Like many of you, I do a lot of reading. Although, because of time constraints, I suppose more and more people are reading through their ears. I’ve not been one for audiobooks. I tried it a time or two, but it didn’t seem to work for me. I once tried listening to The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, a collection of short stories featuring Doyle’s famous detective. Stephen Fry narrated the collection. Fry was equal to the task, and he was equal to the task. But after a little while, I hoped to hear someone else. When one person reads and interprets the whole text, carrying each character with only his or her voice, a longing emerges for what the imagination might do with those same words. Would Holmes really sound like that? Would Watson’s voice be pitched in that way?
But that’s just me. I invest in imagination, so I prefer to read the text myself. This is probably why I’m rarely impressed by films based on books. They never quite meet with what I experienced in my mind.
I also read a lot of speeches. I memorize them, too. Just ask my kids. I can readily perform Winston Churchill’s material. Reading a speech is different than reading a book. A public address is meant to be heard, so as I read along, I find myself preferring to hear the speaker’s voice. Listening lets in more than just the information the speaker intended to share but also the deeper, more personal things he or she wants you to feel in your guts. These things arrive in the carriages of tenor, tone, and many other rhetorical devices, all meant to bring the listener into the speaker’s world. Sometimes, this world reveals more than the speaker envisioned.
Since I mentioned Winston Churchill, a great example of this can be seen between Churchill and his predecessor, Neville Chamberlain.
A pompous man, Chamberlain will forever be remembered as the English Prime Minister who appeased the Nazis. In his “Peace for Our Time” speech in 1938, he gives the impression that following his meetings with Adolf Hitler, he alone brought peace to Europe. It is a short speech. The language is high, distinguished, and well-delivered, not flowery or cumbersome. However, it carries along with an egocentric and aristocratic fervor, the kind of self-importance that drove him to say so foolishly later:
“My good friends, for the second time in our history, a British Prime Minister has returned from Germany bringing peace with honor. I believe it is peace for our time. Go home and get a quiet sleep.”
Though subtle in textual form, Chamberlain’s self-absorption is easily heard in the speech’s audio recording. It’s amplified when you learn that later that next year—1938—Hitler completely disregarded Chamberlain and invaded Poland.
In contrast, Winston Churchill’s “Blood, Toil, Tears, and Sweat” speech before the House of Commons on May 13, 1940, rings differently. Like Chamberlain, Churchill speaks in a way that shows his aptitude for language. But as he speaks, the listener realizes something about him personally. They can hear his skill, but they can tell he is using his skill in service to them, not himself. He’s not on a mission to build a fan base as the new Prime Minister, but instead to crisply explain a dire situation to a nation he loves. His language is colorful—dreadfully so—as he depicts the depths of a dirty and inescapable predicament that he intends to empty himself into completely. As he speaks, he includes the listener. He brings them along, making sure they feel as he feels and believe as he believes—which, in the end, is that if Great Britain is to survive, the whole nation will be required to fight.
Interestingly, even though he speaks again and again in the first person singular, which is something self-absorbed people tend to do, the audible care with his words rescues his message, making it clear by his tones that he does not believe himself to be the savior of the British Empire. He believes, firstly, that God will be their deliverer because the cause is just; and secondly, God will do this through the might and muscle of a committed British people. He believes God will move them to stand together and face “an ordeal of the most grievous kind….” And so again, even as he uses “I” repeatedly throughout the speech, the words “our” and “us” resonate with far greater intensity:
“You ask, what is our policy? I will say it is to wage war by sea, land, and air—with all our might and with all the strength God has given us; to wage war against a monstrous tyranny never surpassed in the dark and lamentable catalogue of human crime. That is our policy. You ask, what is our aim? I can answer in one word: victory—victory at all costs; victory in spite of all terror; victory however long and hard the road may be. For without victory, there is no survival. Let that be realized.”
When the people heard Churchill speak these words, they were not distracted by anything about him, not even his raspy lisp. Instead, as he poured his entire self into communicating the immensity of the need, they took his message into themselves and were inspired to fight. More importantly, Churchill inspired them to endure, not necessarily knowing the outcome, but being aware of the price for victory and being found willing to do what was needed to pay it.
