People who do not realize that their choices reveal
their character think they have a choice as to whether or not to be
self-disclosing. They don't. Character is revealed by choice; as
Aristotle says in his Poetics, we reveal ourselves in every choice
we make from what we say, what we choose to wear, and how we
deliver our sermons. We know a lot about a person on our first
impression. Although we are told we shouldn't judge people by their
appearances, Oscar Wilde made mincemeat of this belief in his
aphorism "It is only shallow people who do not judge by
appearances. The true mystery of the world is the visible, not the
 People who think they have to tell us about
themselves, or they have to hear something revealing from a person
to know them, by Wilde's insight, must be shallow. If you don't
know a lot about me from my visible choices, my deliberate
self-disclosure is not going to help you much. Sermons reveal
who the speaker is, and their attitudes toward themselves, their
message, and their congregation no matter how secretive or "honest"
they choose to be with their congregation.
 That said, we are in an age of relentless
self-disclosure, one in which everything is at the surface. This is
after all the YouTube era, when people put pictures of themselves
doing the most shocking things on the World Wide Web, without
seeming to realize that with the prurient gaze of strangers comes
the inevitable judgment. Still Wilde's aphorism holds-when we see
the appalling things people do in public, we are baffled.
 So how much self-disclosure should there be in the
pulpit? Actually I would prefer to hear about Jesus. It is
possible that Jesus has done something in the preacher's life that
could be edifying. I justdon't want to hear much about how Jesus
helped the preacher beat his addiction to pornography. I want to
think about Jesus working in anyone's life, without hearing about
the salacious sins of my preacher. The effectiveness of
self-disclosure really depends on how good the preacher is as a
story teller. While you can't control all that people are finding
out about you, a good story teller is aware of how to create the
persona of the narrator and can edit the information that the
congregation is receiving in the so-called self-disclosure to
create a certain picture or effect. Most of us, however, are
not such gifted story tellers. I've heard preachers telling stories
to the congregation by which they obviously think they are showing
the congregation a picture of themselves as very sensitive or open.
What is embarrassing is how much their intentions are at odds with
what they are conveying implicitly. After one such
self-disclosure about an experience the preacher had had in his
bedroom, (Perish the thought! As Victorian damsels exclaimed!)
one of my older wiser friends shook her head and commented,
"Doesn't that give you a real picture about how awful it would be
to be married to him!
 I have heard people say after a sermon that they
liked something I said because I shared some of myself in the
sermon. And it moved them. This attitude feels as though it is from
someone who has to be told explicitly a great deal, and who is
stunned to realize this information is quite apparent from the get
go. Truth be told, however, in this age of explicit
everything, there are more and more people in the congregation who
don't comprehend very much that is not explicitly told them.
Otherwise they think they don't know you.
 It's a creedal mantra of the baby boomer set. My
sister, who studies the generation closely for the purposes of
predicting what their needs for housing, etc., will be, told about
a panel discussion of baby boomers and their experience of aging
when they began turning forty. The panel consisted of nearly famous
people, sisters of pop stars, for example. As they told their
own stories, amplifying on them with loving care, the audience
started tramping out. Soon only a few were left as the speakers
went on and on about themselves, a most delicious subject to each
of them, but not to anyone else. I imagine most of those who
tramped out would have been perfectly happy and equally long-winded
if they themselveshad been talking.
 One of the real reasons to be very wary of one's
self-disclosure is that it simply feeds our own sense of
self-importance. Oscar Wilde once again:
 This is basic Original Sin 101-we are hopelessly
curved in upon ourselves. So we may talk about the self with great
interest and bore our listeners to death. Think of the interest
with which you tell your own stories of genealogical research, and
the boredom with which you hear similar stories from someone
else. A wise mother once told a friend of mine that the sad
truth is no one is very interested in you!
 It's something to remember the next time you are
pondering whether or not to take a "risk" and tell something about
yourself in a sermon. It may be telling far more than you know and,
often, not what you intend. Do it only if it drives Christ-and
here's where you will need the good judgment of a friend or spouse.
If they think it works, use it, but, here's a little
rhetorical tip-avoid overmuch use of the first personal pronoun.
First person compulsive seems to be the tense and mood of choice
these days-in post-modernism everything is referenced through me.
It's unattractive, but it does reveal something of that life-long
romance Wilde spoke about. We would see Jesus, not you.