Sermon archive

I’ve finally put the sermons that I have preached at Springfield Vineyard on this site. I’m using the Seriously Simple Podcasting plugin, almost exclusively because it provides a media enclosure for the audio file (so you can just click “play” instead of clicking a hyperlink or downloading the file), and I have set the date for each sermon post as the date on which it was delivered. It’s not ideal–the podcast “category” is its own separate thing, so sermons don’t show up in the Categories widget, and I had to use the podcasting widget and style it a bit–but it will do for now.

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Poor Design Stymies Communication

This post is part of an ongoing series of collaborative conversations. See that initial post for a table of contents of all articles in the series.

Students in Creative Writing must become intimately familiar with the workshop process in writing and revising their work. We put something together under a rather intensely short deadline, get it to the teacher who photocopies it for the class, and then our peers read, dissect, and tear apart our work so they can tell us what’s wrong and help us improve.

In my experience, this has been a fairly benign process because most people are afraid to be too critical or in-depth with their comments. If you know me at all, you know that I’m a pretty blunt, straight-forward person, so though I tempered my tone and always made sure to comment on a positive aspect of the piece in question, I didn’t see anything to be gained by coddling someone. If they aren’t told what needs to be fixed, they’ll never improve.

I write this by way of introduction because there was one remark I seemed forced to make on probably half of the poems I have workshopped over the years. Poetry is a particularly ambiguous medium, one where the writer must learn all of the rules and how to conform oneself to them so that the writer can in turn break all of those rules. Strangely enough, if you start off breaking them, your poetry will suck. But if you learn what you’re doing first, you can deviate wisely and write something beautiful. Many of my peers never bothered to read much poetry or learn, though.

The primary goal of poetry, like any writing, art, or design, is to communicate something. An idea, a phrase, something and/or anything… a poem does not exist in a vaccuum. But if it isn’t structured, worded, designed, and written correctly, it will communicate nothing. And what’s worse, if the author doesn’t fully understand what they are trying to communicate, then the piece is worthless. What’s the point of creating a communicative piece when you don’t know what you are trying to communicate?

Just the same, even if you know what you are trying to communicate, if it is not designed correctly your message will be lessened. You might have the greatest idea in the world, but without the proper medium, formatting, and structure, it will either be ignored or lessened. Your impact will be less because the design did not fit the piece.

This is something with which I have been struggling in regards to the design of my web site. There are a great many things I want to do with SilverPen Publishing, but the stock theme I have been using is rather inflexible and it is difficult to cram my ideas into its borders. Looking at the year ahead, I have a number of goals I want to accomplish and several involve publishing different pieces through my website, but its current design would hamper that. I knew that if I went ahead and threw my content into and behind this design, there was a decent chance that the message would be lost.

And yet, I cannot design something wonderful myself. I have enough artistic intelligence to recognize the inherent weakness of my site, but not the skill or vision to create something evocative, communicative, and fitting for the accomplishment of my goals.

Settling is rarely, if ever, an option to me. With poetry, I can do a decent job communicating my heart and message, but I am not the greatest poet and so sometimes (read often) am completely incapable of conveying my meaning. I am perhaps better at communicating through verbal communication, where I can blend diction, volume, speed and pausing, and word choice to design a complex message to reach people’s hearts. Likewise, I am decent at non-poetical writing, and between these three, I know enough to know how to learn and improve if I am not currently able to communicate the message I desire. I can get where I need to go to reach my goals.

But with a website, I cannot. My next article in this series will focus on the recognition that we can’t all do everything, and what we should do when we realize we are incapable of designing what is needed.

Maybe a bit less spring in the step will do

Jeremy and I took personality tests at work a few weeks ago, and one of the statements made about my personality had to do with self-awareness. In particular, the person writing the personality profile observed that people like me sometimes come across as arrogant, but that this trait is rarely true arrogance. Rather, it is a self-assurance that comes from secure knowledge about oneself. I know what I know, and I am also aware of what I do not know. Therefore, I am very self-confident in the areas I feel knowledgeable about.

One of these is public speaking, which I have been doing for a number of years in a variety of arenas. Therefore, when my boss asked me to attend Train the Trainer Training (T3) this week, I had no problem doing so. Conducting training is a large part of what I do week-to-week, and I expected this to be a boring training class like all the others, taking up a large chunk of my time and leaving me to rush around in the day and a half I had left after it was finished and try to catch up. In this case, it turned out that I did not know what I thought I did.

The class was quite good, and I learned a great deal about training methods, learning theories, classroom behaviours… but the most enlightening moment came when it was time for my presentation. At the close of the training, we were each required to give a fifteen minute presentation, preferably on something relating to Banner. I had chosen to speak on how we were handling Banner support at Missouri State, and after developing some talking points and writing a list of objectives, I felt prepared enough. I’ve spoken before groups countless times before, and this was only fifteen minutes, so it should have been a breeze.

And then, once I started speaking, I stumbled. I said, “Um,” a lot. I had some painful seconds of silence where my mind had all but frozen. As I analyze my presentation in retrospect, I know why these things happened and can easily correct for them (they’re problem areas I’ve defined in the past, in fact, and have corrected for previously, but was unable to in this case due to time/preparation constraints), but that doesn’t change the fact that I gave a pretty terrible speech. What’s worse, I gave a terrible speech after volunteering that I had years of public speaking experience and intimated that this was all old-hat.

As I walked home this afternoon, I felt humiliated, but not in a shameful way. Rather, I felt brought back to the level at which I should have begun. I was showing off earlier this week when I commented on my speaking experience. I was placing myself at the head of the table, when my presentation showed that I deserved a seat further down. I was claiming to be first, and in so doing, I became last.

If I had been humble to begin with, the speech would have been fine on its own. Points of improvement were obvious, but as things stand, I look like a hypocrite or a liar. I claimed a level of proficiency that was not demonstrated. And because I did not humble myself, humility found me.

To be honest, though, as the realization of my humiliation really set in while I walked home, I was kind of excited. I learned a lesson, and I think I have the potential to put myself in a better place in the future. The lesson of humility, the virtue of being humble, is not one that comes easy to me. Throughout my life, I have striven to be better than the example I was given, but I was never taught the difference between being better and claiming to be better. What I mean is that, one can be better without needing to make that superiority evident or obvious. These two need not occur together, and it is the humble person who can be excellent without exclamation.

I want to strive for humility. I don’t want to have it handed to me again.