Some Last First Impressions

–Argh.  I did love Aretha and her hat was fabulous!

–I loved Elizabeth Alexander’s poem.  I didn’t think it was a great poem by any stretch, but I thought it was a perfect poem–the kind of poem people who aren’t all that into poetry can hear and get something from on that initial hearing.  I don’t think it’s the kind of poem you want to mull over for five evenings straight, but it was a great poem for a public delivery like that and I love having public poets.

–I thought Obama’s speech was very good.  I liked the sense of a wide and deep history of the United States that we are a part of and can draw on.

–And my last point.  The difference between Rev. Warren and Rev. Lowery were so striking that I, who had previously been embarrassed by Warren am now embarrassed for him.  Just from a secular stand-point he ended up looking like a doofus because everyone who followed him projects a love of language and words and their richness and power, how they feel in mouths, how they carry, with ease, great weight, and how, if you let your Self out of the way and let them come to life through you, the energy between you and your audience is crackly and palitable.

But let’s just turn to the sacred problems he had.  An invocation should, by definition, invite people into a sacred space and, in turn, invite the presence of the Holy.  The Holy is always ready, but the people are not.  So, part of an invocation is shifting people’s perspectives.  That should be the initial purpose.  That’s why in any ceremony, the first movement is to address the people–“Dearly beloved, we are gathered here today…”  And then, you acknowledge God’s presense.  And then, as an effective preacher, you have only two choices.  You either act as the impetus for the congregation’s experience of the Holy or you act as the conduit for the congregation’s experience of the Holy.  You are either out of the flow or standing small at the center of it.

But the point of an invocation is to ready the people for the the palpable presense of God and to make room for Him.  Literally, you are preparing the people for the entrance of God.  You are not, as Warren’s style seems to suggest, standing on God’s front lawn with a list of demands you have taken from the crowd, shouting them out at him, so that all of the people in the crowd will marvel at the fact that you know where God’s house is.

And then, when Lowery was all “God’s people say ‘amen'” and the people they showed on MSNBC looked tickled and delighted to be able to participate–not in some rote recitation of the Lord’s Prayer–but in a dynamic end to the moment?  I wondered if Warren had sense enough to be embarrassed in his utter failure to connect the people with his God and Lowery’s effortless skill at it.

But still, the thing I keep coming back to is how obvious it is that Warren cannot project a love of words and/or Scripture and that, frankly, he failed at the one job he had today.

I wonder if he’s always that shitty a preacher and, if so, how’d he manage to grow his church so big?

11 thoughts on “Some Last First Impressions

  1. Because his church is in one of the wealthiest parts of the country, and evangelicals generally pressure each other to tithe 10%.

    Because some people don’t want to connect to God, they want other people to know they’re “Christians.”

    Because … I don’t know. Those things still don’t seem to be enough.

  2. Liberty hosted a falsely named “Purpose Driven Life Conference” which the students were required to attend. It actually turned out to be a “How to Market the Church” conference, and Warren’s analysis of this was three days long with hardly a reference to the preaching itself. Basically you just asked “Why is it that McDonald’s is so popular, when their burgers are really shitty?” The answer is ubiquity and marketing. Warren has made his product ubiquitous in the community, and has tailored the atmosphere of the church and everything associated with his church to the preferences of the community (a whole day was spent on how to ascertain these preferences, as well as discussing how every part of everything he does, from obvious stuff like music to subtler things like the stupid Hawaiian shirt he wears, was a direct reflection of marketing questionnaires).

  3. And, I should clarify, as Warren clarified, that he would define the “product” not as the preaching but as the experience of going to church, from driving in to driving out.

  4. The difference, I think, is the same difference we noted as children between our extremely pompous preacher’s invocations and one of our church elder’s invocations:

    The Extremely Pompous Preacher was praying so the congregation would hear him. The Elder was praying so God would hear him. One approached the throne with hubris and ostentation, the other with humility and reverence.

    And we all knew who was heard by whom.

    May I note that in my office this morning, our Wonderful Office Manager and I both burst forth, almost inadvertently, with “Amen, and amen, and all God’s people say amen,” with the good Rev. Lowery.

    We just sort of said, “Hmm,” when Warren was done.

  5. Samantha Y is right about people wanting others to know they’re “Christians.” When my grandmother died, we found that (in addition to the money she sent that douchenozzle Pat Robertson) for years she had written 5 checks a week to the First Baptist Church. Each check was for $20. Why not write them one check for $100?

    Check #1 for Sunday School
    Check #2 for Sunday morning service
    Check #3 for Sunday night service
    Check #4 for Wednesday night
    Check #5 for the “Christian Women’s Club”

    So every time she showed up for a church function she could be seen to put money in when they passed the plate. It wasn’t about supporting the church; it was about making sure everyone knew what a good Christian she was because they could see that she was supporting the church.

  6. That’s a big helping of cynicism you have for your own grandmother Scott. There are other reasons she could have been doing it that way. Besides, if you’re doing your part, what’s wrong with wanting other people to know you’re doing your part. Good examples and all that.

  7. What you saw was the ability of an experienced black preacher to bend words to his purpose and to excite a crowd. The best preachers I’ve ever seen have been African American. Remember the lilting cadence of Martin Luther King that just oozed pain. J. Jackson can sometimes harness the magic; remember the 1988 Democatic Convention speech, I think the theme was “The Check yet Cashed?”

    I thought the poem was well written and timely, but she didn’t read with any enthusiasm.

    The prayers were fine, but I’d prefer to see all of them roll up their sleeves and get to work. The time for fancy words has passed.

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