Nov. 4, 2011, Vol. 9 Issue 10
People often ask me how I find my speakers. The answer is many ways, including my own research. Most events are annual, so when I work with a client, I’m always thinking of who would be a good fit for them for their next event. But one of my favorite resources is when a client tells me about a speaker. That’s how I heard about Reverend Susan Sparks, and in this case, I not only heard about her and booked her, I got to meet her shortly thereafter.
Rev. Susan Sparks
America’s Only Female Stand-up Comedian with a Pulpit
Who would guess that a minister at Madison Avenue Baptist Church in Manhattan, is also a stand-up comedian who speaks at humor conferences, women’s events and colleges around the country. That’s Rev. Susan Sparks who is also an ex-lawyer, and a motorcycle chick whose trademark is cowboy boots — she spends a couple of weeks every year riding around the country checking out the pulse of rural America from behind the handlebars.
Susan was not necessarily the religious type when she was a trial lawyer for Citibank, drafting contracts and defending litigation claims. She had been raised in a very conservative Baptist tradition in the South, which was all she knew. Disillusionment might be an understatement as she entered adulthood. Yet there was as least as much disillusionment in life as a trial lawyer. To balance her life in corporate America, she exercised her natural ability to make people laugh by performing in comedy clubs at night.
Yet that wasn’t enough. There was something missing. Her parents had taught her to leave things better than she found them, and corporate litigation for sure wasn’t achieving that. So she quit her job and set off on a two-year journey around the world to discover her life’s mission. She immersed herself in unfamiliar religions. She spent time with a Hindu family in India, meditated with Buddhist monks in Nepal, and visited an imam in Cairo. She worked with Mother Teresa’s mission in Calcutta, climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro and drove the Alaska Highway.
The spark that linked laughter and spirituality for her was ignited at Mother Teresa’s orphanage when she met Anna, a little 5-year old deaf girl. “She snuggled into my lap and put her ear to my chest. I laughed and she squealed with delight. It was the vibrations she was feeling! So we continued. It was like God dropped a sign: ‘Laughter and spirituality go together!'”
When she returned to the U.S., she entered Union Theological Seminary in New York City where she earned a Master of Divinity and wrote an honors thesis on humor and religion.
“The theme that runs through my work is humor and healing,” she says. “I believe laughter is the GPS system for the soul. Humor offers a revolutionary, yet simple, spiritual paradigm: If you can laugh at yourself, you can forgive yourself. And if you can forgive yourself, you can forgive others.”
Besides being a lawyer, a comedian, an ordained minister, and an author, she is also a self-admitted cowboy boot addict. She wears them everywhere from the pulpit to comedy clubs. “It’s my trademark. I love to fly fish, too.”
On a more serious note, Susan is also a breast cancer survivor — the primary reason she was originally recommended to me as a speaker. She writes about her experience (and many others) in her book, “Laugh Your Way to Grace.” Needless to say at this point, humor played a major role in her recovery. “Laughter is, in fact, a way of coming at the world. It challenges how we perceive ourselves and our circumstances, it re-frames how we see others, and it changes the very way we engage with God,” she says.
Shortly after discovering Susan, I received a call from Mrs. Mikey Hoeven, the former first lady of North Dakota (her husband is now Senator John Hoeven). I had worked with her for many years, recommending speakers for the Annual Women’s Health summits in Bismarck and Fargo, that she, as First Lady of ND, had initiated. She was being urged to re-start the summits and called me about keynote speakers. One of her objectives was to find a speaker who could uplift the women of Bismarck, who were suffering in the aftermath of massive flooding that had displaced many of them (including Mikey) from their homes.
We started out looking at psychologists and inspirational speakers who had dealt with adversity. None of them quite fit the bill. Too serious. Then it hit me, humor in crisis, that’s the answer — Susan Sparks. Susan, the cancer survivor, stand-up comedian and minister, speaking on “Laugh Your Way to Grace,” could earn the audience’s respect and the right to introduce the theme of laughing in a crisis. “Laughter can act as a lifeboat for those in crisis: a place of protection, a means of moving to and through grief, a vessel that can carry us above the pain, a second chance,” Susan says.
“Susan hit it out of the ballpark. I’ve had more comments about Susan Sparks than any other speaker I’ve had in all of the Expo’s I’ve done, and that’s quite a few!” Mikey said. “She was uplifting, very funny, well-rounded, inspirational — the whole package. I’d book her again in a heartbeat.” Those are the kind of results that really make my heart sing and my spirit soar.
To see what I mean about Susan, visit our website, or give me a call at 503-699-5031. Oh, and P.S. another thing she does outside of the pulpit? She performs comedy shows with a standup Rabbi and a Muslim comic.
IN THE FLOW
Have you ever had that feeling that you’re traveling down a magical path? That’s how I felt when I made the decision to move from Michigan to Oregon back in 1998. There was a nudge that just kept moving me forward, regardless of my “rational” objections. Things just kept unfolding effortlessly. I’m so glad I followed that muse! And I’m having that experience again.
Three weeks ago I made another decision, this one fairly impulsively. Following that same sense of magic, I flew to Connecticut to attend a business building seminar. It was phenomenal — and it’s an ongoing program I will be involved in for a year, and possibly longer. It just seemed like a perfect fit for what I needed to do. To make the trip, I was able to use my frequent flyer miles (which were about to expire), and although that put me on the red eye, it was a blessing. I ended up in New York City at dawn on a Sunday morning which was the perfect time for me to go see Susan Sparks in her pulpit. I even got personal guidance from Susan on ground transportation from JFK to Manhattan. So I found myself walking down Park Avenue in the early Sunday morning light when the City was still mostly asleep, and into the back door of the Madison Avenue Baptist Church, where Susan just happened to be coming down the stairs and greeted me. I love it when I get to see a speaker in person — even if delivering a sermon was not exactly a typical speaking engagement. On the other hand, she couldn’t help being funny as she delivered a profound message. With the grace she showed, she made me feel absolutely welcome, and I can recommend her whole-heartedly.
Oh, and the icing on the cake . . . after church, I went on to Stamford, CT, for my Monday-Tuesday seminar, and my client, Marcia Anderson, of the George Bray Cancer Center in New Britain, came down and met me for dinner. We’ve worked on many events over the years, and this was the first time we got to meet in person. Ironically, Marcia is the one who originally had heard about Susan and told me about her … and that makes me smile.
I urge you to listen to those mysterious hints from the Universe and be surprised and delighted by what occurs. Serendipitous opportunities could be just around the corner for you, as well. Until next time, take care of yourself for your well being and those you love.
PLEASE NOTE: The information shared in this e-news is designed to help you make informed decisions about speakers and the programs they offer. It is not intended as a substitute for any treatment prescribed by a doctor. If you suspect you have a medical problem, seek competent medical help.