I suppose I find myself thinking about all these things this morning—how we receive words, as well as the noteworthy people who write or speak them—because, over the last seven or eight years, I’ve found myself brushing shoulders with some fairly high profile folks who do this for a living. I’ve discovered among them what appears to be two camps: glory hounds and genuine servants; Chamberlains and Churchills. The Chamberlains know their own importance and, as a result, have little time for a backwater clergyman ushered to the chair beside them—that is, unless he can help further their importance. The Churchills, on the other hand, no matter who is beside them, want to know what makes their new compatriot tick. They want to converse together. They want to learn. They want to know where others stand on things, and without saying as much, they want to assure their counterparts they’re not in the game for the earthly rewards but the wellbeing of real people. They want to win the war, and they know if that’s going to happen, they need the people beside them, no matter who that might be, to be in it with them. And so, they use their God-given platforms to embrace and inspire their listeners, being sure to empty themselves before the crowds in ways that show they’re all in for the triumph.
By the way, I think good preachers do this, too. A good preacher is a genuinely committed one—someone devoted whole-heartedly to the task; someone the pew sitters are convinced has a deep care for the content preached and the listeners receiving it. They believe that he believes the message, too, and that he would die before letting it go silent.
Now, before I wander off in a tangential direction on preaching, there’s another speech I’ve read that comes to mind this morning. General Douglas MacArthur gave it. A brilliant strategist, MacArthur is one of those speakers you should read rather than hear. I say that because he’s a bit of an enigma. He’s a fine orator, but like Chamberlain, self-importance shines through in his voice. However, as an inspiring warrior, he’s a Churchill. He would give everything of himself to convince his troops to follow him into battle and give everything of himself in that battle to win. He spoke in 1952, saying, “It is fatal to enter any war without the will to win it.” He was right, and the sentiment of his words travel alongside folks like George Orwell, who said with great seriousness, “The quickest way of ending a war is to lose it.”
Together, these points remind us that if a person isn’t genuinely invested in the fight—that he or she is only laboring out of concern for self—he or she is already destined to lose. That loss will have begun much sooner than the person may even realize. For these reasons, loss is a Chamberlain’s destiny. Churchills are more likely to win because they know they need the muscle and might of others to help move the mountains. With that, they work harder to convince and inspire.
Right now, we need Churchills.
We’re at war here in Michigan. Plenty are talking about Proposal 3—which, as any pro-life person paying attention to Michigan will know, is a demonic attempt to memorialize in the state’s Constitution an individual’s right to have an abortion up to, and in some cases, after birth. The pro-life ranks are filled with Chamberlains and Churchills. Some are saying and doing just enough to remain relevant, giving the impression they care, but only to get elected or re-elected. Others are pouring themselves into the fight because their very fiber won’t allow them to do anything else. They’re talking to others, not necessarily with eloquence but with knowledge and passion. They’re getting the word out. They’re recruiting others to the cause. They’re doing this because they care about others. This care has helped reveal to them the guts of Proposal 3. They know it more than enshrines murder in a way that will be nearly impossible to reverse and that it reaches into countless other arenas, ultimately negating laws that protect parental consent and religious objection. Perhaps most importantly, the people fighting the hardest know the blast radius of their efforts is large. They know the rest of the nation is watching—friend and foe alike. What happens in Michigan will be repeated.
In closing, I encourage you to be a Churchill, not a Chamberlain. The enemy is at the gates as never before. Set aside your own safety or self-interest. Step outside what keeps you comfortable, and do what you can to rally the troops. Talk to your family, friends, and neighbors. Send them an email. Call them. Give them literature that enunciates the concern. Let them experience your passion for the unborn, not in an imposing way, but in a way that shows you genuinely believe what you’re saying and doing. Implore them to vote no on Proposal 3 on November 8.
I know some might disagree with me when I say a Christian is duty-bound to do this. Feel free to disagree. Just know you’re wrong, and I’d go to the mat to prove it. What you believe is made complete by what you do (James 2:22). So, get up and do. Proposal 3 deals in Christological things. God owns all its topics. If, as God’s people, we remain quietly inactive, resulting in Proposal 3’s passing, the devil will mock our Chamberlain-like foolishness during his government-sanctioned invasion of Michigan on November 9.
Don’t let that happen. Speak out. Fight. Rally others. Stand at the gates and stop Proposal 3. Do everything you can to fight this “monstrous tyranny never surpassed in the dark and lamentable catalogue of human crime.” As a citizen, you can. As a Christian, you must.