Antiquarian Anabaptist

Apologetics from an Anabaptist perspective

Tag Archives: communication

If you are a writer . . .

If you are a writer . . .man-29749_640.png

– you love words, you study words, their origins and all the nuances of their meanings. You don’t aim to dazzle readers with the knowledge you acquire, you want to be able to select the best words to make your readers see what you are seeing.

– you know that words are inadequate for what needs to be said. So you spend time searching for the words that come closest to saying what you want to say and avoid words and expressions that make no contribution to what you are trying to describe..

– you know that the reader can only see what you show him. A reader in Saskatchewan doesn’t know what a trillium looks like, or that many people in Ontario say youse when speaking to more than one person. A reader in Ontario doesn’t know what a slough is or what a chokecherry tastes like.

– you know that inspiration is not enough. Writing is the craft that brings the inspiration to life for your readers, by using just the right words and removing all the useless words that distract readers from perceiving what it was that inspired you.

– everything you see, and hear, and dream, becomes grist for your mill. You notice the little wildflower that is invisible to others, you hear the song of a toad at dusk, you see and hear the way people do and say things. These all become part of your storehouse and sooner or later they appear somewhere in your writing.

– you are a writer all the time. You have a full time job, you are a student, a busy mother, a caregiver to an aged relative. In all you do you find insights, nuggets of truth, startling images, moments of tenderness, moments of hilarity, and you tuck the memories away to be brought out when you sit down with a pen or at a keyboard.

– you are delighted to hear a reader repeat something you wrote that gave him new light on a subject, even if he can’t remember who wrote it.

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And man, this clever fellow, seems to have become sleepless in order to invent ever new instruments to increase noise, to spread noise and insignificance with the greatest possible haste and on the greatest possible scale. Yet everything is soon turned upside down: communication is indeed soon brought to its lowest point with regard to meaning, and simultaneously the means of communication are indeed brought to their highest with regard to speedy and overall circulation; for what is publicized with such hot haste and, on the other hand, what has greater circulation than — rubbish!

Søren Kierkegaard, first published in 1851

The myth of incompetence

“It’s just not my gift to witness to other people about my faith. I get all flustered and nothing comes out right. Other people can do it, but I just can’t.”

Have you ever said something like that? I don’t know if I’ve ever said it, but I’ve certainly felt that way. After experiencing those feelings for many years, a little light began to flicker in my mind and the illumination has increased with time. I have been comparing myself with the wrong people all along. I have looked enviously at people who were smooth-talking and self-assured and thought that I needed to become like them. At the same time, just being around them made me feel inadequate.

There is good news for me, and you, and all the other believers who feel inadequate. Those people we envy and wish to emulate may not be the most effective witnesses for the Lord. We can do it. We can visit about most anything else, why not about the thing that is most important in our life?

The way we listen is more important than the way we talk. The questions we ask are more important than the answers we give, because our questions reveal whether or not we are really interested in the person we are talking to.

Being a good witness for the Lord has to start with noticing the people around us and being interested in them. Show some interest in the people who serve you in stores, coffee shops and restaurants. If you see them frequently, get to know their names, ask them about their family or how their day is going. Don’t be nosy, just friendly. Take time to visit with people, find what their interests are.

Eventually you may sense an opportunity to go a little deeper. Don’t be pushy, let the Holy Spirit guide you. Ask questions, listen, be sympathetic, but don’t be too quick to jump in with suggestions on how to fix things that aren’t working out in their lives. At some point the Spirit my prompt you to share a personal experience. Tell it simply, giving honour to God and not yourself.

Be patient. Keep trying a little friendliness with people you meet. If we come across as superior or pushy, people will clam up, or push back. We might then conclude that the people around us are not interested in the gospel and there is no purpose in trying to talk to them. If we hold back and don’t make small efforts to reach out to others, we come to the same conclusion.

It is comfortable to think that there is no use trying. The Holy Spirit really doesn’t want us to get comfortable with that kind of thinking. That may lead us to direct our efforts into materialism and recreation beyond what is healthy for our spiritual life.

The Holy Spirit wants us to step out beyond our comfort zone, but He is only going to ask us to take one little baby step at a time. We may find that those baby steps take us a long way, into territory that we used to think was completely inaccessible. A little effort can open up whole new vistas for us.

The living word

N.F.S. Grundtvig was a Danish Lutheran minister who proposed a new form of adult education. His teachings eventually led to the Danish folk high schools, outside of the mainstream Danish education system. These schools are open to all over the age of eighteen, noncompetitive and confer no diplomas. There are no exams or marks given.

Grundtvig spoke of “the living word” as the communication of personal life between the teacher and the students. The teachings must live in the life of the teacher and be actively responded to by the students, or the words taught are dead. These schools do not exist for the learning of academic subjects or for vocational training, but for learning about life itself, gaining insight and practical ability. This is education as a living interaction between teachers and students.

These schools nurtured a sense of Danish peoplehood and are credited with creating a cultural and intellectual climate that enabled Denmark to unite in resisting any collaboration with the Nazis.

