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LTUE: the Schlock Mercenary Sermon - Howard Tayler
Ramblings of a Happy Cartoonist
howardtayler
howardtayler
LTUE: the Schlock Mercenary Sermon
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).

4) Q&A

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.

--Howard

I feel: contemplative contemplative

18 comments or Leave a comment
Comments
tprjones From: tprjones Date: February 18th, 2005 11:34 pm (UTC) (Link)
Back when I worked for The Princeton Review, I would give presentations to college students about preparing for and getting into post-graduate programs (the specifics depended on the audience). Typically, this meant about 48 minutes of straight-up highly valuable information followed by 2 minutes of "and let me tell you about our classes".

That's exactly what you did there, too. That was just the "brought to you buy" portion of the program, much like the ads at the end of shows on PBS. You are absolutely entitled to the chance to provide that messege, IMO. Well done.
athelind From: athelind Date: February 19th, 2005 07:32 am (UTC) (Link)
Well said, Howard. Despite my being a Militant Agnostic, we agree on some important core premises -- one being that a person's best and highest purpose is to serve others.

Amusingly, though, that's why I'm politically liberal, why I'm an Environmental Scientist ("professional tree-hugger"), and why I served five years in the U.S. Coast Guard. Some people have a hard time reconciling that last with the first two, but, as far as I'm concerned, when you see it in terms of "service to others", there's no contradiction.
mamaslyth From: mamaslyth Date: February 19th, 2005 07:56 am (UTC) (Link)
I like the allegory. Too often some of us are too hard on ourselves about the mistakes of the past, instead of learning from them and progressing. You gave a concrete example on how we are supposed to improve and not beat ourselves up for the "amatuer" parts of our lives.

It's never easy. Even though I knew I did everything I could to save an abusive marriage and my bishop was supportive when I finally had to leave it, I let myself beat me up for not seeing certains signs sooner and not sticking up for myself. Even now, the harshest judgment I have to fight is my own. Sure, there are a few insecure people who don't understand and show degrees on uncomfortableness around me, but there have always been more who understand or try to understand.

But like a cartoonist who takes it upon himself to study the art and take chances to be more professional *wink*, I have taken upon myself to discard the "amatuer" methods of my youth and find the "professional" way to deal with my life. The one thing I've learned with my own creative endeavors and self - you have to be willing to plunge forward and even make a mess before you can really learn. And trying to be assertive after years of being passive is VERY messy. Somedays I think I need a T-shirt that says, "Pardon the mess. Person still under construction."
zenkitty_714 From: zenkitty_714 Date: February 19th, 2005 10:00 am (UTC) (Link)
As a person in a similar situation to yours, I'll take one of those t-shirts.
mamaslyth From: mamaslyth Date: February 19th, 2005 10:33 am (UTC) (Link)
How about this design?



You think we could sell it?
zenkitty_714 From: zenkitty_714 Date: February 19th, 2005 10:04 am (UTC) (Link)
I'm a pantheist, and I agree wholeheartedly with all that you've said. It's wonderful that you went with your spirit and said what you did; that takes courage and trust in God. Had I been in the audience, I think I would have enjoyed it and understood you. And possibly teared up a bit, as I tend to do.
krlindsey From: krlindsey Date: February 20th, 2005 10:09 am (UTC) (Link)

quibble

"Irreverence," Howard, not "blasphemy." Huge difference.
howardtayler From: howardtayler Date: February 20th, 2005 07:05 pm (UTC) (Link)

Re: quibble

Ah, but describing it as blasphemy is so much more entertaining...
krlindsey From: krlindsey Date: February 20th, 2005 07:14 pm (UTC) (Link)

Re: quibble

True, but in addition to entertaining, blasphemy comes with charming little extras like immolation and excommunication. ;) Although, I suppose, it does give new dimension to "laughing through the pain . . ."
kaladhwen From: kaladhwen Date: February 20th, 2005 04:28 pm (UTC) (Link)
Oh my gosh I CANNOT believe I missed that!! Dang it. I had class.

(At BYU the university is VERY draconian about sales -- they ALL must be run through the BYU Bookstore,

Yes, phhht to that.

This is why the "convention" has no dealers, and is actually a symposium with panels, rather than a true convention.)

I want to start charging registration and just have it in a hotel somewhere, so LTUE is a "true" con. At even $20 a head we'd have quite a bundle and more of a budget than we'll ever have with BYU. Not to mention, we'll be a "real" con and word will spread and we'll (hopefully) get even more attendees.

"this is NOT to say that Christ died as payment for the early Schlock Mercenary artwork."

LOL...awesome. I'm sure lots of blasphemous things were said on campus this weekend. ;) Geeks are usually blasphemous in lots of ways.

I promised the students in that room that if they would finish their educations, the Lord would find work for them to do.

So was that all on your mind cause of the discussion we'd had the day before, or was it already on your mind? I really liked what we talked about, I needed to be reminded of why I'm in school, even though, I kinda hate it. Sometimes. I'm ready to be done but I know I need to finish my degree.

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.

Sometimes, it is great that LTUE is at BYU. I gained a newfound appreciation for my attendance here, because at what other school can you really mix religious and secular topics so smoothly? I think it's awesome that religious comments are just as important as secular comments. So yeah.

I should shut up now and stop babbling in your journal. No extra points if you figure out who this is, cause it should be pretty obvious. :)
howardtayler From: howardtayler Date: February 20th, 2005 07:19 pm (UTC) (Link)
Commenting, in reverse order...

I should shut up now and stop babbling in your journal.
Bah. I'm a public figure, and the public entries I make are subject to rambli...fication? Something like that. And yes, I think I get the zero-point bonus. I'm going to Penguicon in April, but won't see you there.

