So what is the subject of this week’s blog?.
Sometimes I have a good idea the previous day what I’m going to write about, other times it comes during breakfast. And there are times when I start writing having no idea where I am about to go! It makes life exciting.
I am simply taking the advice of artist David Hockney, who wryly reflected: “As you get older, it gets a bit harder to keep the spontaneity in you, but I work at it.” I must say that I feel for Ed Miliband who clearly needs to work a little harder on his spontaneity. Certainly over the years I have encouraged my curates to speak from the chancel steps without notes – what you lose in content, you gain in immediacy. But it does help if you don’t miss out the main parts of your talk!
For there is always the risk in public speaking that you appear to be simply reading from your notes, altogether unresponsive to your listeners, to give the impression that you are speaking at them rather than to them.
And of course, it was David Cameron – of all people – who pioneered this approach in modern British politics. Way back in 2005 he stood for leader of the Tory party against more favoured candidates. His campaign did not gain wide support until his speech at the party conference which he delivered with some eloquence and surprisingly, without notes. They cheered for three minutes.
But of course, it was not spontaneous. No doubt he was thoroughly prepared; he may well have written out his entire speech in full – and then learnt it. But to connect with his audience he had to look them in the eye, wholly vulnerable with no lectern for shelter.
I well can remember the early days of the charismatic renewal – except in those days we called it the pentecostal movement. Again there was a reaction to stilted liturgy and stifled creativity. Spontaneity was prized, a gift of the Holy Spirit. Certainly the balance needed shifting.
Except it went at times too far. So preacher for the day would announce that he was not using notes; in fact he had done no preparation except to spend time abiding in Jesus. He would speak directly from the heart, inspired from the Holy Spirit, and so folks, sit on the edge of your seats, be ready to listen to God speak.
Then we would sit through a rambling and repetitive discourse of random thoughts from the speaker’s brain. I began to long for the Book of Common Prayer.
Thankfully this imbalance was soon corrected as those leading the movement made clear, that the Holy Spirit’s inspiration in appropriate preparation is in no way inferior to spontaneity.
Now I think about it, my ministry in Rochdale was impaired by this flawed understanding of the place of preparation in inspired ministry.
On arrival in 1984 I found the church in crisis and within four months a whole group of members who had been threatening to leave did leave.
(Looking back over the years, nearly all of them were to fall away as Christians).
In my first week I called together a group of church leaders to plan future services, only to be told that to plan ahead would be to deny the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. We had to work Sunday by Sunday.
Rotas were anathema. This meant I was continually working in the very short term – and in that pre-internet era, lots of phone calls.
But there is one occasion when Jesus does promise total spontaneity, for the Holy Spirit to inspire our words as we speak. Persecution.
Speaking to his disciples Jesus says “As for yourselves, beware; for they will hand you over to councils; and you will be beaten in synagogues; and you will stand before governors and kings because of me, as a testimony to them.” (Mark 13:9). Scary thought for these ordinary guys – being placed at the centre of an altogether intimidating situation.
But don’t worry! “When they bring you to trial and hand you over, do not worry beforehand about what you are to say; but say whatever is given you at that time, for it is not you who speak, but the Holy Spirit.” (v11)
Jesus promises courage and confidence. Whoever you may be talking to, however powerful, however imperious, remember this – that the God of heaven and earth will be speaking through you, even if your words are hesitant and sentence construction deficient.
And there is no way you are going to forget the most important part of your speech, that despite every appearance, Jesus – not Caesar – is Lord.
Made it, with just minutes to spare!