The Pastor who was an Action Figure

mccay-spectreJim Corrigan, AKA the Spectre, looks at a piece of fruit (pictured) displayed from the pulpit by Rev. Norman McCay (pictured, with the Spectre, as an action figure). “Is that a citron, Pastor?” Corrigan asks.

Norman McCay holds up the now-obscure fruit from which our popular citrus fruits are descended to make a point. Or rather, to have Clark Kent (otherwise known as Superman) make the point for him: that humans improved on the basic design of the citron – creating oranges and lemons – to make it better serve our needs. McCay says “[we] will take our Vitamin C more reliably when it tastes a little less bitter going down.”

And McCay goes on to say to Superman and the Spectre and the rest of his congregation that that’s what God wants of all of us: to recognize that the work we’ve been given is God’s work on Earth. We improve the world around us – or we should improve it, anyway – because that’s the way we’re built. To shy away from improving the world is to deny the work of God. To ignore the citron and leave the world with no oranges or lemons.

Kingdom Come (there’s a novel version but it started as a graphic novel) is the story of an older, bitter Superman – who watched as super-heroes who prioritized human life were replaced by a younger generation that would rather just fight each other, so matter what is destroyed or who is hurt on the way. In this story, Pastor McCay and the Spectre are sent together “by a higher power” to stop a cataclysm that would destroy the world – one that might well have been averted by Superman. And yes, Pastor McCay bore witness, to Superman and an army of the gods.

I like my pastor but he’s no Norman McCay. I guess nobody can preach a masterpiece every week, but I can just tell that the art of sermon-making is dying. Everyone who’s ever worked in an office knows this to be true: speakers suck. PowerPoint slides with fonts too small, distracting animations, useless backgrounds, images that contribute nothing, READ OUT LOUD by the speaker.

Public speaking is a good skill to learn, but some of us just don’t have what it takes, and we have to stop lying to ourselves that we have to have the person who does the work give the pitch (for instance). Pastors don’t do that: they assume God did the heavy lifting. So it’s US – WE freeze speakers with fright and bore the audience to sleep. I think we need designated pitch-masters in business too, just as in the Church.

BUT. Assuming we MUST speak as part of our work, let me point out what the fictional Rev. McCay has done to make his job easier:

  • He came to work prepared, knowing his material better than anyone else in the room and knowing he knew it. That’s the number one way to build your confidence.
  • He led off with a question. You want to kick off your pitch with something that engages the audience immediately. I personally don’t recommend a generic “ice-breaker” for this, because you want the audience thinking about your subject matter from the beginning.
  • He brought visual aids: not slides alone, but also what educators might call “manipulables.” We don’t just look at the PowerPoint, or the handout, we TOUCH the subject.
  • He called on a couple of people in the congregation to help him make a point. As you can’t expect the Spectre or Superman to show up for your own pitch, you might want to talk to a couple members of the audience in advance and let ’em know what’s coming and when. This is also a good way not to be surprised by the answers you get.

Finally, Pastor McCay brings the point home:

So let us remember that when we make our choices – when we clone a grapefruit or repair a table or comb our hair or sit up late with a troubled friend – that here on Earth God’s work must truly be our own. (from Elliot S! Maggin, Kingdom Come)

It was this comfort, and this guidance, and this competent speech-making, that made Pastor McCay an action figure. Will you have your own someday too?

Dr. Ron is available to help others – individuals and groups – with public speaking. We can work together on your approach, preparation, visuals, and delivery. If that’s a need for you, drop me a line.

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