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Originality the Sequel

Last week I went to see the latest film by the film director Stephen Spielberg. The Fablelmans is a semi-autobiographical film that tells a version of his family’s own complicated story and his own love affair with telling stories through film.

This entertaining film begins with Spielberg directly addressing the audience. This very personal approach makes a great connection and drew me into the film.

One of the things that the film does well is to demonstrate how familiar stories can be told with freshness through the creative use of film. Spielberg tells a typical underdog story, showing how the central character, a geeky, below average height, non-sporty Jewish boy learned to express himself and excel through making mini movies.

Film makers are story tellers, taking a variety of genres to tell a range of stories.

Spielberg has made some great films from ET to Schindler’s List. When you watch ET you do not say to yourself, “This is just another sci-fi movie.” Nor when you watch Schindler’s List do you think, “This is yet another film about the Holocaust”.

I will never forget watching Schindler’s List at the cinema. It is shot exclusively in black and white apart from the red of a little Jewish girl’s coat. She is shown earlier in the film full of life, then later as one of a pile of tangled corpses in a skip. It is Spielberg’s way of focusing on the loss of a vulnerable individual in the midst of a story that tries to cope with the loss of six million Jews.

Preachers need to tell familiar stories with a splash of colour, something that catches the eye and captures the imagination.

How does the preacher manage to inject something of this colour into their sermons? It clearly takes a lot of hard work to achieve what appears to be effortless. The hugely successful songwriter Burt Bacharach, who died last week, is well known for his many great songs, from Raindrops Keep Fallin’ on My Head to The Look of Love. I was interested to read about his approach to creativity. He said,

“I have never had a song come to me fully formed, a blinding flash of inspiration. What I do is tinker. If a melody comes too easily for me, I don’t think it’s any good.”

That is pretty much my approach to sermon preparation; I am a tinkerer.

Once I have got a general idea of what I am going to do with a particular biblical text, I gather as much as I can about the text and begin to think about how I can put together a sermon that is fresh. This tinkering involves moving things around, rephrasing, adding bits and taking bits away.

One commentator said of Bacharach, “This was Bacharach’s genius- he wrote songs that seem to have existed forever.”

That is the impact I want to have in my sermons. My aim is to present the hearers with a fresh reading of Scripture that leaves them saying, “Yes that is exactly what I believe. Thank you for articulating it for me”.

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