Saturday Night Oops

Sometimes on Saturday night about this time your pastor will take a look at his sermon and think, “This is really not very good.”

It happened to me about fifteen minutes ago, and I am stewing a bit. I really wanted this one to be good, and I’m afraid I tried too hard. Tried to be subtle instead of saying what a I want to say.

But it’s late, and I have family in town, staying at our home, and Sunday morning is is already beating its way around the Earth.

So I will look at the sermon a few more times and try not to gag, and go tomorrow and preach it. Just preach it.

The difference ten years makes is I will not re-write it, at least much. I will not let it keep me up tonight. I will go and proclaim the Word of our living God Jesus Christ and get over my own self.

I’m not there to impress people. I’m not there to inspire and awe them. I did my best this week in writing it, and I will do my best in proclaiming it, and I will leave the rest to God.

Outlining and Sermons

Yesterday I discussed my WIP (work-in-progress) and what I discovered about writing fiction. But since many of you come here from a theological or religion direction, how does this relate to sermon writing?

For me, I’ve discovered that outlining fiction and outlining a sermon is essentially the same approach. I write sermons doing my textual analysis and research, my liturgical study, the sitz-im-leben of the congregation and community and our life together (basic sermon study) on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. Sometimes these days it is low-key, rather informal, with a lot of it happening from memory or in worship planning, or while driving around town.

As that comes together, I plan out “phases” in the sermon, or scenes, if you will. What will it look, feel, sound like at the beginning? How does Law and Gospel weave themselves through the sermon? Where do I want to end up at the end? I think in terms of phrases, of “movements,” of contrasts and comparisons, of definitions I use, and then by Thursday or Friday have done one of two things: I’ve either settled on a traditional rhetorical outline; or I write the phases and piece it together. Mostly I do the latter.

So…what are “phases” and what is a “phase outline?” Here’s a website that defines it and gives examples from writing fiction.

Outlining and Writing

Photo by Mattox

Well, my Great Idea of updated daily hasn’t quite worked out. Silly me.

I’m 2000 words behind in my National Novel Writing Month project, but I’m now consistently 2000 words behind and writing everyday (again), so I’m not worried.

I’ve learned something about writing fiction: I planned out the first 18000 words in scenes/phases, roughly approximating to 2-3 pages each. But that is all I had planned before November 1 shocked us all at his early arrival. Now I am past that point and sitting to write is very, very hard. I’m trying to develop the first major plot point (which should have been written about 6000 words ago) and fighting through all that, making it up as I go along is not very easy.

Some writers write like that. Some just “go where the characters take them.” I like the sound of that. I used to think I was like that. But I’m slowly realizing that I am not. I am an outliner, a storyboarder. I didn’t plan out every single thing, every line of dialogue, every event that would happen, but having the scene/phase outline and sitting at the keyboard knowing that I am beginning with the Protagonist opening the door and ending with him nearly falling off the cliff certainly keeps me focused and making good and enjoyable foward progress.

Since a lot of you are here for theological stuff, I’ll write tomorrow about how this connects with writing sermons.

One Crazy Morning

Was at the hospital for three hours this morning to visit with two members, one having surgery, the other in for unscheduled tests. They are both doing well now. Then I went home and did some translating, reading, note-taking work. Now taking a break from being on the phone to help with a brewing family crisis. All this in the last seven hours, and my day won’t end for another seven.


My goal of including more family pictures is falling on its neglected little face, but I have been including all kinds of other photos in the posts. In case you are interested, I have been getting them free, clean and legal from stock.xchng. You have to sign up for a free account, and some photographers and artists put restrictions on their work, but it is a great searchable site for stock.

The Crazies

I ran across a blog that argued you can’t tell the sane from the insane anymore. The post was about technology, especially cell phones and hands-free doodads, but the larger point is there. When you don’t jump on the bandwagon, you will be left behind. Read the whole post here. It is some fine writing, short and thought-provoking.

It also reminded me of the prophesy of St. Anthony: “A time is coming when men will go mad, and when they see someone who is not mad, they will attack him saying, ‘You are mad, you are not like us.’”

Babies make Children Human?

baby imageThe NY Times published an article describing a program which uses schoolroom visits of a mom and a baby to help teach children empathy and gentleness. And it seems to work in reducing bullying. Here’s a quote:

Here’s how it works: Roots arranges monthly class visits by a mother and her baby (who must be between two and four months old at the beginning of the school year). Each month, for nine months, a trained instructor guides a classroom using a standard curriculum that involves three 40-minute visits – a pre-visit, a baby visit, and a post-visit. The program runs from kindergarten to seventh grade. During the baby visits, the children sit around the baby and mother (sometimes it’s a father) on a green blanket (which represents new life and nature) and they try to understand the baby’s feelings. The instructor helps by labeling them. “It’s a launch pad for them to understand their own feelings and the feelings of others,” explains Gordon. “It carries over to the rest of class.”

I have visited several public schools in low-income neighborhoods in Toronto to observe Roots of Empathy’s work. What I find most fascinating is how the baby actually changes the children’s behavior. Teachers have confirmed my impressions: tough kids smile, disruptive kids focus, shy kids open up. In a seventh grade class, I found 12-year-olds unabashedly singing nursery rhymes.

The baby seems to act like a heart-softening magnet. No one fully understands why. Kimberly Schonert-Reichl, an applied developmental psychologist who is a professor at the University of British Columbia, has evaluated Roots of Empathy in four studies. “Do kids become more empathic and understanding? Do they become less aggressive and kinder to each other? The answer is yes and yes,” she explained. “The question is why.”

I think it is babies make us realize in some sense our own humanity–not that humanity of the Hobbes and the Fall, but the humanity of the Image–menschlichkeit, the economy of dependence and grace, of humility and love, of innocence. Jesus wanted the babies to come to Him, and Jesus wants us to go to the babies and baptize them and make them a part of Him. It’s not that hard to know why.

Wasteland, Revisted

Photo by ivanmarn

Eric Brown has a nice post regarding “getting things out of the service” over at his blog.

It relates to what I tell folks on occasion: if you have a problem with church, with worship, with Scripture, you can be sure the problem lies with you, and not with God. Or, if you feel the need to change things, to innovate, to “mix things up,” likewise the problem is with you and not with God or worship or whatever else.

We are fickle, picky, distracted, covetous, lust-filled people. We would rather critique and criticize than submit or contribute. We are dreamers who covet something we don’t have and then blame others for our own unhappiness. It’s the wasteland, again. It is here and we did it to ourselves.

When Antichrist appears and renders the world desolate and grace-less (were God to delay!), it is not our Enemy who is to blame. It is us. We pave his road with our selfishness, with our ennui, giving consent with every gossip mag sold and every porn website out there.

It puts our Lord’s patience and forbearance in stark relief–that He tarries and forgives, that He builds up, even while we unthinkingly tear down, that He loves us who would betray Him for a ham sandwich, and give 28 silvers in change.

He is a God we don’t deserve, thanks be to God.