JOHNSON WRITING TIPS

Saturday, December 31st, 2011 | Uncategorized

It’s never a good idea to deliberately set out to try to be profound.  You either are or you aren’t.  And if you try to be profound and if what you have to say isn’t profound at all, you tend to sound like a particularly pompous baboon. 

Case in point: the Christmas Eve sermon of the Presiding Bishop of the Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society of the Protestant Episcopal Church of the United States of America, the Most Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori:

The eternal hope and yearning of the human race emerges from darkness into light in the birth of this child both humble and divine.  We have burdened his shoulders with every earthly failing and divine hope – for light in the darkness, warmth in the cold, food for our hunger, righteousness in place of injustice, an end to violence and war, and a lasting and eternal peace.  Those yearnings continue to burst forth in human hearts, and we live in hope that his reign will ultimately bring them to reality.  We gather to celebrate his birth and recover that eternal hope.

True if inelegantly phrased.  Most Christians think of Jesus as Someone a lot more important than Our Heavenly Janitor, sent by God merely to clean up our messes.  To them, Christ’s coming means infinitely more than Mrs. Schori communicates here.

Jesus is born anew in human hearts every time we meet the vulnerable – which is all of us, once we awaken to the reality of our own longing.

I guess the Presiding Bishop meant something there but I’ll be damned if I can figure out what that might be.  Jesus is born anew whenever “we meet the vulnerable?”  So He’s not alive whenever we meet someone who isn’t vulnerable?

And what does “awaken to the reality of our own longing” even mean anyway?  If we’re asleep, “the reality of our own longing” means nothing.  If we’re not, it doesn’t seem that “the reality of our own longing” would need waking up.

We are all filled with the same yearnings for an enduring home and healing in a community of peace. 

Quite true.

Particularly in this season of want and uncertainty we look for stability, confidence, and faith in something or someone beyond our own insufficiency.

Actually, we look for someone to pay for our sins and give us a way home to our Father in heaven.  Most of us figured out that we were insufficient a long time ago.  Kind of the reason for the whole Cross thing.

This frail infant is clothed with divine glory – the lowly lifted up and the hungry fed at his birth.

Once again, I’ll be damned if I know what that means.

Parents, elders, and teachers steward our growing wisdom and awareness and guide us into growth toward the full stature of Christ – the glory of God in a human being fully alive.

Since a human being fully dead wouldn’t impress anybody.  It’d creep them out, actually.  But what if our “parents, elders and teachers” are atheist crapweasels?  They’re not going to guide us into much of anything useful or worthwhile.

Each one comes into a stable like this one, hoping to meet the holy.  We meet that holy child in every vulnerable human being, in every one who hungers and thirsts.  We meet him growing to maturity in all who answer their neighbor’s vulnerability and need.  He is present with us at this table and at every table and meeting where need meets response.  Salvation lies all around us.

I own a book called The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah by Alfred Edersheim.  Written in the 19th century, Edersheim, a Jewish convert to Christianity, attempted a life of Our Lord alongside the times in which He lived and moved and had His being.

I’ve read the thing at least three times and I’ve just started reading it again.  Why, Chris?  You already know how it’s going to end.  Why keep reading it over and over?

That’s just it.  That story, more than all stories, has power all by itself.  It literally doesn’t get old.  I can read it again and again and not get bored.  It needs no embellishment and no help whatsoever.

Which is why, when I was an Episcopalian, I used to dread this time of year.  The sermons I heard would invariably try to mine something new and different and profound out of this story.  And like Mrs. Schori, they would fail miserably.

18 Comments to JOHNSON WRITING TIPS

Bill2
January 1, 2012

I certainly appreciate the effort. The sermon was so utterly crap-tastic I didn’t even know where to begin criticizing it. I just wrote it off to completely dense episco-speak.

Fuinseoig
January 1, 2012

“This frail infant is clothed with divine glory – the lowly lifted up and the hungry fed at his birth.”

Call me crazy (“Okay, Fuinseoig, you’re crazy!”) but I think this was a reference to a piece of Scripture, namely the Magnificat, where Mary responds to Elizabeth’s greeting “And why is this granted to me that the mother of my Lord should come to me? For behold, when the sound of your greeting came to my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy”:

“He hath put down the mighty from their seat, and hath exalted the humble. He hath filled the hungry with good things; and the rich he hath sent empty away.”

Lowly lifted up = the humble are exalted. Hungry fed = hungry filled with good things.

Don’t know how that slipped through; whoever did the speech-writing must have got carried away!

But even better was this little gem, when she’s talking about the young homeless drifter Jesse (emphasis mine):

“Jesse’s angels guided the night-watching shepherds to his side and led him to shelter. The elders of Leadville guided him into the heart of a welcoming community table. That table has room for all who hunger and thirst – in body and in spirit. It is peopled by the poor and the better off, by Spanish speakers and Anglos, by people from Ireland and Greece, by the wounded and the outwardly well.”

If I wasn’t depressed about our economic situation before, I certainly am now. Getting a pitying pat on the head from Her Primatialness, while being compared to a homeless beggar – my nation thanks you for the kind thought, Presiding Bishop!

