Know what I mean

Re-visiting some classics, I read “A Modell of Christian Charity” which is a sermon by John Winthrop given to the Pilgrims of America on the Mayflower

This is the sermon where he talks about being “a city on a hill”, which I just this second discovered is a TV series on Showtime.

What? A Pilgrim preacher said something that is now a ShowTime series?

Before it was on TV, it was quoted by Abraham Lincoln, John Kennedy and Reagan.

It’s a good quote.

I’m doing a new project exploring American literature, and this is one of the FIRST big deals for America. (You can check out the project here. Please subscribe)

I’m going back to the beginning and making a list of the significant writings in America.

Reading this sermon was part of the research. It’s not long–only 9 pages on the PDF I found.

But let me say that again. It’s 9 pages of a SERMON. These puritans had stamina for preaching. 9 very dry pages. I’ve heard a lot of sermons, and this one is not like any I’ve ever heard. If it were preached in America today, the whole church would be snoring.

And the good part is on the last page. He took a long way round to get to the part that no one can forget.

And I have to wonder, could he have done with a little editing? Could those first 8 pages be dropped?

Maybe his audience needed to hear that part first before the good part could sink in. I’m not a Puritan. Winthrop was. Maybe his crowd needed the jackhammer of scripture references, and question & answer exposition.

The Pilgrims were very serious. At least their sermons were. My crowd is not that serious. I am reminded of another author, Terry Pratchett, saying serious is not the opposite of funny…Funny can get through the keyhole while serious is still pounding on the door. I’d spice my speeches up with a little laughter.

But it can take some doing to get to the part where it gets through. With writing it take building the right foundation. For me, as a writer, I often have to sneak up on myself to even know what it was I was trying to say.

I don’t know what I mean until I have sad it.

And even then, I am pretty sure I left a lot of material unsaid.

Deceptively, once the bell is rung, it seems so clear and pure that the climb it took to ring it seems inconsequential and unnecessary.

I don’t know why, and I don’t know the exactly amount of extra it takes to ring the bell. But it takes it. The switchbacks enhance the view.


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