I was mostly paying attention as the minister pontificated. I’d been taking notes on my phone and texting someone who was sitting three or four rows behind me. I’d kept my eyes on the little screen in the palm of my hand for at least ten minutes, not looking at the speaker. Once upon a time, this was considered to be rude. Now, church services have their own hashtags and people are encouraged to tweet about the pastor’s magnificent oratory skills is or check-in on Facebook or Foursquare that they’re attending somewhere.
He’d been in the “meat and potatoes” portion of his sermon for a while and it was good stuff. But then it happened- his voice broke. This forced me to look up. The steadiness of his speech had me confidently typing verses and snatches of phrases into my phone, without much attention to the character before me. But the appearance of emotion made me want to better understand what was going on. I glanced back at my notes and didn’t see anything that seemed like it should elicit this kind of response from the speaker. Raising my gaze to the front of the sanctuary again, I realized that his lower lip quivered as he told his story.
Immediately, I was pissed. I would say that ministers learn how to cry at will in seminary, but it’s shocking how many of them have never darkened the doorway of any place of theological education. They must be learning this trick elsewhere, like on the Disney Channel.
When it comes to public speaking, I’m skeptical of emotion. Most of the time, it seems that dead puppies come as a substitute for real information . Somehow, many people accept this as passable or even decent teaching. But everything this man had been saying so far was really good. I was lost.
After church, I went to lunch with the friend from three or four rows behind my seat. We discussed the sermon and realized that neither of us had any complaints. From there, I went home and got to work on a writing project that had consumed numerous days off. I was pleased with my own attempts at wit. I even laughed a few times, because I have an awesome sense of humor. It was then that it hit me- enjoying my own writing wasn’t much different from another man’s words making him cry. His case might even have more legitimacy for tears, at least if he was sticking to scripture.
The preacher is not free from the perlocutionary powers
of his own words
(much less so if said communicator speaks God’s word).
This notion obviously holds true outside of clergy, too. All creators (with the exception of technical writers and prosperity preachers) suffer the effects of their own handiwork. Creating is an impactful endeavor, sometimes violently so. This isn’t necessarily because part of the creator goes into their work, but rather, that the product of their effort drew something out upon its manifestation- perhaps it was created was for that exact purpose.
My skepticism had been challenged.
It turns out that there are instances where using emotion isn’t a cheap trick.