Tuesday, April 17, 2007


For most of my life people have been telling me how good a writer I am. I'm not saying that in an arrogant way, although it has been a struggle over the years to keep from getting too proud or too self important over my abilities. People seem to like what I have to say and the words seem to come together relatively effortlessly. For a while now, I've been identifying myself as "a writer." For example, if I hear a particularly well worded piece of prose, be it in a book or a paper, I'll tell someone, "I'm a writer, so I appreciate how good this is." You're right, that does come off as arrogant. Guilty as charged.

Several years ago I was first exposed to a fantastic movie called Wonder Boys. I won't go into the whole plot synopsis, but it is essentially about the craft of writing, but the true genius of the movie is not in the plot or the acting or the story itself, although all of those elements are fantastic, the true genius of Wonder Boys is the screenplay. The writing is so masterfully crafted that the mere words coming out of the actors' mouths are a joy to the ear. Nothing seems so wonderful to me as a well crafted sentence and this movie is chock full of them. While I haven't read the book that inspired the movie, much credit can be given to the screenwriter (Steven Kloves) who parlayed this movie into a sweet gig adapting the Harry Potter series for the big screen.

During the course of Wonder Boys, there is a scene where a fictional best-selling author addresses a writer's convention with the simple line "I am (pause for dramatic effect) a writer," and is met with uproarious applause. That always puzzled me. It seemed too simple, too indulgent. Perhaps I wasn't a writer after all. I can't resonate with a ridiculous statement like that.

All of this has come to mind as I process the slow demise of our Saturday Evening Worship service. For the past eight or so months, I have been working with a small group of people to lead a rather non-traditional, traditional service at our church on Saturday evenings. Part of this responsibility required me to preach a sermon each week. (Before you all tune me out here, yes, I am a preacher, but every single negative thing that comes to your mind right now, is probably also something I hate about preachers. So hear me out.)

This service kind of arrived at a unique juncture in my life. I was given a chance to explore what I believe to be the call on my life, that is to preach. At the same time I am given this opportunity, I am also enrolled in my first "preaching" class. The combination of these two things has allowed me to explore vast corners of my life that would otherwise be left cluttered. I was able to use the non-traditional atmosphere of the service to expand my creative outlook on preaching and put into practice the theoretical elements of preaching I picked up in class.

Each week the sermon became a writing assignment. It fit far more naturally than anything else I had ever tried. You can ask Carl Winderl how well my foray into short fiction went (luckily I took the class pass/fail and he was gracious). I write poetry, but even I, in my arrogant haze, know it's more for therapy than show; and novels have always seemed so long and scary to me. I needed a creative outlet to express my usually non-fiction premises in a way that would impact people without bogging down the message.

Low and behold: the sermon.

Our service ended last week. In the vacuum of that time and effort commitment, I have been reflecting on its lost place in my life. While I am relieved to have the stress and pressure of the weekly service lifted for a time, I cannot help but desperately miss that outlet in my life. As the Rev. Dr. Larry Lott said recently, "Preaching is the hardest thing you'll ever do...but you love it!"

So as I reflect on this time in my life, the writing talent I have developed and the lack of belonging within the writing community, I have come to a stark, but satisfying realization. I can identify with that character (played admirably by Rip Torn, by the way; perhaps one of the greatest stage names ever conceived) in his statement. While I am not a writer, I am a preacher; it defines who I am. It is a big enough and comfortable enough role with me that it can define me, yet it is large enough and spacious enough that it will allow room for growth in all aspects of my life. I'm not sure if this is what people talk about when they find a sense of purpose, but it certainly gives me confidence. I am... a preacher.

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