Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Sermon illustrations I'd rather not hear

....yet have regrettably heard too often.  They belong to the genre of "sappy story that will guilt you into good works" (or not), and two of the worst are (a) the story of the little boy who is going to give blood to his sister and thinks they're going to drain him and (b) the story of the bridge operator forced by circumstances to crush his own son in the machinery to save a train full of passengers.

Now one would hope that "guilt you into good works" would die for that reason alone, as the good works only last as long as the guilt does--maybe a few days, really.  But no such luck, and hence we need to appeal to the question of whether the stories are true.

And they almost certainly are not, sad to say, and we really ought to spot this more readily.  For both stories, we can start with the fact that there is no journalistic record of either event--are we to believe that such a "good story" went unreported?

Regarding the first, the story is generally told that the child is "wheeled" into the room, and that the tube goes from donor to recipient.  Now speaking as a guy with 15 gallon pins, it's not how it's done--never has been and never will be. You never take from a child because he'd need a transfusion afterwards, and since you only need to match blood type and Rh factor, you don't need a tight donor match like you do for kidneys, hearts, and such.  You never need a family match for a blood transfusion.  It's also important that the person walk to the donation, because if he can't, you've got to assume that he's not healthy enough to donate.

Plus, you need to test the blood for disease, measure how much you've taken, and finally you need some pressure to carry the blood from the bag to the recipient, typically about 100mm Hg or a rise of about 1 meter.  That's why transfusion blood goes on the same stand with the other IV solutions.  You can't just put a tube between two people and hope all goes well. 

The second story is as much nonsense as the first for a very simple factor; it is the bridge operator who signals that the line is clear after he closes the bridge.  So if he sees someone in the machinery, he does nothing, the signal remains red, the train stops, and no one gets hurt.  And if a train should ignore the signals, there is nothing the operator can do because closing the bridge takes minutes.  It's been this way since the 19th century--it's why you will to this day see a telegraph line beside many railroad tracks.

Hopefully this will help some dear brothers and sisters in Christ take a stand against emotional blackmail as a sermon tool.


tobin said...

Good points. Why do so many pastors expect their congregation to leave logic and common sense at the door when they enter the church?

There's nothing with emotional illustrations, but I find them more effective when they illustrate God's love and grace extended to us than when used as a guilt trip.

Bike Bubba said...

Agreed--one thing I found when I looked up the stories is that there are volumes of "sermon illustrations" out there, apparently for those who want to preach current events without bothering to reach for a newspaper. Maybe they think nobody's paying attention?

Maybe they're right. Sigh.