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Wednesday, March 09, 2005

Media Muddle

I had a sharp lesson in clarity and simplicity today. Often Christians make assumptions that others know what they're going on about at some basic level. This can no longer be assumed. The secularised culture of the west has lost its Christian language. Time has to be taken to explain, often in a very simple and "back to basics" way. Sometimes, I must confess, this can make me a bit grumpy and impatient. Such was today I'm afraid. I lost patience with a local journalist who was only doing his job ... I can only hope it didn't show too much in my voice!

The contemporary media publish for a mass circulation and what can't be immediately accessible and compressed into a sound byte just isn't worth printing or broadcasting. That's why we as Orthodox Christians, with a very rich heritage of symbolism, language and ritual, have to learn to "talk the talk." Some baulk at this preferring to remain instead unsullied by the world; but in this we only talk to ourselves. This is an indulgence and unjustifiable from the gospel. Our Lord made himself crystal clear to his audience and we must do no less.

This communication clarity is a real skill and it takes patience and imagination to make it work. It's a good discipline as well for witness ... deliberately to leave behind all the jargon, technical vocabulary and theological obscurities in favour of a very simple and straightforward delivery.

I believe that this can be done without sacrificing the mystery and the complexity that lies at the heart of faith and life. The trick is to leave your listener or reader with a question, not with an answer. Jesus was particularly good at that. "But who do you say that I am?" No one can shirk the simplicity, clarity and challenge of this way of speaking. This is the sort of language we need to use in the public domain.

I'm learning; sometimes the hard way!

4 comments:

Huw Raphael said...

Our Lord made himself crystal clear to his audience and we must do no less.

Forgive me, Father, for any disrespect, but while I agree that we should communicate the Gospel in ways that can be understood, I don't think you can make the above saying in a 100% faithful way...

"And the disciples came and said unto Him, "Why speakest Thou unto them in parables?" He answered and said unto them, "Because it is given unto you to know the mysteries of the Kingdom of Heaven, but to them it is not given." (Mat XIIIx-xi)

But I'm very confused by your statement that "The trick is to leave your listener or reader with a question, not with an answer."

The confusion is in the fact that back in my days in the Episcopal Church such comments were often used as an excuse to avoid saying things like the Creed and meaning them. So I'm wondering how you mean that.

Father Gregory said...

Dear Huw

When our Lord taught in parables, they were crystal clear in the sense that there was a story and a point lucidly stated. The spiritually dull or those whose vision had been clouded by the passions were unable to discern its meaning no matter how simply and clearly our Lord taught. The teaching was nonetheless lucid for all that. Jesus didn't tease with obscurity. He acknowledged that receptivity or the lack thereof always compromised the message for some.

Concerning "leaving people with a question" - we must be careful not to avoid truths simply on account of how the heterodox misapply them. Even a cursory examination of the New Testament shows that Our Lord related to people in ways that demanded their self examination, personal reflection and response. Some where healed (cf. the ten lepers) but didn't grow spiritually. To the scribe learning the parable of the Good Samaritan was asked: "Who was neighbour to the man who fell amongst thieves?" Our Lord always required (and requires) that we pursue the question ourselves and not simply passively receive an answer that leaves our lives unchanged.

Every good preacher knows that it is important to leave a congregation still buzzing with new questions. St. Gregory of Nyssa's infinite ascent toward God requires no less. Orthodoxy is dynamic, interactive, life changing.

I am sure that we are not actually disagreeing here. It's all a matter of how terms are understood.

Huw Raphael said...

Indeed! And the terms, I fear, are overshadowed by my history - coming as I noted from a more liberal background I have a reaction to hearing some of the same terms again - albeit now with their correct usage! (An ironic note: you mentioned St Gregory - and the Episcopal congregation I left on my way into the Church was called after that same church Father. You should see what they did to his theology!)

Thank you for your time in making clear your point to me!

Andrew S. Damick said...

Indeed!

I imagine it must be much rougher in the even more post-Christian world of the UK, but on this side of the Pond, it's becoming more and more clear to me that I need to learn how to preach to everyone -- not just disaffected Protestants. Unfortunately, much of what's published or thought in terms of evangelism here is precisely in those post-heterodox terms.

I was gladdened, though, by a recent sermon by the new Antiochian bishop of Pittsburgh, the Rt. Rev. Thomas. The homily he delivered on the Sunday of the Last Judgment was very clear and constituted, as His Grace said, a "warning." Sheep. Goats. Know what happens to each.

Pick one.

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