Tag: recent reading

Recent Reading: A Psychology for Preaching

Some select quotes I found helpful. In no way do I agree with everything in the book (it’s fairly liberal for my standards), but I did find some good common sense about preaching that a lot of people won’t say (or at least I haven’t heard say).

– Edgar N. Jackson, A Psychology for Preaching (San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1961).


Art forms are characterized by highly individualized modes of expression, so the artful presentation of ideas through preaching is strongly tinged by the preacher’s personal qualities. It could safely be said that all preaching is autobiographical… (pp. xxi-xxii).


…The necessity of trying to be inspiring on a week to week basis calls for all the ingenuity that a preacher can develop (p. 18).


[Quoting a study:] It has been estimated that a class listening to a teacher, an employee listening to his boss, or an audience listening to a lecture has serious lapses of attention ever seven minutes. The expert speaker jerks attention back by telling a story, making a demonstration, or doing something unusual about every five minutes. Interest, action or noise will renew attention (p. 19).


Too often a man who has won the hearts of his people as a pastor seems to feel that he has earned the right to be a careless craftsman in the pulpit. No one ever earns the right to be uninteresting in the pulpit (p. 20).


We have only fragments of [Jesus’] sermons, but we note that again and again there was an immediate and strong response to what he said. The listeners had been mentally engaged. They questioned him. They questioned themselves. They reacted. ‘They rose up, and thrust him out of the city.’ Any way we look at it, we must admit there are very few modern preachers who stimulate so vigorous a response. We may be sure Jesus spent little time sawing sawdust. He ripped into the real problems of people and his age. He generated real participation and response (pp. 29-30).


[Quoting Charles Brown:] it is not well for a minister to go out of his way six inches to make a joke. But when some unexpected turn comes to him naturally in the treatment of a great truth, he is unwise to turn aside in order to avoid it (p. 36).


In one sense the whole life of a preacher is an act of preparation for that moment when he stands in the pulpit (p. 36).


It is a psychological principle that we see what we want to see or are trained to see. Sight is a learned art. At an accident near our home recently, I aw this principle in action. The physician who arrived saw the injured persons and their needs because that was what he had been trained to see. The state policeman saw the relevant facts about the vehicles and their relation to each other. That was his special training. A maiden lady, who happened to be near by, saw blood and fainted…The preacher who has developed the habit of looking or new and fresh material that is actively related to the interests of his people will begin to see it cropping up here and there where he had not suspected it before (pp. 37-38).


People who live near a railroad get so they seldom hear the trains. persons who live near the town clock may be kept awake by it when they first move there, but after a time they learn a habit of exclusive listening. They hear what they want to hear. This is also true of the preacher (p. 38).


Even the end of a sermon can be important in sustaining attention; the way the preacher ends his sermon can make the listener want to hear what he has to say at another time (pp. 44-45).


…Because congregations tend to e made up of more than one type of personality it may be important for the preacher to employ a change of pace that will at one time ‘Comfort the afflicted’ and at other times ‘Afflict the comfortable.’ yet even here it is important to have some idea of what is being done, how it is being achieved, and what the effect is upon those for whom the message is not especially relevant (p. 54).


This concept of preaching stresses the role of the preacher as the creator in the employment of an art form. His own personality is then inseparably bound up with what is communicated (p. 61).


[Jesus] indicated that his disciples were custodians of the privilege to help others ‘to see those things that you see…and to hear those things that you hear’ (p. 67).


Definite supplemental sources of aid in the developing of the pastor’s art of ‘seeing people’ are available to all. Invariably, the masters of understanding have been immersed in the great literature of the past. Jesus had at his disposal the books of poetry, law and prophesy of the Jewish tradition. Paul knew not only the Jewish literature but was conversant with the literature of the Graeco-Roman world as well (pp. 68-69).


[Jesus] was simple in his presentation. No one from the child to the scholar could be confused by what he said. he used stories that were related to the experience of his hearers, and each story had one main point that stood out too clearly to be mistaken (p. 162).


The timid trout is not pulled from the stream by loud noise and by flailing the water. Rather, it responds to the quiet descending of the unsuspected fly (p. 168).


The sermon must drive with all power toward one point. It must have a theme, a center of concentration and a point of focus. There are many ways of presenting a theme (p. 185).


