18 July 2008

Sermon Wordles?

Some of the blogs that I frequent have discovered "Wordles," or word clouds, as a fun--and maybe insightful?--way to analyze sermon texts. I'd emphasize the "fun" part and downplay the insightful part. While it's always prudent to choose your words carefully, the "Wordles" method of reviewing sermons would critique a sermon based merely on word counts (and how some programmer set up the software to display words), not on content, or how those words are put together in an overall message.

Here's an example. For this Sunday's sermon various time constraints and added obligations have led me to "pull one out of the barrel," as they say. So, for giggles, I "wordled" my sermon from Trinity 9 of 2004, which I chose to rework for this Sunday. Here's what it looks like:
Of course, my first thought was, "Oh, no! Someone out there in cyberspace and blogosphere could take my text and 'wordle' it to see if I'm really preaching Jesus!" So, since I was revising the sermon a bit anyway, I decided to tweak the verbage with "Wordle" in mind. Here's what came out for Trinity 9, 2008:
Now, mind you, I did my best to leave the overall message and content quite in tact. With just a few word changes here and there, I can certainly make "money" look smaller and "Jesus" look bigger. But the content and central point of the sermon remains the same: "Jesus teaches us to use His money to show His mercy."

So, by all means, enjoy the "Wordle" just for fun, but be cautious of serious sermon reviews via word clouds, that is, mere word counts. After all, words don't stand in isolation; they get put together into a larger whole, and it's that larger content, context, and message that's truly deserving of hearing and analysis.


wmc said...

I think these are very cool. Hardly analytical, as you say, but very cool. Of course, they rely on word frequency not context.

But they make really neat word art out of a text, almost calligraphic in appearance. Actually, all three of your sermon wordles look quite Jesus-oriented. What I find amazing, is that one can look at a Wordle and figure out pretty much what the text is about. Your text is obviously about the unjust steward or the saying of how you can't serve God and Money. I enjoy looking at how various seasonal sermons look as a Wordle. Try comparing a Christmas sermon to Good Friday to Easter Sunday.

Anonymous said...

The second version bothers me. When money is the largest type and rotated besides, the first impression is that "money" is the way to heaven.
I doubt you preached that!


Randy Asburry said...

No, Helen, I most certainly did *not* preach that "money is the way to heaven." You can read this particular sermon in the following post (and I'm confident that you'll agree that I did not preach money as the way to heaven! :-)

All that the wordle thingy does is tabulate what words get used most. It cannot discern what the sentences and paragraphs actually say. So, while the wordles that I offered show "money" as the big word, it would be quite a mistake to think that I somehow preached money as the way of salvation or even gave a money-management sermon. I would say that these wordles simply show that somehow, money was a main idea of the sermon. As for what idea about money came across, well, that's where either hearing it, or reading it, for the proper context becomes essential.

BTW, thanks for the confidence that I didn't preach that money somehow gets us to heaven! I do appreciate it. :-)