Recently, I drove to San Francisco to see my dear friend from high school that was there from Okinawa. My rental car had XM radio. I realized that on the 10 hour car ride (round trip) I spent most of my time listening to the the two stand-up channels (Comedy Central and Laugh USA — I learned that I do have limits on vulgarity therefore couldn’t listen to the other comedy channels).
I heard one story that just had me laughing for quite a while on the way home: (Be warned, there’s a few NSFW language):
I’ve always wanted to be a stand-up but never had the nerves to do so (nor the talent). I don’t think I can endure the rejection and dejection that stand-ups routinely go through to build up their career and following. I’m too emotionally fragile and needy to handle that kind of rejection (and the booing/heckling).
But the way they see the world; the way they have their audience’s attention; the way they often share their darkest moments of their lives but make everyone laugh along with them — it’s amazing. And admirable. And shows me that people are willing to listen to a great story that is being told, even if it is over an hour long.
Not only that, people are willing to pay money to see (hear) them.
A while back, I learned that Daniel Tosh was going to be near Orange County (when we used to live there) and I started looking at tickets and saw that it was like $85. To quote Hannibal Burress, I think Tosh is funny, but I don’t know if he’s 85 dollars funny.
I love watching Seinfeld’s Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee. It sort of gives an insight to how these people think. I also love the late Mitch Hedberg; Demetri Martin; John Mulaney (the Salt & Pepper Diner story had me); Trevor Noah; Hannibal Burress; “Fluffy” Gabriel Iglesias; Kevin Hart; Katt Williams; Amy Schumacher; Ellen DeGeneres was a brilliant stand-up; Chris Rock; Eddie Murphy (and because he was so great, makes one lament where his career seemingly is today); Dave Chappelle; Jerry Seinfeld; Bill Cosby — just to name a few of my favorites.
A while back, I stumbled upon Mike Birbiglia’s My Girlfriend’s Boyfriend on Netflix. It was one long story about how he ended up with his wife. The hour plus set started with how he first met his girlfriend and closed with how he married her in the end (uh… spoiler alert? Sorry). With a whole lot of flashbacks and stories in between that was related to his relationship. And I thought it was great. I also just discovered, as I was googling how to spell “Birbiglia” he’s coming to Isla Vista later this year. People paid to see that. And people like me took the time to sit through it on Netflix.
Because I love laughing. And I love hearing a great story. And I love when those stories make me laugh.
Who doesn’t like to hear a good story?
Which is why it bothers me when people complain about sermons. Lots of church goers view the sermon time as the time to check out; to plan out their day; to get updates on the game that is currently going; to catch up on sleep; to day dream; to wonder why time seems to stop; to make weird observations about the preacher and/or the people sitting around; and our ears are conditioned to listen to the key words that alerts us that the sermon is wrapping up.
Why is that?
I’m not putting the sole responsibility on the preacher… but … I don’t know. I mean it’s not always the preacher’s fault.
But if the people are conditioned to tune out, the preacher has some responsibility, right?
I think I’m finally getting comfortable of who I am as a preacher. It took a long time to get comfortable with my voice. I’ve mentioned this before, but when I knew that I was going to have preach on a regular basis, I was obsessively studying stand-up comedians. My conclusion was that more than a “sermon” — stories grab people’s attention. Stories are powerful. Stories can teach lessons. It can inspire; challenge; question; evoke various of emotions. And though I don’t succeed all the time, I always try to write my sermon and deliver it like I’m telling a story rather than “preaching.” (I know I put that in quotes, but I don’t quite know what I mean).
I’ve always been inspired and challenged by the likes of Erwin McManus; Rob Bell; Andy Stanely. I will sit through an hour sermon (Erwin McManus’ shorter sermons clock in at about 45 minutes) because they have me engaged in the story that they are telling. And I walk away, not feeling I’ve been preached to, but invited to participate in the story that they just told through God’s grace.
We have a unique opportunity to tell people what God is doing in our lives and in our world today, every Sunday for 15 minutes to an hour (depending on your church’s tradition). We’re not to be entertainers but we shouldn’t make this an opportunity for people to check out and/or catch up on some sleep (oh and church, we can totally see you when you’re sleeping. Even if you’re trying to be sneaky — we see it all. Texting. Sleeping. Yawning. Flirting. We. See. You.)
Be engaging. Be encouraging. Be challenging. Be inspiring. Be faithful. And let God use your words to resonate within the hearts and souls of others.