I have been memorizing sermons since the late 70s. Memorization comes easily and is a critical part of my editing process. The message becomes streamlined and simple. You forget things, and that is good. What you forget is extraneous. You rarely forget the sections that advance the big idea.
My first draft is very different from the finished product. If I preached the first draft, it would be a 45 or 50-minute sermon. Blaise Pascal apologized to a friend for writing a long letter. He said he didn’t have time to write a short one. It takes time to edit. I wish more preachers understood that. The hour-long message is rarely a masterpiece. It is more likely a 25-minute message in need of an editor.
Going through the TED experience was a lesson in thoughtful editing. My coach and editor, Briar Goldberg, works for TED and TEDxMileHigh. She is a master of cutting and repositioning, pruning a 2500-word talk down to 1600 without losing an ounce of substance. I wish every speaker could work with Briar.
Which brings me to my TEDxMileHigh speech last November. If you speak for a TED or TEDx event, memorizing your talk is a requirement. They encourage everyone to use their specific memorization method. I rarely memorize word for word. I memorize thought for thought, with key sections memorized word for word. But I decided I would do my best to follow their word for word system. Things progressed satisfactorily until the dress rehearsal.
I lost my place – twice! The curators and coaches were not particularly concerned, but I was. It had been decades since I lost my place in a message that close to its delivery. Briar spent the better part of her evening with me, helping me figure out what happened.
Finally, she said, “Paula, forget everything we told you about memorization. Start over and use whatever method you normally use.” I took her at her word. I started at 9:00 PM and by 2:30 AM I knew I was ready. In the process, I changed one single line. I ran the line past Briar early Saturday morning, and she approved it.
The original line was, “Would I do it all again? Of course I would, because the authentic life is worth living.” What came to me around midnight was this line: “Would I do it all again? Of course I would, because the call toward authenticity is holy; it is sacred; it is for the greater good.”
Last Saturday I received a package that contained the mug pictured above. I have no idea who sent it. They did not identify themselves. And with my talk having been viewed over 1.5 million times, it could be anyone from anywhere. But whoever it is understands the significance of those words. They are my understanding of God’s call.
Through a voice clearer than any I have ever heard, I was called to become Paula. The message was not received with pleasure, but with surrender. I screamed at God, “Don’t you know I am going to lose everything? Don’t you know what my family is going to go through?”
All I heard was stony silence, but I knew I had been called. I did lose all of my jobs and most of my retirement income. My family did suffer, monumentally. Not a day goes by in which I am not aware of how comfortable I could have been had I chosen not to answer the call. Compared to my previous life, my life is no longer comfortable.
But it is good.
We live for future generations. We live for our children and grandchildren and all who will inherit the world we create. It is good to leave the world a little more accepting, tender and compassionate than you found it.
Transgender people are as good and bad, healthy and unhealthy, brilliant and dull as any other human. And women are not treated fairly in this world. We are a very long way from gender equity. But unless someone is willing to show those truths in a way that is not perceived as a threat, the world goes on its way, continuing in its destructive unknowing.
I let myself be known. I answered the call toward authenticity. And I have surrounded myself with others equaly dedicated to authenticity. And because of Cathy and the kids and their spouses and Aaron and Jen and Christy and you, some days I get it right. Some days I live for the greater good.
To whoever sent the mug, thank you. Thank you for reminding me why we do what we do.