth, and I have to say we've done a great job in this series. But it was so so so so great not to wonder.

I feel like I should have thanked people in the sermon - especially Eric, for plowing though those early drafts, and for writing me a 'hook' which really made it come together; and then also Micheal, and Patsy and Sarah for the encouragement. I feel like I should have had an acknowledgements page.
So maybe this is it.

Anyway, I was nervous - I was really well-prepared, and it had not occurred to me that I would feel nervous on Sunday morning, but man. Was I ever. Plus the Godfather was there, and Mrs. Godfather, who is no slouch in the sermonizing area. (I believe my loving Christian greeting to my good friends was "Holy crap, Brian's here." Yes, I said it out loud. I couldn't help it, it just jumped out of my mouth like a frog.)

And people completely swamped me with hugs and high fives and kindness - This is the part that I wanted to record in my private journal, because I know how it sounds. (which is to say, either embarrassingly immodest - Why yes, I am awesome, thanks for noticing - or like I think people were 'just being nice' about my substandard work.)

I think it was pretty good.

And it's not every day that you have a big crowd of people standing around telling you that you're awesome.

So - if there's any way I can have this without becoming a complete ass - I'd like to keep that day inside me for the rest of my life, please.

Thanks for asking.


Rev. April said...

i am so sorry i missed it. but i will listen to it... (once i get teether to stop screaming at me)

Pastor Michael said...

LOLcats as sermon critiquers, eh? I watched the video Sunday evening - go Russ! - and I thought you were exceptional. One of my favorite things about your preaching is your intensity. You're not loud or shouty. and it's not tiring to hear you, but you are passionate. I flashed on a HS drama coach getting me through "cry havoc and let slip the dogs of war" from JC. I wanted to yell it to the cheap seats, but she taught me to make it a chilling whisper. You never chew scenery or rant, but everyone gets your passion for what you're saying.

My "hold it in my heart forever" preaching moment: subbing for a pastor away doing a revival at an African-American Baptist church outside Lubbock. No one peaks at age 20 but those folks amened until I wanted to take notes on myself.