Don’t Read to Me. Talk to Me.

I am a big fan of reading books to children.

I am not a big fan of preachers reading sermons to me.  I also find it less and less inspirational to read unison prayers or responsive liturgies from church bulletins.  And this article helped me figure out why.  From Doug Chaplin:

carrie-fisher-as-leiaLiturgy should give us “words for speaking, not for reading” – which brings me to Carrie Fisher.

In her 1990 interview with Terry Gross, Carrie Fisher – who was in her own right an extraordinary writer – was asked, “Have there been lines you’ve had to read during your career that you didn’t think quite work that you really wanted to rewrite?”

Her response:

“General Kenobi, years ago you served my father in the Clone Wars. I have begged you to help… I have placed information vital to the survival of the rebellion into the memory systems of this R2 unit. My father will know how to retrieve it.”

Her point was there are some words that sound great on paper but they don’t convey the way people actually talk to each other – even in outer space.  Some lines make us all sound more like an R2 unit than a real person.

Liturgy can be like that too.  Doug Chaplin suggests that these words might sound too pious/formal/stilted/unnatural for our liturgy – especially if we are supposed to be talking to God.


Frankly, I use some of these words in my day to day conversations but I’m a card-carrying professional minister.  I probably would not use words like “incarnation” or “fellowship” with my local barrista.  And it’s not that these words are actually “complex.”  It’s just that they do not connect most people with God.

God is real.  God’s heart breaks.  God’s Spirit calms me.  God’s presence helps me.

I am increasingly more connected to God when worship offers more time for silence than for repeating words – however beautiful – if those words sound like a recitation of somebody else’s sentences.  I am definitely not moved when a sermon is read to me rather than preached. I need stories. And I need an invitation to make God’s story my own.  I need a glimpse of authenticity regarding the preacher’s story too.

Don’t read to me.  Talk to me.  Make the story real.

Image of the future General Leia Organa with gratitude for the life of Carrie Fisher.

7 responses to “Don’t Read to Me. Talk to Me.

  1. Great post. I usually write a sermon manuscript and then break it down to a short list of points that I write on a post-it note that I put in my Bible. (Sometimes I skip the draft and go straight to the post-it.) And I agree that liturgy can offer more disconnection than transcendence at times. I’m grateful for the Book of Common Prayer for Ordinary Radicals that has mined the depths of historical liturgy and offered it in conjunction with new, fresh recitations. There is something so sacred in reciting words that have been voiced by Christ followers for centuries. In my way of thinking, it’s all about balance … thanks again for a great post. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  2. This resonates quite deeply, Jan. I’ve been adapting liturgy for the last five years by not using what I call Presbyterian-ese (those word-laden prayers which use all the eight plus letter words). I have also found that words which are meant to be read (as in a book) hardly translate well into liturgy. If I use a professionally written prayers of the people…it sounds hollow, most times. Sometimes it just seems that saying, “God, I screwed up,” is the most poignant prayer. (ala Anne Lamont’s book on prayer)

    I have renamed Prayer of Confession to Prayer of Awareness. The intent is the same…but the prayer offers the invitation to be aware of where we have fallen short in being God’s people, both as individuals and as the collective. In the same manner the assurance of pardon is now the assurance of grace and forgiveness.

    It took me years to understand grace. Oh, I could recite a definition but to understand what it meant took much longer. I must confess, I do use grace in the printed/spoken liturgy. I very rarely use family words in addressing a congregation or gathering of people.

    Silence. There you have hit the golden thread. One of my “practices” is to time to amount of time given for silent confession. Most presbytery meetings it is ten seconds. I kid you not. I am currently serving an interim. We begin the service with a time for centering and stillness. I use a quartz singing bowl to call us into that presence and we honor about one minute of silence. (Still working with the choir director to length the time of silence in the prayer time before the choral response.) We also have a time of silence after the sermon, again, using the bowl. When we begin the prayers of the people, I often wait a bit before starting. Karl Rahner said something like this: the church of the future will connect with its mystical tradition or cease being the church.

    During Lent we are going to use the same Prayer of Awareness every week. It will most likely take some form of the examen.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I am new to the Presbyterian way of doing church having been a Baptist for almost 60 years.

    First 18 years of my life were spent in a Southern Baptist church where my mother was a charter member. Lots of hell fire & brimstone there. Then I married and for 39 years I was American Baptist. They are a bit looser and very evangelical.

    I pray like a Baptist so it’s kind of funny to hear me in the Presbyterian setting where I find myself. I use many of those words that you have there in that box, not just for praying, but in conversation, too.


  4. Might we offer a prayer for the overworked or anxious pastor who recognizes herself as having preached one of the sermons that inspired this post? I’m troubled by the implied “you’re doing it wrong” message.


    • Thanks Rachel. This was inspired by Carrie Fisher in the Terry Gross interview. I wonder if tired pastors can authentically say that we are tired. I’ve been there too. With heavy pastoral responsibilities and/or family responsibilities, this is a good opportunity to ask someone to help with liturgy or even preaching. I didn’t mean to imply that we do it wrong but thank you for that feedback.


  5. Funny enough- I heard that interview the other day and thought… “that’s why I end up revising as I preach. ”


  6. Carrie Fisher made a good point about a movie script.

    Some pastors can say they’re tired. Can congregations hear it? Some can, many can’t, or won’t.

    It was gracious of you to thank me for feedback that wasn’t affirming.


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