Rhetoric And Homiletics: The Wrong Way To View Your Message!

reading to the audience  Was Mario Cuomo Right?

After listening to Andrew Cuomo during his regular television briefings concerning New York and the Covid-19 Virus, I gained a great appreciation of his ability as a communicator.  In fact, I thought that he was even better than his father – Mario!

I remember when I first heard his father, Mario Cuomo, and was impressed with his ability to frame his liberal political position in such a compelling way.  I still remember thinking that  Governor Mario Cumo was a rhetorical powerhouse, far beyond most liberal politicians.

The only other person who impressed me like that was a young senator from the state of Illinois, at the Democratic National Convention in 2004.  I just tripped across him speaking!  Had no idea who he was, as was the case with many at the time.  I thought — WOW!  He is good!

Listen to him yourself! — You may be — as I was —  shocked as you listen to him from today’s perspective!

Nevertheless, let me get back to Andrew Cuomo.  His daily updates sparked a renewed interest in his father.

Was he still alive?????
I don’t think so. . . . .
Oh — he passed away in 2015 . . .
And Andrew gave the eulogy. . . . . .

Governor Andrew Cuomo’s eulogy was really moving.  And it reflected the Mario Cuomo I recalled — an articulate, appealing, winsome liberal  — attractive liberalism — even to me — back then — and again as I read Andrew’s description of his father.

In Governor Andrew Cuomo’s eulogy, he relates the following family story. . . .

One day when I was at HUD I was talking to my father on the phone and he had given a big speech that day and I called to asked how it went, and how he did it — did he do it from notes, did he do it on cards, did he do it off the cuff. He said it was a very important speech so he wrote it out and read every word. He went on to explain his theory, which he had explained before, that you can’t possibly deliver a speech extemporaneously that is as well done as a written speech. He then invoked Winston Churchill as a proponent of the reading word for word theory of speech making.

Now you must understand the rules of engagement in debate with Mario Cuomo. Invoking an historical figure as a source — in this context — was more of a metaphor than a literal interpretation. It really meant Winston Churchill could have said, or should have said, or would have said, that reading was best. But my father’s invoking the gravitas of Churchill meant that he was truly serious about this point.

I explained that I was uncomfortable reading a speech word for word because I needed to see the audience’s reaction and adjust accordingly. He summarily dismissed my point and he said that was all unnecessary. And he said who cares about what the audience wants to hear. It’s not about what they want to hear, it’s about what you need to say.

And that, my friends, was the essence of Mario Cuomo.

Previously, I wrote about the creator of Lil’ Abner, Al Capp.  Al Capp is who I thought about after reading Andrew Cuomo’s words — interested in expression, not persuasion.

Nevertheless, the words of Governor Cuomo, and those of his father, reflect a failure to understand the difference between two cousin art forms — writing and speaking.  While some “manuscript readers” are actually very good in the use of teleprompters, typed-text, or “IPads,” the power of the art of public speaking is significantly diminished.

In recent days I was reminded of that, as a visiting “preacher-teacher” read 95% of his message from his “iPad,” which was positioned on the podium below.

One only needed to be marginally aware to grasp the dynamics of reading versus speaking.  Arguably, there might be a difference of opinion on how good of a “teleprompter-reader” he was.  Nevertheless, there was no meaningful eye-contact and minimal vocal variety.  The message being communicated was that of Mario Cuomo — “It’s about what I want to say.” 

He had content, some very good content.  But there was a spoiled audience connection.  He had something to say, more than — “I want to share with you truths which not only mean much to me, but I believe can help you tonight!”

The dynamics of what was happening was obvious to a spectator — and becoming a spectator is what “reading” engenders! God’s people consistently show much “rhetorical grace.” Perhaps, we have come to believe that listening to mediocre-to-terrible speakers is “baptistic-penance” for our sins.   As a preacher-speaker, never confuse praise with certainty.   There will always be someone who thinks you were outstanding, even when we know better!

The dynamics which were operating:

There was a marked difference when he briefly conversed with us, and when he went back to reading.  You could immediately feel the difference when he lifted his head above the water-level of the audience.

When he went off-script, he sounded authentic.  The words and thoughts were really his, and he wanted to share them for our good.

The audience’s response was markedly different when the speaker got off-script — when he actually saw our faces and visually connected.

√ When he conversed with us, he non-verbally communicated that it mattered that we were there.

√ When he went back to reading from his “book,” he communicated (non-verbally) that his words were more important than our presence.


Mario Cuomo’s approach reflects this approach — It is not about the audience, I have something I want to say.

That’s politics, not ministry!

I say “that dog don’t hunt” when it comes to effectiveness, no less to ministering to those who have willingly come to listen to what the Lord has to say, through someone who authentically cares about them as individuals.



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