The best session of my day, and one of the very best sessions I’ve ever delivered — EVER — was the 4:00 “Schlock Mercenary” session. It was a solo-session and I nailed it. The crowd had fun, I had fun, and I did something that I’ll probably never do at any convention not being held on-campus at Brigham Young University: I talked honesty, frankly, and with sincere testimony about religious stuff, and I did so using my “Sunday School Teacher” vocabulary.
Before we get to the Sunday School part, though (which was all the way at the end), here’s the outline I used.
1) I talked about the “history” of the strip, starting with my discovery of Neutron Star by Larry Niven in High School, my subsequent obsession with Science Fiction, my decade of dalliance with Music as a vocation, and the part most people know about — putting Schlock on the web in June of 2000.
2) I passed around some artwork, including an original strip, and discussed each of the pieces. This is going to have to be a regular part of my presentations in the future, because everyone really enjoyed handling the stuff. At any OTHER convention it might result in a sale or two, as well. (At BYU the university is VERY draconian about sales — they ALL must be run through the BYU Bookstore, which means purchase orders and delivery of materials a week or more in advance of the show. This is why the “convention” has no dealers, and is actually a symposium with panels, rather than a true convention.)
3) I discussed humor, and used some dead-baby jokes, some space-shuttle jokes, and some 9/11 jokes as examples of how important it is for us to learn to laugh rather than getting offended. This discussion was about being a “student” of humor, and is the one part that I would have probably done well to replace with an art demonstration (the Tagon, Tagon, Kerchak demo about head-shapes).
During the Q&A I talked about my earliest artwork, and how all I could do was apologize for it and learn from it. I can’t go back and FIX it, because in the time that would take there are much more interesting (and profitable) things I could be writing and drawing. At this point in the presentation I had the crowd pretty much eating out of my hand — in stand-up terms I was “killing.” I was jazzed, and confident, and ready to run down some paths I’d not run down before.
This is why, when a parallel leapt to mind, I ran with it without thinking about where it might lead.
“You know, not being able to go back and fix the early art is a lot like life, and why we need the Atonement of Christ. There are some things that we can apologize for, but never, ever fix, and Christ died so that those debts can be paid.”
It’s pretty deep, yes. For this crowd, it was very topical, and not especially jarring. Almost all of them are Latter-Day Saints, and share my beliefs.
Comedian that I think I am, I went on…. “this is NOT to say that Christ died as payment for the early Schlock Mercenary artwork.”
The room laughed, and HARD. The discussion of “learning to laugh at ourselves” probably primed them for my impromptu blasphemy, and the fact that it WAS impromptu, coupled with the fact that I was genuinely blushing (when bald folks blush, it goes all the way up, too) seemed to make it all okay.
Note to those still reading this entry: this was NOT the Sunday School bit. I’ll get there, though.
I fielded a few more questions, and then closed with some prepared remarks. I related an experience that has taken on new meaning for me recently. Back in 1992, one of the General Authorities of the Church spoke at BYU, and said (and I’m going to paraphrase) “Quit changing majors. Finish your education, and have faith that the Lord will find work for you to do.” Back then this struck me pretty hard, and I went ahead and finished out my music degree in spite of the fact that I had this sinking feeling that I wasn’t going to be able to feed my family as a musician. Things turned out okay.
Well, as I was relating this, I realized that in a Church venue, I’d “bear testimony” to the truth of the principle. See, this Elder PROMISED us that the Lord would find work for us to do, and as I was speaking, I felt inspired to extend that same promise to a new and much smaller audience. So I did. I promised the students in that room that if they would finish their educations, the Lord would find work for them to do. I told them “you are not getting an education to serve yourself. You are getting an education so that the Lord can put you to work serving others.”
Now I know many of you may disagree with this in principle. To you I can only say “I wasn’t talking to you. I was inspired to say this to THEM.” As the spirit dictates, I speak… and after my little spot of comedic blasphemy, I was extremely grateful to feel the spirit and know that He was still willing to work through me.
Moving on… I had just finished 48 minutes of Stand-and-Deliver about very secular matters, and TWO minutes of sermon… but since the sermon bit came at the END, I closed my remarks the way I close Sunday School — “I leave these things with you in the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.”
This was followed by applause.
Latter-day Saint readers will no doubt find this juxtaposition odd, since those words are usually only found in Church, where there is no applause. I interrupted the applause and said as much, with a big, sheepish grin: “Usually when I close my remarks with that phrase, there’s no clapping.” More laughter, and the session ended on a really happy, really up-beat note.
Those of you who’ve heard me speak at other conventions know that the Religious Sermonizing style is NOT a style I fall back on. EVER. I know my audiences. I’ve given presentations on secular matters in the Information Systems, Comics, and Music world for the better part of a decade now. My style is more comedic and self-deprecatory than it is Spiritual. This particular session, however, turned out very different. The audience was prepared to recieve and understand things that most of my audiences are NOT prepared to recieve or understand (at least not when taken as a general group), and faced with that opportunity, I did something I’ve never done before.
Every time I present, I’m aware of two things:
1) I’m really, really good at presenting. I may not have the chops for stand-up, or for used-car sales, but when I’m passionate about a topic, I will NOT have a problem speaking clearly and from the heart.
2) Pride goeth before the fall. I know that no matter HOW good I am at ANYTHING, God is better at it than I am, and I need to give thanks to Him for the gifts I’ve been given. Any other attitude puts me in dangerous straits. One day I may be left on my own when I present, and may discover that no matter how good I THINK I am, I’m not good ENOUGH without the Lord waiting in the wings, whispering lines off of cue cards.
As is often the case, I spent a couple of minutes in silent prayer before this afternoon’s session. I never know how, exactly, my “please help me do a good job this time” prayer will be answered. Today it got answered, though, and I did a Good job.