Tuesday, December 17, 2013

The Cloud of Unsaid stuff
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One of our readers shared this fascinating blog effort.  There’s theology, TEC controversy and lots of bloggy goodness in it, so go and have a look.  Here, I want to focus on just one part of it.
The author shares how one priest used a “tag cloud” to analyze the theological content of a recent message from the Presiding Bishop.  (Predictably, it was pretty darn lean, and got even leaner when he mashed it up with the theological language of a Papal message.)

Tag clouds are visual bundles of words, that give a sense of the frequency and prevalence of certain language in an article or even on a blog over time.  If you scroll down to the bottom of my blog about care giving (shameless plug), you can see one.  The bigger, bolder words reflect the subjects and concepts that are emphasized, with less frequently addressed ones in fainter and tinier letters.

The priest who posted the article about tag clouds commendably turned the technique on his own sermon preparation, and found some important things left unsaid,
Out of curiosity I made a tag cloud of my sermon for this weekend. I preached out of Isaiah 35 as part of an Advent series, so I expected its references to Jesus to be lowish. Also, my purpose was to sneak up on the Christian message: That just as the Holy Spirit had dropped Isaiah 35 as seemingly a word out of place in the middle of Isaiah’s judgments on Israel, Jesus is God’s Word out of place, dropped into history where least expected. Still, my references to God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit, were minimal enough in the key words that it caused me to cringe like a glance in a mirror at a look that just doesn’t work. Missing too was any indication of our need for a savior. I tore the sermon up and went back to the drawing board.
I really liked that.  What a great way to expose our own theological blind spots or cowardice, especially as a means to refrain from inflicting our lack upon those who will hear our sermons.

I can envision using this method to capture overused jargon as well as missing keywords.  Earlier today, a young guy posted this on Facebook (I’ve censored it but not corrected typos/internet slang),
“purposeful singleness”, one of those in group euphemisms, that is a nice, spiritual way of saying loser, and consoling the losers, in a heavily marriage oriented church culture. This is a term, you never want sent in your direction, if it is you should likely quit going to church, or something as it denotes your second best status. Almost all talk of this nature especial in Evangelical circles, is trite meaningless Jesus flavored,content free, word vomit, Jesus frosting on a s**t cake. Dismiss accordingly.
So kudos to preachers using creative means to hammer their own words into shape.  Yes, it’s easy to use internet tools to expose the paucity of thought in lib prot leaders.  But it’s better to turn that tool on ourselves and make sure our own preaching is in shape first.

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