Friday, August 18, 2006

Feeling Dead

I feel a little bit weird when people tell me that they heard my work used as a reading in church. Quoting me in a sermon is one thing, but using my words as a reading kind of creeps me out. What, you can't find some Scripture or something? You can't find something with more gravitas and eternal resonance? Some classic, perhaps?
Some broad who's alive and well and living in Massachusetts just hasn't stood the test of time, in my opinion. Bring back the classics. The people need to hear them.

This goes back to our earlier discussion(s) about how Unitarian Universalists put just about anything in a worship service where Scripture used to be.

I just googled myself (which you should do occasionally to see what mischief might pop up), and I see that a pagan congregation in Texas used one of my sermons in its entirety as the basis of one of their recent worship services.

I'm a little miffed by that.
Shouldn't someone at least have tried to get in touch with me as a courtesy to let me know that they were going to be reading my sermon?
Am I supposed to feel flattered? I mean, I am, but somehow I'm flattered and miffed.

A sermon lives in a particular context; that is, ministry to a particular congregation. If you're going to take my sermon out of context and deliver it wholesale to your own congregation, I'd like to know why, and what setting you're going to put it in. Also, this sermon is intensely personal. What makes you feel you have the right to deliver it in your own voice? I don't think I like that.

I suppose a sermon is public -- this one won an award a few years ago so it's more public than usual -- but I just don't feel good about this. It makes me feel like a dead person, for one, and it also seems like bad manners. If the author is alive, why wouldn't you at least contact her to tell her what you're doing, and to at least THANK HER for the use of her work? If we are in a covenanted relationship as members of member congregations of the UUA, aren't we supposed to have a better relationship than you just using my stuff and me finding out about it on Google?

From the looks of the congregation's website, this was an entirely lay-led thing. At least it wasn't someone getting paid to guest preach and then using my sermon. That would be really bad news.

Is this just about courtesy, or is it about something else? Intellectual property, perhaps? Emotional property?


Blogger Andrea said...

That almost sounds like plagerism, but did they at least cite you as the author of the sermon? And I wonder, what are the rules for using somone else's sermon?

I agree, they should of at least asked you.


Blogger PeaceBang said...

Another Gnostic! Welcome, Andrea!
Yes, they credited me on their web site and on that Sunday morning, I'm sure. But it's still weirding me out.

Blogger Philocrites said...

Hmm. I had the uncanny but delightful experience of receiving by email one of my sermons fully translated into Spanish (with footnotes and everything) as it had been read to a gathering of Unitarian Universalists in Mexico City. I was moved and humbled to think that someone had thought my words could transcend the situation in which I wrote it and connect with people in a place I know almost nothing about.

I know where you're coming from, but then, I'm not always so sure that the important part of a sermon belongs to me in the first place. And it says something to me about how hungry people are to find words that speak deeply to them. Think of it: A Massachusetts Unitarian Christian speaks to the hearts of Texas Pagans, without even meaning to! Will miracles never cease?

Blogger PeaceBang said...

Philo, you got me!
I'm all verklempt now.

LOve ya!

Blogger Chalicechick said...

Though that the sermon is copyrighted for you until 70 years after your death is pretty straightforward, the strict "intellectual property" questions on this one are quite tricky, made especially so by the fact that: a. This sermon had won a contest and some rights may have been transferred there and b. the church didn't charge for the sermon and used it to educate people and c. Their use doesn't change your ability to make money from this sermon.

It's really more a moral and ettiquette question. (Yes, I'm sure you knew that, but just saying.)

That would make for an interesting GA workshop, actually.

Intellectual Property Law minion by day.

Blogger Paul Wilczynski said...

Some writings become classics sooner than others, PB. Apparently you're in the "sooner" category at times.


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