Embrace the Remix

The video is from a TED talk entitled “Embrace the Remix.” It’s about 10 minutes long, so check it out if you have time. And want to.

Kirby’s main argument is that everything is, basically, a remix. Creativity comes from without more than within. We’re influenced by the things out there. Henry Ford invented the automobile building upon the work of others before him. Kirby quotes Steve Job quoting Picaso saying that “good artists copy, great artists steal.” Unless, someone steals from you. Kirby then has a quote from Jobs vowing to destroy Android for stealing from Jobs.

Years ago, I decided that I needed to take preaching a bit more serious. In seminary, I was a notorious procrastinator. I still am, but not as bad nor notorious. On top of the school work, I had to preach weekly, too. I used to wait until Saturday evening to start my sermon prep. Praying for the Spirit to inspire me and take over so that the words would just flow. I lied by telling myself that I work best under pressure. I mean, there’s some truth to that. But more often than not, the outcome of the pressurized work wasn’t the greatest.

Still years ago, my computer crashed before I backed any of it up (including some valuable/memorable/important pictures. Oops). But one thing I don’t miss is the sermons from that period of my life. I cringe thinking about what kind of sermons they were (I can’t really remember, except for a few), and can’t imagine my response from actually reading those sermons.

I begin to realize that I was doing God and the people listening to me a huge disservice by procrastinating on my sermon, thereby making it an afterthought in my life. So I decided that I really needed to work on this craft.

I so desperately wanted to be original and creative in my preaching.

You want to frustrate yourself endlessly? Try forcing and stressing yourself to be something you are not.

I’m not that creative. I’m not that original. I’m not that much of a scholar. I’m not that innovative.

But here I am, stressing myself out completely by trying to figure out how to present something in a fresh and new and unique and memorable way to the people.

I have a few sermons from that chapter of my life, but I dare not to read it, either. The cringe-worthy level is probably a 9 (out of 10).

My sanity would betray me if I kept forcing myself to be something I am inherently not. By then though, I discovered something. Though I may not be that creative, original, innovative, yada yada, I did know (and do know) that I’m a decent story teller. (One of my favorite stories to tell is Johnny and his 2 pink ping pong balls. Consequently, it’s my wife’s least favorite. And that’s putting it mildly. She leaves the room when I start telling this story. So remind me to tell you, one day.)

And here’s something else I discovered: Not everyone’s a church nerd like me. At least within the congregation. These kids and people didn’t spend their work and free time perusing the Bible and other resources for sermon ideas. The stories I’ve heard 100 of times through other preachers, books and classes – the people I was preaching to would’ve heard them for the first time.

It was also during this time, I started discovering great pastors and speakers around the country.

I realized that I could (re)tell their sermons very well. So started a point in my life where I would shamelessly (and I mean shamelessly) use other preacher’s sermons (like Adam Hamilton’s). Word for word. And my delivery would be different, based on who I was stealing from. If it was Adam Hamilton, there was an Adam-ness to my preaching. If it was Francis Chan, my voice inflections would mimic his. If it was Rob Bell’s, my pauses would be more exaggerated. Although, to this day, my pauses are still long and exaggerated, much like his. Actually, there’s a lot of my delivery that has been influenced by Bell. I used to be annoyed that I couldn’t stop doing it, because it was so engrained in me. It felt like organic, like it was me. So, I embraced it. Who knows, maybe I would still do those certain things, even if I have never watched him.

The sermons were pretty good, of course. But after a while, something inside me started gnawing at me. Call it the Spirit or a bad burrito, but I couldn’t ignore it. Not only was I being a fraud, but I was blatantly stealing. It would be one thing to give those preachers I shamelessly stole from credit. But I didn’t. I passed it as my own. I knew that I couldn’t live with myself if I kept desecrating the integrity of speaking, and particularly the mind-daunting task of preaching God’s words, by relentlessly stealing and pretending these words were from me, inspired by God when it was Adam’s (or Francis’ or Rob’s or Erwin’s) God-inspired words.

These days, I feel like there’s a good blend of ideas from within and without. But, even those ideas from within me, I know they came from somewhere else. Reading. Listening to other people of faith. Blogs. My wife. My parents.

And, now, when we do borrow sermon series from other pastors, I don’t use their sermon word for word, but use their sermons as a spring board for my own line of thinking.

I’m okay with thinking that all of my great ideas aren’t 100% my ideas (that is, when I feel like I have some what of a great original idea), but have been influenced by others who have gone before me or my contemporaries.

Recently, our ex-intern called me and asked what I was preaching on. I think it might’ve been my last sermon at my former church. And after I told him what the sermon was about, he said, “Dude. Cool. I’m going to steal it.” And I replied, “Go ahead. I’m pretty sure I stole a lot of it, too. But I’m still going to charge you.” (I don’t know if he ever used it, but since I never got paid, I assume he didn’t. :P)

While this can raise a lot of ethical questions, for sanity’s sake, let’s not go there, please. At least not now. Feel free to start your own blog post on the ethics of using other people’s sermon, though. I’ll read it.

I am still learning about my voice and who I am as a preacher. I am still trying to, if you will, “master” this craft of preaching and story-telling. I’m very much a student, and I don’t think I’ll ever be the master. And I’m totally okay with that.

I’m also totally okay with the notion “there’s nothing new under the sun.” But we can take things that we already know and remix it, adding our own flavor and personality into it– and maybe try to present an old idea in new or modern or your ways, which is what many of the Christian authors and preachers do, anyhow.

The greatest story ever told has… already been told… so embrace the remix.

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