One of the very best things about my call (job, position, vocation, whatever you wish to label it–though call is most appropriate) is that I get to read and write a lot. That’s a pretty good thing since I love both of those things. While on internship in seminary I remember calling a classmate of mine and saying, “Can you believe this? We actually get PAID to READ!” It is still a marvel to me.
Recently a friend was visiting me and she said to a local friend of mine, “Rosemary doesn’t do any real work. All she does is read and write and talk.” Ha! Let us also note for the record that this visitor is also a pastor so she should know! Of course, the truth is while there are other parts to what I do, the lion’s share is just that.
However, this does not mean that there isn’t work involved. I’ve been looking for some kind of continuing education opportunity for writing, specifically creative writing, and finally came across a little workshop that was, as luck would have it, right in my church’s budget: free!
The workshop is called The Zen-Writers Workshop and it is centered around the Ray Bradbury book, Zen in the Art of Writing. First assignment: write a one sentence story.
Yes, that’s right. Write a one sentence story.
Nothing will strike fear into the heart of a pastor/preacher more than saying you must tell a whole story in a single sentence. A Single Sentence!! We have, thankfully, been given some examples to help us along the way. They can be found at Monkey Bicycle and they are quite interesting for the most part.
The centerpiece of the workshop, Bradbury’s book, is quite good and even though I am not very far into it yet, it did make me feel like saying “Yeah! I’m so glad a big part of my job is writing!” However, it does raise a question. How does examining fiction and creative writing help a person whose vocation is in no small part centered around writing non fiction?
As an answer, for now, I will quote Bradbury’s advice in the first essay. “Find a character, like yourself, who will want something or not want something, with all his heart. Give him running orders. Shoot him off. Then follow as fast as you can go. The character, in his great love, or hate, will rush you through to the end of the story.” (pg 7) The very best things I have written (including and especially sermons) have been when I have done this very kind of thing.
Sometimes preachers spend a lot of time looking for good stories to tell; anecdotal news bits, fables, children’s books, illustrative or cutesy email tales designed to make a point. There are even some preachers who are great storytellers and I confess a bit of envy of those who have this skill. However, we can put so much effort into finding a story to illustrate the point of a text instead of telling the story of a text. Often the story of a text has to do with that character Bradbury spoke of who loves or hates what he or she thinks the scripture says and has a thousand inappropriate or difficult questions about it or crazy and amazing ways of living it.
Of course, the scary part of that is this character is “like yourself”. Not like cute stories of your kids or grandkids or quippy anecdotes from a sermon prep website. Not like the perfect pastor person who knows all the answers. A character like yourself whose great love or hate or perhaps even fear will run you through to the things the text is really saying, asking, challenging us to be and do as people of God.
This is only week one and the notion of the one sentence story is still causing me great anxiety, but I am looking forward to the rest of it and plan on blogging a bit through it. If you have things you do to assist you in writing sermons (or other things for that matter) I’d love to hear about them. If you’re a sermon listener, and let us hope we are all at some point or another, and have things you love or hate about the sermons you hear, I’d love to hear that as well.
Now, I have a book that needs reading so I have to go back to work.