Rationale December 15, 2008

I must thank all of you for your thoughtful comments and helpful advice in response to my recent post “Laughingstock,” in which I asked for your opinions about how to answer the request of The Daily Show to come profile Calvary.

Since many of you have asked, I wanted to provide for you the rationale that finally led me to politely decline the request of one of the funniest shows on national television.

When the call first came, I have to admit I was almost 100% sure that my colleagues Leah and Eric (and possibly others–they are all up to no good most of the time!) had teamed up to play the biggest joke ever on me, which would not be out of the realm of probability. When it finally dawned on me that it really was The Daily Show calling, my first response, like many of yours, was: “Cool!” I know that many in our congregation are devoted fans of the show . . . heck, I love to watch it. So I think it was only my several years of (hard) experience with the press that led me in that moment to ask for a little time to consider the producer’s request.

Here’s what I decided after much deliberation, which included talking to several congregational leaders, asking for advice from PR professionals, rehashing the issue with a local denominational leader, making a list of pros and cons, thinking really hard, praying really hard, asking my kids and, finally, tossing a coin:

First, while it is totally and completely amazing that The Daily Show would even bother to find Calvary’s telephone number, the fact of the matter is that The Daily Show readily and ably makes fun of everyone it profiles. While I would be among the first to point out all the things around here worth laughing about, I have to say that ultimately I find most (most) of these things endearing. I began to strongly suspect that perhaps The Daily Show correspondent who came to profile our wonderful congregation . . . just . . . might . . . not. Calvary is full of characters, after all. What if these characters had only their foibles profiled . . . void of the incredible fortitude and courage so many here have lived? That would be a shame, I’m thinking.

Second, with that realization in mind I started thinking about what my personal strengths as a pastor are. It took just a few seconds to realize that I am not a professional comedian and thus my attempts at joking, especially on national television, may just not turn out exactly as I had intended. While a lame joke in a sermon can fall flat, result in a few exasperated congregant remarks over Sunday lunch, and fade off into the sunset, it’s likely that such would not be the case if such were to happen on national television. I’m just saying . . . . Further, as you all have heard me lament repeatedly, speaking on the fly to the press is, shall we say, not my forte. And, as my mother would say, why invite trouble?

Third, I asked myself again and again in the exact words of friend, congregant, PR professional and friend-who-is-not-afraid-to-tell-the-truth-as-he-sees-it-no-matter-what, John Taylor, “What are you really trying to accomplish here?” Well . . . what I really, really want at the end of the day is to help Calvary become even more of a vital, healthy and faithful community of Christians.

“And, Amy, how would going on The Daily Show accomplish this?” Uh, ummm, well, it probably wouldn’t help all that much, to be honest. In fact, come to think of it, it might even hurt-it might give the impression that we don’t take our community seriously; that all we care about is publicity; that our main objective is not following Jesus but rather pandering to an audience we’d like to impress.

“Did you mean your blog letter to Michelle Obama sincerely?” Well, of course I did! “Well, if that’s the case then you better just say no and keep doing the work we’re already doing.” Oh. Yeah.

As usual, John helped me see (again) that while careful use of media to promote the work of the church is very important, media is also closely connected to, uh, ego, and thus one’s motivations can quickly become confused.

So, alas, my quality time with Jon Stewart is going to have to be postponed for awhile. On the other hand, I can still watch The Daily Show and enjoy laughing at everybody else . . . ! 

(In a very respectful way, of course.)

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