Every part [of the sermon] must serve a purpose, nothing must be there which is not needed, and nothing should be omitted which is required (pp. 186-187).

Recent Reading: The Bus Driver Who Wanted to be God

Etgar Keret, The Bus Driver Who Wanted to be God (& Other Stories)

I’m going to attempt to start writing some ‘recent reading’ posts. The goal of these posts, in the past, was to write down things from the books that I found helpful (think applications).

I was visiting Square Books in Oxford, MS and this book was on a ‘recommended reading’ shelf with a note from a staff member calling Keret ‘like Chuck Palahniuk, but better.’ I was sold. I absolutely loved this book and have already ordered another collection of Keret’s short stories to read.

Takeaways from several of the stories:

  • The Story About a Bus Driver Who Wanted to be God is a good picture of grace over strict legality; how compassion can impact people
  • Hole in the Wall was probably my favorite story int he collection. It involves a lonely man who wishes for a friend (more specifically an angel). His wish is answered, but the angel doesn’t live up to his expectations. The narrator calls him ‘a liar with wings.’ I’ve already used this in a sermon as an illustration of hypocrisy.
  • A Souvenir of Hell is about a town that borders an entrance of hell. Once every hundred years or so, residents of hell are allowed to visit the town. The main character is infatuated with a resident of hell, but after the hole is closed up by the government, she can only go on telling stories about what she had seen.
  • Breaking the Pig tells the story of a boy who chooses to save his friend. The friend happens to be a piggy bank. He values his friendship with the toy more than the money he would gain by breaking the bank.
  • Cocked and Locked is probably my second-favorite in the collection. It involves an Israeli military narrator patrolling the border. He is taunted every day by a Palestinian who doesn’t know that the narrator’s gun is useless. The narrator feels impotent, knowing he can’t use his weapon. The twist in the end shows us that we’re all really impotent in the end in some sense.
  • Korbi’s Girl is another good one. A young man steals another young man’s girlfriend. The other young man seeks revenge. The brother of the first young man (who stole the girlfriend) is caught in the middle. This story involves a lesson/exploration of the nature of justice.
  • Missing Kissinger is another favorite. It follows a husband as he attempts to fulfill his wife’s request to ‘prove his love’ to her.
  • Plague of the Firstborn involves the story of Exodus. It explores the idea that some mercies are actually judgement.
  • Pipes was another story in enjoyed. It involved a lonely man who found a way to heaven by building an intricate pipe. He discovered that heaven wasn’t for good people; it was “for people who were genuinely unable to be happy on earth.”

Recent Reading: Player Piano, by Kurt Vonnegut

I read Slaughterhouse Five a while back because it was highly recommended by Chuck Palahniuk, and because another of my favorites authors, Douglas Coupland, is a big fan of Vonnegut. So, when I saw this book on the for-sale rack (for a quarter) at my local library, I decided to pick it up. I’m in the lull between the end of classes and final exams at seminary, so it’s high time for some fiction for the sake of sanity.

Player Piano, by Kurt Vonnegut

This book will be added to my list of recommended reading on culture and technology. Last year, I accidentally stumbled upon Hard Times, by Charles Dickens, and discovered that it was a story that dealt with scientism; it turns out the same thing has happened again with Player Piano.

In the story, another dystopia by the way, Vonnegut depicts a future for America in which the scientists and engineers rule the day. Machines have been invented to do essentially all menial labor that there is to do, which has left no work for the working class. Everything about your life is essentially predetermined by your IQ score. If you are smart enough, you go to college and become something of value and significance; if you are not, you join the army or some belittling government corps. If you really want to make it, you must become an engineer. And as an engineer, you care for the machines that essentially rule the culture. Just be careful not to invent a machine that will take your place. If you do your job well, you might climb your way up the managerial bureaucracy.

The story centers around one such engineer named Paul Proteous (a great name by the way) who happens to be the son of one of the most successful engineers in the history of the country – the engineer given primary credit for the current machine-driven system. Paul begins to consort with folks from ‘across the river’ and learns how miserable common people are in this system, a fact that he has been oblivious to all of his life heretofore. He, along with an engineer-friend that has given up on the system, meet a Protestant minister who tells them of his belief that the lower class are primed for the arrival of a messiah that will deliver them from their low estate of, basically, having nothing of any significance to do.

