I was not yet in high school when I began to suspect I had a future in public speaking. In the course of my very long career I have made more than a thousand presentations and speeches (including sermons). Most of them disappeared without a trace. I remember a few, not always because they went well or made an impact. Some were almost disasters and that is why I remember them. Now, at the end of my public speaking and as the holiday season approaches, I am feeling nostalgic, so I will describe nine of my memorable experiences.
1. Dr. E. John Hamlin, principal of the Thailand Theological Seminary, asked me in 1967 to prepare a presentation on a topic of my choosing, based on my very recent years in seminary. I attempted to describe how US churches and theological education were being impacted by the US Civil Rights movement and suggested that there were parallels between the racism in the USA and the sub-culture status of Christians in Thailand. That did not go over well.
2. In 1999 four seminary students and I spent a week in May visiting Christian schools. It was the beginning of a new academic year in Thailand and I proposed to provide an inspirational program for a few of our smallest schools. We visited 5 schools with an hour of “Music and Magic” infused with thoughts about how learning can be magical, too. We were a hit.
3. Of the hundreds of funeral services I have conducted in the USA the most memorable was for a middle-aged cerebral palsy victim who tried to kill her mother and commit suicide. A policeman and I had to break down their front door to get to them. What does one say at the funeral of one who tried to murder her mother?
4. After the first two Harry Potter books came out in Thai translation (at the time the 4th book was published in English), the first movie was released. Grasping the idea that children were reading the books in both Thai and English, and they were all going to see the movie, I developed a workshop for teachers in which one set of supplemental language learning activities was how to produce games based on popular literature. The teachers told me what they wanted was packaged games that didn’t require hours of preparation, so our follow-up workshops went better.
5. For a couple of years in college I worked as a volunteer chaplain’s assistant in the Jacksonville State Hospital for the mentally ill. One of my jobs was to present short worship services in locked wards. One Sunday morning the Lord’s Prayer was a trigger for a patient. “God would NOT lead us into temptation,” he shouted over my, “Deliver us from evil.” Two attendants had to restrain him as he jumped from one table to another trying to get to me.
6. The most memorable funeral service I ever conducted in Thailand was a graveside service for Mr. Silver. More than 800 villagers gathered in the cemetery with machetes, pitch forks and assorted knives to prevent the burial. They didn’t want a moldering body left anywhere in the vicinity. We wisely agreed to a cremation, but subjected the crowd to a sermon on the Christian concept of death and resurrection as we waited for volunteers to bring fuel.
7. I was a periodic speaker at the weekly convocations for students at Christian University of Thailand from 2001 to 2007. One of my talks was “Ethics on the Ban Paew Road,” a highway that runs by the university. I had slides of traffic situations, each leading to the question, “What’s the ethical thing to do?” The summary was, “Ethical driving involves 3 questions, ‘Is it legal? Is it safe? And is it courteous?’ But not ‘Is it convenient?” if any of the 3 main questions should be answered, ‘No.’” It is a principle that applies to a lot of other circumstances as well as traffic.
8. The night Pramote and I got married in Indianola, Iowa I was a presenter at Simpson College. The topic was, “Gender Ambiguity: Case Studies in Thailand.” I have presented variations on that topic several times and it is the basis for a book of anecdotes. That first presentation in the evening, after our court-house wedding in the morning, the champagne reception at Dr. Lora’s home, and a party at a bar-b-que restaurant, is still the most memorable. How could a presentation on a day like that not be memorable?
9. I have fondness for my most recent presentation, which may be my last. It was on “Four Domains of Faith in Thailand.” I have really good pictures to go with the topic explaining that these overlapping domains are orthodox religion (especially Buddhism), supernaturalism, veneration (saints and royalty), and spirituality (self-development programs that maximize one’s potential). I’d say this is a distillation of decades of observation. I gave the presentation once. The audience was small. I’m saving the PowerPoint file in case someone calls with an invitation to present it again.
Rev. Dr. Kenneth Dobson posts his weekly reflections on this blog.