Pulitzer Pulpits

Emilie Bouvier, "Fertile Soil." (Split Rock Lighthouse State Park; Two Harbors, MN)Image © Luther Seminary Fine Arts Collection, St. Paul, Minn.

We struggle to preach a Living Word to real people in real situations. I find that a thread of fiction can sometimes be the connection that makes the link and weaves the two together in worshipers’ minds.

This article suggests the use of brief cuttings from Pulitzer Prize winning dramas within proclamation.

Why fiction? When we begin to address specific life situations, confidentiality and discretion limit the possibilities. We start changing names, clouding the identifiers, and varying the circumstances; and soon we are close to fiction anyway. Homiletician Eugene Lowry knows our limits and writes: “Competent fiction writers understand the human predicament well. As a result, their fiction has the feel of fact, of reality, while our fact, our reality, often has the feel of poor fiction. Often it does not reflect life as people really live it.”

So fiction can be more “real” in a sense, than our own stories.  Award-winning plays are notable for the vivid presentation of their characters and life events and situations that are portrayed. Those that win Pulitzers are examples of rehearsed and honed, practiced and rewritten, tightly-knit dialog in life-related situations. They are expressions of the human situation that resonate with listeners.

Of course, the play is not the thing; nor would one want to turn proclamation into a theater review.  But consider these possibilities: A prerecorded 30- to 120-second segment of focused dialog does not need costuming. Nor does it need wasted minutes in a description of the play; a 15-second introduction to the dialog can suffice. Then the words are heard, and the people use their imaginations to participate in the scene. They become active listeners, and the dialogs become mirrored lenses through which the light of the Gospel is reflected around their defensive shades to enlighten troubled and conflicted lives.

Finding the right dialogs is the challenge. I think the selection of these dialogs needs to come from within. Read the plays’ inexpensive scripts which are available from Dramatists Play Service via Amazon. Mark them up. When a similar theme or situation emerges in one’s sermon preparation, a memory will stir. A preacher will be more alive using a dialog that comes from inside rather than from a list.  Remember to keep the dialog short; the purpose is to provide a participatory metaphor rather than entertain. Even without ever using these dialogs within a sermon, reading these dramas will stimulate the preacher’s imagination and bring to light many touch points for the Gospel.

Jensen’s thesis, “Cross Scenes, Crossing Life: A Resource for the Integration of Exemplary Drama and Musicals into the Proclamation of God’s Word” can be found in the Luther Seminary Library.