Grundtvig borrowed the concept of the living word from Christianity and applied it in a secular setting. The Danish folk schools take many forms today, some are quite radical, some are Christian. Others focus on music and sports; there are also schools for retired people.

What would this emphasis on the living word look like in a Christian setting? That will be my next topic.

Why am I doing this?

I have been doing some reflecting of late. And not much writing.  I’m happy to see people are still looking at my blog, even if I haven’t posted anything since Monday.

Why am I writing? What purpose is there in wanting to communicate clearly, either verbally or in writing?

I attended a Toastmasters meeting Wednesday evening and I think I found part of my answer. There was a young lady there who had suffered a stroke at birth and multiple seizures after birth. The doctors told her parents that she had irreparable brain damage and would never leave the hospital, or if by some miracle she did survive long enough to go home, she would never walk or talk.

This young lady not only learned to walk, she became a runner, competing in Special Olympics events. Wednesday evening she read her speech, but she read clearly, without mispronouncing or stumbling over any word. She wrote the talk herself and made only a passing reference to her disability. Her point was that we are all called to  do our part in fulfilling the Great Commission.

We are acquainted with the family; her mother has written a book about Amee.  I am impressed at how she is continuing to grow and learn and has become an articulate and bubbly young lady.

So here I am, an old geezer with a lifetime of experience outside and inside Evangelical Christian circles.  And a head packed full of stories and information that I’ve lived, observed, heard or read. It seems to me that I see things outside that circle in a way that many people inside just do not comprehend. And I see things from the inside that are just not getting through to those on the outside.

I am also someone from a non-Anabaptist background who has chosen the Anabaptist faith as the truest expression of the Christian faith. It seems to me that we all – Anabaptists, Evangelicals and non-Christians – live in our hermetically-sealed bubbles, passing each other on the street, but unable to speak intelligible words to each other.

The things we say make sense to us and others who live in the same kind of bubble that we are in.  Those words may be misunderstood by others; they may even sound like nonsense. We sense that we are not getting through, so we say the same words, just a little louder. That doesn’t work either and we begin to suspect that the others are just not able to think very clearly.

We really need to get out of our bubble and connect with people. We don’t need a new gospel in hipster language, but we may need to drop some of the expressions that have been repeated over and over through the past two generations. I don’t think they really worked two generations ago and they certainly don’t now. Nor do we need more important sounding words. The deepest truths are communicated with simple words. But to really communicate, we have to become vulnerable, drop our masks, overcome our fears and become real people to those we meet.

Perhaps I have as much of a handicap as Amee. She has spent her life up to now in a battle to overcome her disabilities – and she is succeeding.  What’s stopping me?

Getting the point across

My wife and I were getting ready to go to Saskatoon, an hour’s drive from our home.  I thought we needed to leave by 9:30 to accomplish all we wanted to do.  I busied myself getting ready, preparing the things I needed to take to the places I needed to go.  My wife was busy with other things in the house and didn’t appear to be in much of a hurry.  My frustration began to mount and I was on the verge of saying something when a little voice in my head said: “How is she supposed to know that you want to leave by 9:30?  You never told her that.”

I did say something to her then, but it had an altogether different tone than what I had originally thought of saying.  We didn’t get away at 9:30, yet there was still time to accomplish all we wanted to do and to enjoy the day.

We lived next door to a family with a girl the same age as our daughter.  The mother worked full-time as a nurse, yet was a super-neat, super-efficient housekeeper.  She wanted her daughter to learn to keep house like she did, but she was in too much of a hurry to bear with the poor girl’s fumbling attempts.  It was so much quicker to just do it herself.  Her daughter never acquired much in the way of housekeeping skills until she was grown up and on her own.

Dad gives his son instructions on how to do a job, then leaves for work.  When he comes home, he finds that his son has hit a snag and abandoned the job.  Dad grumbles that if he wants a job done right he’ll just have to do it himself.

A family business hires a new employee who is not of the family.  The employee is given a list of responsibilities and sent to work.  It isn’t long until the new employee quits or is fired because he/she never did figure out just what was expected of him/her.

If only one person understands what is expected, no real communication has taken place.  In the case of a child or a new worker, words are usually not enough.  A more effective approach is to work with the child or employee until one is confident they can do the job without further coaching.

Part of my job in the quality assurance department of  an auto parts plant some years ago was developing operating procedures to be posted at each piece of equipment in the plant.  This may sound silly, but it was a great help to someone who had operated this machine for one day several months ago and now was once again assigned to it.  Another visual aid was to put up samples of unacceptable defects that made a part unusable and of minor visual defects that were acceptable because they did not in any way compromise the function of the part.

Effective communication does not always require a lot of words.  My wife knew a lady who was a Bosnian refugee.  One day her son brought home a fish and cleaned it over the toilet bowl, plugging the toilet.  Desanka went to Canadian Tire to buy a plunger, but didn’t know what it is called  in English.  She went to a clerk and said “I want,” then made vigorous up and down pumping motions with her hands clasping an imaginary handle.  He understood immediately.

Tell me, I’ll forget;
Show me, I’ll remember;
Work with me, I’ll understand.
-author unknown

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