Attention preachers and teachers! If Maya Angelou was right we have some changes to make in our main act. And I think she was right. We have been far too sure our job was to communicate ideas. But how many of our listeners retain our precious and valuable thoughts as far as the parking lot? After a little while, I can’t even remember what I myself said from the pulpit or in the classroom without reminders. I was a philosophy major in college. I can remember a lot about Dr. Stewart who taught all the courses in that field at our small college. I can remember his tone of voice, his placid expression, the way he snorted when he laughed, and his tweed jackets with leather elbow patches, but not a single word he said. I learned a lot of philosophy, but what I remember from Dr. Stewart is how I felt alert, challenged to the brink, thoughts swirling. I can remember a week at the New Wilmington Missionary Conference forty years ago where I heard great preaching and concentrated on listening to the point that “I got it” -- what I had been doing wrong with my own novice preaching. I remember being electrified by the sermons morning and night that week, being alive and thrilled. But I don’t remember a single one of the topics, none of the texts, and not any of the real-life illustrations that fascinated me so. I have preached hundreds of sermons, and some of them were splendid. I got compliments, and still do from people who listened years ago. But it was not what I said that mattered, I think. The words were a sound-bath. They ignited fires of imagination if they were working, or they wrapped suffering people in a warm embrace. The best classroom jobs I ever had involved me in getting students doing things, experiencing success, and being rewarded by feelings of expanded possibility. So, preachers and teachers, what would it be like if we quit trying to fill minds with good ideas? Because that is not working very well. Ideas are like mist and minds are like screen doors. The only ideas that will stick are hard, glowing ones or gooey, messy ones that need to be dealt with actively until they are possessed by the new owners. Passive audiences do not exist; if they are passive they are not hearing, but their receptors of feeling are never turned off. Brilliant, inspiring, poetic, provocative Maya Angelou died this week and I will remember how she made me feel…and, in her case, maybe one or two of her brilliant, inspiring, poetic, provocative quotes.
Rev. Dr. Kenneth Dobson posts his weekly reflections on this blog.