I’m hoping that as we enter August, I won’t find everyone away and not in a talking mood… because I’ve got a couple things that I hope warrant some discussion this week… and I’m looking for feedback. Start thinking about communion and we’ll bring that one up tomorrow. For now, let’s tackle something else. First, I like Jim Collins’ book, except one thing… the horribly-named BHAG. If MLK had gotten up and proclaimed, “I have a BHAG…!” I rather suspect he wouldn’t have made near the impact. MLK was an orator, a beast we see less and less often these days. Oh, maybe it is because a distributor of snappy one-liners makes for a better sound-byte, but it could also be that there just aren’t as many true orators around.
Yeah, so, you recognize the two men pictured above, of course. Good. Well, it seems that Barack Obama is lately being referred to by some as an orator in the league of John F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Jr., and the best we’ve seen since them. I’m not quite ready to render a verdict, but the question bears discussion while an unasked question hovers in the smoky air above our heads and we silently wonder if the American public can stand to see a gifted orator practice his craft in presenting ideas bathed in truly subversive or innovative undertones, or if some other extreme may want to seek to silence the voice.
Wednesday evening next week (August 13th) is “Theology by the Glass” sponsored by St. Benedict’s Table (Theology Pub in a restaurant instead of a pub; Buccacino’s at 8:00PM if you’re in Winnipeg). The text up for discussion is that of Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech, noting the recent comparisons made with Obama. For the record, such comparisons or allusions and analysis on the impact of his oration can easily be found online.
The upcoming topic takes my mind back to my visit to The King Center in Atlanta in early June, and to a three-year-old question on the relevance of preaching. The resonance with Obama’s oration seems to suggest that we aren’t beyond a good oral presentation… something I was beginning to fear. On the other hand, perhaps we are well beyond a mediocre one. Doesn’t bode well for the form of sermon we all know and
love uh, we all know. Meantime, I think I’ll read through the transcript of the MLK speech in question… I’ve heard and seen it, but never read it.
So, for the discussion-minded, have at it. Riff on any of the themes from the aforementioned speech, or on the Obama-King comparison, or the future of the sermon.
According to an article I read in yesterday’s NYT, Frederick Douglass was/is Obama’s model that he holds before himself as a measure. We Americans can’t think/remember that far back so it won’t make an impact on most of us to know that. But for some of us that’s meaningful. My guess is that MLK was well-versed in Douglass’ speeches as well.
If you’re going to be discussing the “I Have A Dream Speech” later this week, you’d do well to bone up on the prophet Amos. MLK drew heavily from Amos in that speech. The lines are faint but they’re there.
I listen to that speech with my kids each year on MLK’s birthday. Me with tears trickling down my face. My kids used to ask why I cry, but now they know. Every year it leads to good discussions on the issue of race and reconciliation.
I think this is a great comparison. I too have feared at times that the art of oration has been lost. These days especially in the church we seem to have lost it. Many times I would mock, put down, slander the almighty sermon. But when done well it’s important. In the truest sense of the word it’s an art, in verbal form. If one looks through history you see great Orators, Marcus Tullieus Cicero, Plato, the apostle Paul, MLK and certainly Obama is stacking up to follow this tradition. These men, and I’m certain there have been ladies are wordsmiths that know how to craft a speech to captivate and motivate and persuade us. They picked the choosiest of words to flick a mental switch that causes us to ooh and ahhh. They tickle our cerebral cortex.
I lament that this seems to lack in today’s churches. There are a few, Craig Groshel, Steven Furtick to name a few I am captivated by recently. But many, blah on for what seems eons to bring forth a point, that proves to be no point at all, or spew words in hopes to make something concrete. The wordsmiths of our past and present have an understand we lack as well, brevity. Keep your words well choosen, and brief. Keep it to the point, give it the ole one, two like a prize fighter hitting each word as if it counts for a KO. Don’t make the fight last long, get in, get out.
Obama certainly is a great example for us to ponder and consider in all of this.
Brueggemann is well worth moving toward the top of the stack. Brother, your point on cutting is great, I’m going to mentally file that one, I heard a podcast recently from Andy Stanley teaching on less is more in relation to preaching. That is another person who understands oration.
There’s another side to the long sermon problem.
What is wrong with modern audiences that somehow tune out the >20 min. sermon? Can’t we sit still and listen without a commercial break or something? For most modern audiences, MLK’s sermon is too long.