I am really enjoying reading R. T. Kendall’s brilliant book, The Anointing.
He points out that Christian preachers attempt to imitate famous ones. But, he says, “when I try to imitate someone else, I never capture their real genius, but their eccentricity. It is a fact that what is most easily copied in any man or woman is their odd manner, even their weakness.”
He mentions the Professor of Preaching at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Forth Worth, Texas, who had an eccentric habit of cupping his left hand over his ear when he began to soar in his preaching. Young ministers all over Texas and Oklahoma cupped their ear with their left hand when they thought they were soaring on the wings of eloquence. They thought they had the anointing. One could always tell his students, Kendall says.
R.T. Kendall later asks one of the preacher’s colleagues why he did that. “Because he was slightly deaf. He did it to hear his own voice better.”
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Kendall goes on to write, “When anybody begins to imitate another who happens to have a great anointing, the person will end up aping his eccentricity. Martyn Lloyd-Jones told me of a man in Wales who had the habit of shaking his head back to keep hair from falling over his eyes. Sure enough, there were young men all over Wales who would shake their heads as they preached! One was even bald-headed.”
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I saw this recently. Heidi Baker has a highly original preaching style, original to the point of extreme eccentricity (see here). She bends sideways as she preaches, as if pushed, says things like Shika Baba or Shazaam. Apparently, she is being overwhelmed by the power of the Spirit (and the words are glossolalia or an African dialect).
Well, I would never second-guess the wonderful Heidi who I have deep respect and affection for. But at this Revival Alliance conference I went to last week at which famous charismatic leaders spoke (John Arnott, Bill Johnson, Randy Clark, Che Ahn etc.) I saw two women imitate that mannerism—the swaying sideways as if pushed by the spirit, the breaking into prayer and praise in the midst of preaching.
Most annoyingly, the adult child of one of the speakers did it during announcements. “Whoa,” she said, and bent sideways, as if overwhelmed by the Spirit, while making quite pedestrian announcements. Would the Spirit really manifest in the same way to all these women? Who knows?
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I taught my children to pray at a time when my own life was very difficult. My husband was consumed by his mathematical research; we had babies; things were volatile. So, when I came to pray, I first sighed deeply, exhaling the sadness, the stress, the tiredness, and the helplessness.
And then when it was the turn of little Zoe and Irene to pray—they couldn’t have been more than 3 or 4—they would first sigh, deeply and exaggeratedly, and then pray.
They obviously thought that that was how one prayed—you sighed deeply, you exhaled!! You said, “Oh Lord,” in an exhalation of exhaustion!!
Well, perhaps we were being theologically correct. Romans 8: 26 In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with sighs and groans that words cannot express. 27 And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit.
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I see that in the blogosphere. Ann Voskamp has a highly original style, with much contortion of grammar. Since she is an original, a stylist, an accomplished writer with the ear of a poet, her stylistic contortions are not jarring.
What is irritating is when bloggers who lack her stylistic flair imitate her ungrammatical contortions and her style. Since it doesn’t fit into the texture of their pieces, it merely seems odd.
There are lots of original bloggers—Sarah Bessey, let’s say or Rachel Held Evans. But sometimes, when I read through the blogs of those I follow on Facebook, I am amazed by how many are similar in style, subject matter and preoccupations.
Imitation brings quicker success because we are working in a popular vein. It however militates against long-term success because we never discover our unique voice, style and preoccupations.
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I love this passage from Thomas Merton:
Many poets are not poets for the same reason that many religious men are not saints: they never succeed in being themselves. They never get around to being the particular poet or the particular monk they are intended to be by God. They never become the man or the artist who is called for by all the circumstances of their individual lives.
They waste their years in vain efforts to be some other poet, some other saint.
They wear out their bodies and minds in a hopeless endeavour to have somebody else’s experiences, or write somebody else’s poems, or possess somebody else’s spirituality.
There can be an intense egoism in following everybody else. People are in a hurry to magnify themselves by imitating what is popular—and too lazy to think of anything better.
Hurry ruins saints as well as artists. They want quick success and they are in such haste to get it that they cannot take time to be true to themselves.
( Thomas Merton, Integrity, New Seeds of Contemplation).