When I was in grade school, my concept of eternity was shaped by sermons. Eternity was the time between our then-minister's saying "And in conclusion..." and his actually, well, you know, concluding.
As I matured, I developed a longer attention span, but apparently concentration is still a problem for many adults. According to the Sydney (Australia) Morning Herald, the Vatican is recommending that Catholic clergy keep their sermons to under eight minutes.
Nikola Eterovic, the secretary-general of the Synod of Bishops, wants homilies to be brief, engaging, and employ more eye contact. (In light of recent abuse litigation, the parts about moistening the lips and employing a "come hither look" were excised from his statement.)
Priests are urged to stay relevant by relating sermons to current topics, sort of like a "ripped from today's headlines" episode of "Law-of-Moses & Order: Sadducee Victims Unit." All well and good, but if priests are too incompetent to make miracles, Satan, and the fate of the soul interesting, how are they supposed to pluck appropriately fascinating topics out of the newspaper? ("Pork belly futures remained unchanged on the Chicago Mercantile Exchange. That reminds me of an amusing parable about a publican, a leper, and a Pharisee going into a bar...")
Eterovic seems to think his subordinates are using the "And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you yawn" translation of the Bible. Apparently his Good Book contains verses such as "The Word was with God and The Word was God and The Word was heavily edited for time constraints" and "Make a joyful noise unto the LORD, all ye lands; come before his presence with stopwatches."
I realize that the Vatican is just dealing with reality in a TV/Internet/Twitter age. After seven minutes, good solid Christians invariably let their minds wander to questions of "Burger King or KFC for lunch? Wonder if I should've gone ahead and hit on the Widow Jones when I delivered the casserole? and Boy, I'm glad this place is only open on Christmas and Easter!"
Don't think that the brevity movement will restrict itself to the Catholic Church or the actual sermon. In synagogues, instead of unrolling the Torah, the rabbi will unfold the latest Bazooka Joe comic strip. Protestant churches will replace their choir directors with ring-tone directors and their youth ministers with "Hey, we ain't getting' any younger" ministers. Radical Muslim clerics will shout "Infidels...blasphemous cartoonists...vengeance...sword...beheading...martyrdom...72 virgins...*puff puff* --aw, do I have to draw you a graven image? Just wing it!"
Granted, ministers have packed loads of inspiration into five-minute radio sermonettes. But a pandering "one-size fits all" approach for the auditorium lesson bodes ill for the future of religion. The Sermon on the Mount certainly took up more than eight minutes. Paul made no apologies for preaching so long that a young man named Eutychus fell asleep and plunged from a third-story window. Worshippers in countries such as Haiti feel cheated if a sermon lasts less than three or four hours.
Wouldn't it be ironic if the conciseness devotees got a taste of their own medicine on Judgment Day? ("Sorry, we're now using the 'Reader's Digest' version of the Book of Life, and guess what? Hey, how about critiquing my 'Go thither' look? Do you find it engaging?")
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