...or was it already on your mind?
I'm not sure where the cart and the horse are here (or whether the chickens and eggs IN the cart have determined who came first), but I CAN tell you that this is part of the secret to being a good panelist. I had the discussion with you not only because I enjoyed talking with you, but because every conversation I have is a rehearsal for a presentation I might someday have to give. I think the reason people enjoyed my panels lies in there somewhere, too: if they'd been talking with me one-on-one, I would have had the same sort of discussion -- honest, open, and very from-the-heart.

I want to start charging registration and just have it in a hotel somewhere, so LTUE is a "true" con. It's tempting, I know. I think you might do better starting a different 'Con, though, and running it offset by 6 months. Having an Academic symposium is nice. Campus is a great place for it. Hotel cons WILL end up with room parties, wacko behavior, and alchohol -- even if Concom is all BYU studentns. I'm not saying it's a bad idea. I'm saying "please don't replace LTUE with an event that will eventually become purely secular."

The LTUE budgeting problems could be solved if the secular Sister convention (maybe "The Restaurant at the End of the Universe") that runs a slush fund for donating to the LTUE operations budget -- assuming the Sister convention was successful.

At any rate, I plan to keep in touch with you folks. Having a convention (or, better yet, a PAIR of conventions) in my back-yard is something I can easily help along.

--Howard
kaladhwen From: kaladhwen Date: February 22nd, 2005 07:03 pm (UTC) (Link)
I'm a public figure, and the public entries I make are subject to rambli...fication?

Ramblification happens to be my excellent speciality. Especially since, (unfortunately,) I can type almost as fast as I can think sometimes.

And yes, I think I get the zero-point bonus. I'm going to Penguicon in April, but won't see you there.

Dang. Nope. If I can go to any con that weekend, it's Celebration 3 in Indy. :) I have 4 family members graduating that weekend plus a shoot for work. And then, hopefully, off late to the con.

every conversation I have is a rehearsal for a presentation I might someday have to give. I think the reason people enjoyed my panels lies in there somewhere, too: if they'd been talking with me one-on-one, I would have had the same sort of discussion -- honest, open, and very from-the-heart.

*nods* That makes sense. I very much enjoyed the conversation, it was enlightening and intelligent. I should re-use conversations I have with people as school papers or something... Gotta get something more out of my day. ;)

Hotel cons WILL end up with room parties, wacko behavior, and alchohol -- even if Concom is all BYU studentns. I'm not saying it's a bad idea. I'm saying "please don't replace LTUE with an event that will eventually become purely secular."

True. But do not tempt me to start a con!! There's Mountain-Con now, a new one at the end of September in SLC, and AutumnCon, at the end of October. I think if I was to start a con, it would probably be in June or something. There are never any cons in June. A million in July, but none ever in June or August. I'm still tempted to start a new con, and if I try, please shoot me.

The LTUE budgeting problems could be solved if the secular Sister convention (maybe "The Restaurant at the End of the Universe") that runs a slush fund for donating to the LTUE operations budget -- assuming the Sister convention was successful.

Ooh. See, you keep tempting me to look into starting another con. Happy Valley NEEDS more cons. Good ones.

At any rate, I plan to keep in touch with you folks. Having a convention (or, better yet, a PAIR of conventions) in my back-yard is something I can easily help along.

LOL. It's very tempting to set up a con in ProvOrem.
bladespark From: bladespark Date: February 20th, 2005 11:07 pm (UTC) (Link)
Heee. I am amused. Highly Amused. Mostly by the fact that you posted this the night after a non-Mormon friend of mine and I had a lengthy discussion that mentioned, among other things, my pet peeve-ish irritation at people who close church talks with "In the name of thy son Jesus Christ," as if they were prayers. Argh. He linked me to this with the note that you'd avoided that pratfall. *chuckles* The coincidence is entertaining, though I'm probably langhing far more than I should.

Now I just wish I'd know about this LTUE thing (I don't even know what it is!) so that I could have attempted to be there.
jordanis From: jordanis Date: February 20th, 2005 11:17 pm (UTC) (Link)
That would be me. I recall being rather amused at the concept of people doing that one. Is silly.
purplerebecca From: purplerebecca Date: February 21st, 2005 01:36 pm (UTC) (Link)
Your session was great. :D

One of the people you were likely prompted to bear your testimony for was me. I'm at that highly uncomfortable "I'm graduating and what the frick am I going to DO with my life???!!!" stage, and I found your words very reassuring.
So, thank you. :)
From: jayceh Date: February 22nd, 2005 08:56 am (UTC) (Link)

Style, missed

Man, I feel bad I missed this one. I wanted to go this year, but really didn't have time. I normally help out Mike Handy with the costume design (star wars usually, if you do star wars in Utah, you know mike), but he didn't have time this year either.

I have to say, having heard you speak 'novellese' and hearing this, I have a presentation style very similar to yours. I think part of it comes from the similar background of LDS Mission. I for one am not a people person, but you get me up to talk about something I know (Say Perl, Linux, etc) I can present for a while, and humor is a necessary element to convey my message.
From: milothereporter Date: February 27th, 2005 10:21 pm (UTC) (Link)
AFter that last point, I want to hear a divine standup act, RIGHT NOW.
From: ranger09 Date: March 1st, 2005 11:15 am (UTC) (Link)

Non sequitur

The exact phrase used to describe the applause was "That is the most non sequitur thing to ever happen to me." And I have to agree. Although I was clapping as much as anyone.
18 comments or Leave a comment