more than twenty-five years of full-time ministry, at least two sermons (teachings, speeches, life-talks…call them what you will) per week, usually more. i can safely say that i have spoken upwards of ten million words from behind a pulpit (lectern, sacred desk, platform…call it what you will). when i think about it, it is only the bountiful kindness of a compassionate god that has kept me from significantly more momentary lapses.
momentary lapse? that’s when you say something and before the words have fully left your mouth and polluted the atmosphere, you realize that you’ve made a terrible mistake. your brain hyper-shifts into damage control because you are faced with the momentous task of covering your very public mistake in a nanosecond. a great deal of serious and permanent damage has been done by momentary lapses but, thankfully, i’ve been guilty of a mere handful of especially bad ones. again, all glory and honor to our gracious god.
but don’t think there haven’t been a few. this last weekend, for example.
i am not what you would call response oriented. what i mean to say is that i pretty much say what i need to say, and it doesn’t matter to me whether people in the crowd are taking notes or napping. i do what i feel like i’m supposed to do and leave the results to someone else with a higher pay grade. on the other hand, i’ve known (and worked for) preachers who are extremely response oriented. somewhere along the line we (preachers) developed the habit of saying “amen” with a question mark. as in, “god is a good god…amen?” obviously, that’s nothing more than a thinly veiled appeal for affirmation and i do not approve. i mean, are we really that insecure? i have resolved never to “fish for amens” (or any other type of affirmative response).
but last sunday i had a momentary lapse.
i was talking about the joys of summer (and, yes, i had a spiritual application). i was talking about picking a tomato, fresh off the vine and still warm from the sun, and slicing it in thick slices to enjoy on a cheeseburger. some of the fat guys in my congregation, moved by my erotic description of food, moaned out loud, “oh, yes…amen!” (as i knew they would). i immediately realized that i had broken my “no amen fishing” pledge and that i had to apologize. i said, “i’m sorry, i’ll do anything to get you to say ‘amen’…i’m such an amen whore.” yes, i actually said it. out loud. and my mind immediately began racing to find a graceful way out (of which there was none).
okay, one more.
very early in my ministry, i was describing the culture shock of moving from southern california to small-town oklahoma. i was recounting my first visit to the venable homestead to visit the parents of my girlfriend (the same dazzling beauty who is now my wife of thirty-four years). mr. venable took me out with him to feed his cattle, and i was enthralled by the process. he called them and they came waddling up to the barn, loudly vocalizing the entire way (it sounded like they were saying, “foooood!”).
as i was telling the story, i allowed my mouth to get ever so slightly ahead of my brain (a critical error!) and a momentary lapse occurred. i said, “i really didn’t know anything about cows until i met my wife.” go, brain, go!
so issue forth, fellow preachers. tell us about your momentary lapses.