From this point on, Paul is caught on the threshold of two worlds and must decide what he truly thinks of the cultural system as it is. Should he continue to live his successful life without experiencing any sense of significance or purpose, or could he perhaps rebel against it.

As his name is Proteous, the name given to him by his father, the most famous name in the land, he is ultimately recruited to serve as a nominal messiah to lead to lower class in a rebellion against the bureaucracy. Still, he is torn between two worlds and must decide to which side he will pledge his ultimate allegiance, realizing that this coup may cost him everything. I won’t give away the ending, so I’ll stop there.

Vonnegut wrote this story in the 1950s, and his prescience is astounding to some degree. I am always amazed by the people that can see things coming. Personally, I find that I am good at diagnosing problems, but not so good at seeing where those problems will lead to down the road. This book belongs with Animal Farm, Brave New World, and 1984 in relation to dystopian visions of the future. It hits upon the basic question of what man is meant to do, and what man will do when that meaning and purpose is taken away – in this case by gadgets.

Recent Reading: Harrison Bergeron by Kurt Vonnegut

Harrison Bergeron (a short story), by Kurt Vonnegut

This short story depicts a dystopian world in which all men are equal (America in 2081). All men being equal, however, it turns out, is not easy to accomplish. Equality is accomplished through government-imposed handicaps.

For instance, if you are more intelligent than the average person, you are fitted with a mandatory ‘earbud’ (if you will) that pumps in random loud noises every few minutes to make sure you can’t sustain a train of thought. Or, say you’re too beautiful, then you are required to wear a mask. You can always know who’s beautiful, since they’ll be the one wearing the ugliest mask.If you’re too physically able, maybe a fast runner, then you have to constantly wear a heavy load on your back.

As with Player Piano, which I also read recently, the book ends with the promise of a messiah that will deliver the world from its bondage to equality, and the ultimate failure of that messiah.

The story turns out to be a fairly good parable for a culture still coming to grips with what equality truly means – a culture that rejects the notion that God desires unity, not uniformity – and a culture that always rejects those (him) who would save it from itself. You can read the story online HERE.

Recent Reading: The Visitor, by J.L. Pattison

The Visitor: A Short Story, by J.L. Pattison

Before I write a food words about the book, let me make a couple of notes: First, the book is available for free on Amazon for Kindle until tomorrow, September 6th. I’d encourage you to download it. Second, Mr. Pattison is a regular commentor on this blog, and has one of his own HERE.

The book itself is a short story set in the late 1800s through the mid 1900s. It blends science fiction with real history. I’m not always a fan of such, but he actually pulls it off quite well. It tells the story of how an American from some point in ‘the future’ attempts to travel back to warn the founding fathers of the United States of the future actions of the nation and the tragedies it will be involved in. The time traveler doesn’t quite make his destination of late 18th Century America, but he does manage to give his account to a former slave, now farmer, in late 19th Century Georgia. Leroy Jenkins, our Georgia farmer, has a hard time getting anyone, including a fairly well known journalist, to believe his story about the future of America. But by the end of the story, the assassination of a president makes at least one believer out of the long-dead Leroy’s story.

Pattison manages to weave some interesting themes and allusions into the story. I personally enjoyed this aspect of the narrative, though he is kind of scratching where I itch on these.  I’m not sure if the Leroy Jenkins of the story is somehow a nod to the Leroy Jenkins of viral video-game clip fame (not linking it because of questionable language), but it made me giggle upon reading the first line of the story. The Leroy of the story is actually sort of opposite to the Leroy of the video game, since he doesn’t go storming into anything, but actually remains overly passive in some sense. [Edit: Mr. Pattison tells me this was no meant to be an allusion]. There is also an allusion to the tension between the sovereignty of God and the outworking of history in relation to time travel. I find that to be an interesting thought experiment. Finally, there’s a big nod given to Neil Postman and his vision of the American future given in Amusing Ourselves to Death; Pattison even manages to give a bit of a nod to Aldous Huxley, though I know he’s not a huge fan of Brave New World. The needle-in-the-arm-sedation ending is quite Huxlean, and I thought it was a brilliant ending.

I recommend the story. It’s a very short read, but quite intriguing. The weaving of an interesting fictional narrative with theology, history, political commentary, media ecology, science fiction, and pharmaceuticals in such a short space is impressive.