Last night, I was in charge of both leading and playing piano in the evening service. I’m getting the hang of balancing these two responsibilities together, but it puts a certain amount of time pressure on the preparation for the evening service. This would be apparent to anyone who listened to my opening spiel last night.
Given what a disaster it was, I thought I’d run through my preparation process, so that we can all have a better idea of what went wrong.
Normally, I try and put something creative and (dare I say) mildly funny together. If I run out of time, I’ll go with something more solemn and reflective – either work perfectly well as a start to the service, but for the sake of gathering everyone’s attention, I find something creative works better – people are more engaged with the service. (Perhaps this is just my own vanity creeping in: feel free to give me feedback either way.)
Hopefully, whatever I come up with will be tied to the theme of the service. Of late, I’ve been given a bible verse as a starting point: this is actually harder than choosing your own starting point, but I digress.
This week’s was Leviticus 11:45. Now don’t panic when you hear “Leviticus”, the verse was actually a pretty good one to work from.
Lev 11:45 I am the LORD who brought you up out of Egypt to be your God; therefore be holy, because I am holy.
The notion of holiness – you may be aware – is about being set apart. This verse (though it’s in the middle of a section on what the Israelites could and couldn’t eat) paints a picture of God having set the Israelites apart for himself. Having made them into a nation and brought them out of slavery in Egypt, he requires a certain type of behaviour from them.
How this reminded me of staplers is much harder to explain. it was one of those flashes of inspiration that might work, or might not. Judging by the looks of agreement I was seeing around the room, people were with me in thinking that a stapler is the kind of office equipment that – more than anything else – people form an emotional bond with. This is my stapler; you can’t take it away.
If I’d just stayed with this concept, I could have worked together a few similar ideas:
- we call out our own stapler from among all the other staplers
- in many cases, we mark the stapler with our own name
- we expect a certain loyalty from our staplers: not to go off with someone else
As you can see, this is already a fairly long bow to draw, but salvageable. In a service opening, you’re not looking for exhaustive explanation of the passage, just something to mark out that a service is beginning.
The trouble, though, was that I didn’t stop at just thinking about my stapler. Instead, I let my thoughts wander to the openning of the movie Office Space, and its famous red Swingline stapler. This would have worked at building up the notion of the stapler as a device people form an emotional bond with, but not so much as a segue into the verse.
Through reasons of time pressure (and foolishly thinking that I’d be able to explain myself from the bullet points I wrote out), I ended up hopelessly stuck, unable to bridge the gap between the red stapler and the people of Israel.
After an agonising few seconds, I simply moved onto the next part of the service, leaving the people who arrived on time at best amused, and at worst, horribly distracted.
What should I have done differently? Given the time constraints, I should have gone with a straight opening, and not tried to be clever. I should have written out the opening longhand, not hoped to be able to "wing it" from the bullet points I wrote out. I shouldn’t have run with my last idea, unless I was certain that it would have fit together with the rest of the introduction.
Ah well. Reminders that I’m fallible are always useful, as long as I learn from them.
I doubt anyone has had quite this experience, but does anyone else want to share their horror stories of trying to explain something in a public forum?