Ah, well: happy New Year to one and all, and may we get through it somehow.

:-)

J.M. Heinrichs
January 1, 2012

No, she was emphatic about speaking of “people from Ireland”; apparently she has written off ‘people in Ireland’.

Cheers

Tom
January 1, 2012

Maybe a course in remedial homiletics would help?

Tom
January 1, 2012

Maye her text should have been 1 Cor. 14:8? This sermon is a great illustration of that text, at least.

Dale Matson
January 1, 2012

“Christ’s coming means infinitely more than Mrs. Schori communicates here” ‘And he did not do many mighty works there, because of their unbelief.’ (Matthew 13:58)
Chris, here is my book recommendation for folks for the new year. “A Man In Christ” by James S. Stewart. He took the theology St. Paul back from the captivity of the theologians and reinserted the central teaching of Paul which is the mystical union of the believer with Christ.

Katherine
January 1, 2012

This is the line that jumped out at me: “Parents, elders, and teachers steward our growing wisdom and awareness and guide us into growth toward the full stature of Christ – the glory of God in a human being fully alive.” Eh? This is not only Pelagian, but it’s downright Mormon. According to Christian teaching, I cannot ever achieve divinity. I will not become God; only God, the one and only, is God.

Fuinseoig
January 1, 2012

J.M., in a sense that’s even worse for our situation, since that means there are hordes of Irish once more emigrating to America and other far-flung parts.

Granted, that’s true, but she didn’t have to rub our noses in it. ;-)

Oh, well, I’ll sit here homeless and shoeless, begging a few coins from the charity of you kind passers-by: say a prayer for yeh, mister?

And in other news: Happy New Year! And I see the Personal Ordinariate for the U.S. Anglican Use is up and running today – by Vatican standards, this is scorching speed!

Allen Lewis
January 1, 2012

All the Episcopal pooh-bahs have trouble dealing with the Incarnation. That is because they have denigrated and denied the Crucifixion and Resurrection.

So Christmas becomes a festival of the hungry being fed, the poor housed and clothed, etc., etc., ad nauseum.

That is the meaning of Christmas for them. It is just another Justice and Equity show for them.

bob
January 1, 2012

There seems to be an unwritten rule that you have to be “original” in sermons. Where has “originality” in any theological question ever got Anglicans? Right where they are, just as she “preaches”. It’s flawlessly Anglican. Make a “nice” sound for around 15 minutes, say as little as possible, say nothing straightforward and plain. Certainly don’t quote the Bible. If she wanted to she could do what Orthodox have done for centuries. At a big feast where a great Father (oh dear, that word!) has done a notable sermon for the day, read it in its entirety. Fat chance. That’s her mother’s Church, not hers.

Duane
January 1, 2012

At least she didn’t do the usual lefty spiel that Joseph, Mary, and Jesus were homeless.

bob
January 1, 2012

Duane, you’re right! How could she have forgotten. She didn’t even say they were *occupying* Bethlehem, the stable, whatever. That really is a mistake on her part.

Barney
January 1, 2012

She could be a used car salesman…

Bill (not IB)
January 1, 2012

Barney,

Shame on you. Disparaging used car salesmen like that……. ;-)

I have to say that sermons like this one make me long for the [/sarc on] wisdom [/sarc off] of Frank Griswold.

The Little Myrmidon
January 1, 2012

“At least she didn’t do the usual lefty spiel that Joseph, Mary, and Jesus were homeless.”

Well thank God for that. I got into an awful fight about 2 years ago with the woman who does the church’s newsletter, when she trotted that exact phrase out.

I have read over the PS’ “message” a couple of times now, and I think she may have just culled every phrase that she could think of (and some that don’t bear thinking of…) regarding the Incarnation and just jammed them all together without much regard for whether she was making any sense. Or, maybe she just didn’t care if it made sense or not.

The Pilgrim
January 2, 2012

“Jesus is born anew in human hearts every time we meet the vulnerable – which is all of us, once we awaken to the reality of our own longing.”

Just read this line to my wife, who looked confused and said “Who said that?”

“KJS,” I replied.

She gave me a disgusted look and said, turning away, “Oh. Well. Why do you even bother?”

ORNurseDude
January 2, 2012

I clicked on the video link and, quite frankly, couldn’t make it past the recitation of the countries and continents in which “EPISCOPALIANS and Christians” were celebrating. While I’m certain that her differentiation of Episcopalians from Christians was inadvertent, the tiresome re-listing of the far-flung places in which TEc has planted its flag was not. Given that her “sermon” has garnered all of ONE comment at the ENS site on which it is posted, her attempts to remind everyone just how relevant she and TEc really is doesn’t appear to be working (I still think that damned oven mitt she wore in Jerusalem sealed the deal in terms of any rational person being able to take her seriously).

Smurf Breath
January 3, 2012

This is from the Christmas special? I loved that thing. I can’t imagine a more effective commercial against TEC. Dismal, dreary, boringly static camera angles, and during minute 48, you can clearly see the conductor is wearing an earring in his right ear. I can’t believe no one caught that and edited it out. Or maybe they were purposefully trying to make a statement.

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