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23 October 2007

Salting Our Speech, Cont'd

I didn't get quite as pointed as I intended in my last post. Felt I was running out of space, so I stopped short of the "payoff." Maybe this will help.

Not only do we in the church often use phrases that may be foreign to the unchurched, but those same phrases may have lost their meaning to long-time Christ-followers simply due to overuse. What about a fresh way of opening a topic before digging into the Scriptures?

A sermon illustration that is in the "free resources" category at follows. How would it strike you if, just before the message, the sanctuary went dark and a scene from the movie "Stranger Than Fiction" began on the screen...?


Scene Setup: Harold Crick is an auditor for the Internal Revenue Service. Today he has been auditing Ana Pascal, bakery owner and, in a humorous way, tax anarchist. She has made the day very difficult for Harold and seems to feel bad about it, so when he comes down from her attic, she has a gift for him.

Scene: At the end of a long day of auditing tax-resistant bakery owner Ana Pascal, Harold Crick, agent of the Internal Revenue Service, is about to leave for the night. When he wearily tells her goodnight, she surprises him by asking, "You want a cookie?Harold initially says "No," but Ana entices him, "They're warm and gooey and fresh out of the oven."

Harold surprises her by saying that he doesn't like cookies, and Ana is incredulous, "You don't like cookies? What's wrong with you? Everybody likes cookies."

He insists that he doesn't so Ana asks, "After a really awful, no good day, didn't your mom ever make you milk and cookies?"

Harold explains, "No, my mother didn't bake. The only cookies I ever had were store-bought."

"Ok, sit down." Harold tries to protest but Ana insists, "Sit down. Now eat a cookie."

Harold says, "I can't."

Ana, who knows how bad a day Harold has had, because she purposefully made his audit difficult to do, says, "Mr. Crick, it was a really awful day. I know. I made sure of it. So pick up the cookie, dip it in the milk, and eat it."Harold does as he is told and is surprised by how wonderful it is. He sighs and says, "Wow, that is a really good cookie. So when did you decide to become a baker?"

Ana replies, "When I was in college."

Harold asks, "You mean, like, a cooking college?"

Smiling, Ana says, "I went to Harvard Law, actually."

Harold is embarrassed, "I'm sorry, I just assumed..."

Ana tells him not to worry about it, "I was barely accepted, I mean barely. The only reason they let me come was because of my essay: How I Was Going to make the World a Better Place With My Degree. And anyway, we would have to participate in these study sessions, my classmates and I, sometimes all night long, and so I'd bake, so no one'd feel hungry why we worked. Sometimes I'd bake all afternoon in the kitchen in the dorm, and then I'd take my little treats to the study group and people loved them. Oatmeal cookies, peanut butter bars, dark chocolate macadamia nut wedges, and everyone would eat and stay happy and study harder, and do better on the tests, and then more and more people started coming to the study group, and I'd bring more snacks, and I was always looking for better and better recipes, with ricotta cheese, and apricot croissants, and mocha bars with an almond glaze and lemon chiffon cake with zesty peach icing. At the end of the semester I had twenty-seven study partners, eight journals filled with recipes, and a D average. So I dropped out. I just figured if I was goig to make he world a better place, I would do it with cookies. You like them?

Harold looks at her and says, "I do."

Ana smiles and says, "I'm glad."

Harold says, "Thank you for forcing me to eat them."

Ana replies, "You're welcome."

Application: For all of Harold's life he had been missing out on the delicious and comforting experience of cookies, because all he had ever eaten were tasteless, impersonal store-bought types. Though they masqueraded as cookies, there was always something missing. But Ana's cookies are the real deal. Warm and fresh from the hands of a master baker who cares about what she makes, Harold finds his world altered a little as a result of eating them. His previous experiences made him think that he didn't even like cookies until he finally had a chance to taste how wonderful they could really be.

I wonder how many people have a bad taste in their mouths after a lifetime of encounters with "store-bought" Christianity? Stale, tasteless, mass-produced religious experiences shared by those who are merely dropping it off are unlikely to move those who receive them, and might even make the receiver think that if this is what Christianity is all about, why in the world would I want it?

The difference between store-bought cookies and Ana's cookies are stark. Store-bought cookies are cheap, poorly made, badly presented, and impersonal. Ana's cookies are made with the best ingredients, created from a desire to make the world a better place, presented to people in an attractive way, and made by a person who cares about the eater. It is pretty easy to see how we could learn a lot about sharing our faith through service from this brief encounter over cookies.


Are we endorsing Will Ferrell if we show a clip from this movie? I've not seen it, but I'd bet that many, if not most of, those in the congregation have seen it. I'd say this is a far better use of the movie than was intended by its creators.


Cecily Hill said...

Ahhh... another hot potato issue for many: using secular film clips to illustrate a sermon point. How very... culturally relevant of you! ;)

Just bustin' your chops.

I personally think that redeeming pop culture in this manner is great. For one thing, it points out that the world is looking for answers, just like we are.

My only word of caution is that we do consider the overall message of the film from which the clip came. I think setting parameters - for example, no clips from an R-rated movie - is essential to maintaining integrity.

On the other hand... that would preclude us from showing clips from Mel's Passion movie. So, you can see how easily it is to get into gray areas.

My former church often used film clips, usually quite effectively. (But not always -- I mean, you don't always bat 1000.)

In fact, the one time we got the most complaints was when we showed a clip from the Lord of the Rings... go figure. Of course, we had children in our worship service, because we encouraged kids ages 2nd grade and up to worship with their parents. The particular LOTR clip that was shown was, perhaps, a little scary for the younger set.

But, I digress.

The point is that we should use the vernacular and medium of our generation to speak to our generation, whenever possible. (You know, in the world, but not of the world.)

I like it.

Leroy said...

Instead of showing a movie clip, we could always get Larry and Terry to act it out...

While in the process of being culturally relevant to the surrounding population, our generation, etc., we must be aware of being culturally irrelevant to the existing population. Being relevant is important. Very important. Whether it be culturally, socially, economically, whatever. But as I believe Cecily said in a previous post, it must not come at the expense of a watered-down message.

Kazak said...

Watch the movie, Dean. You'll like it. I think you'll find the auditor somewhat familiar.

Nothing wrong with using popular culture to reach the masses. It's what it's there for.

Whatever the rating.

Any human or otherwise...can only be as good as the people in it. The Word of God has to be represented by his creations.

It's been a long time since any burning bushes or other direct addresses. Use what you have to best effect.

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