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Posts Tagged ‘conversation’

Addie Zierman wrote an article I appreciated in Relevant Magazine about rethinking Christian cliches.  The funny thing is, I wasn’t overly familiar with the cliches she referenced in the article, but I know that in every environment, not just Christian communities, we use these verbal shortcuts as part of our common language, for connection.  I’ve attended three churches in six years (lived in different places, that’s why), and one of the most interesting parts of entering a new church community is figuring out the local Christian cliches.  I think they are unavoidable.  But I connected with this article because I’m constantly trying to teach my students about why cliches suck the impact out of whatever they are trying to say, or generally, they do.  Overused language allows the listener/reader to pass by ideas without much thought.

I really like this connection Zierman makes with “fresh language” and Jesus as God’s Word:

But at the heart of the Christian faith is this: we were broken and we couldn’t figure it out and, instead of sending us some tired cliché, God sent Christ. The Word, John called Him. He had hands and feet, dust-covered from all that walking.

Here is what happens when the Word of God brushes against humanity: Stories. Discussion. Fresh metaphor, strung together like so many beads on a string. The Kingdom of God is like this … and like this … and like this other thing over here. It’s a seven-mile walk to a place called Emmaus without a Gospel tract in hand or the Roman’s Road paradigm to quote—just the messy truth of it all, hashed out among new friends.

Stories, fresh metaphor–sounds good to me.

Going back to the theme I’ve been sort of mulling over lately, about how Jesus’ teachings help us to live better in relationship to God but also to our neighbors, I like this idea of choosing language carefully, paying attention to how we’re communicating ideas, and attempting to prevent, through word choice and storytelling, our own indifference to the things we see and know about God’s work in this world.

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I went to a grad-student party last night, and while most of the discussions were lots of fun (I love graduate students, really), the subject of Detroit came up and someone thought it would be a nice opportunity to tell me what’s wrong with the place.  It wasn’t a diatribe (I’ve heard those, too), and actually, it wasn’t really that bad, but I still felt crummy about it later.

Lot’s of people like to pick on Detroit. The national media is probably to blame; when’s the last time you read an article from a national news source that portrayed Detroit in a good light?  So when someone from any other part of the country, be it Ohio, Washington, or another part of Michigan tells me that Detroit is a horrible place (right? it’s usually in the form of a pointedly negative question) I can hesitate to hate them because I know that their impressions were made by national media.

Nonetheless, such bashing is as unproductive as ripping apart a school kid who has a rough home life and no one to support him.  In my experience, many Detroiters are there because they can’t leave, so such comments are a slam against them.  Many of the other Detroiters (maybe the rest?) are there by choice, trying to rebuild the city.  The comments are a slam against them too.  So either way, bashing Detroit adds nothing positive to a bleak situation; it probably just makes it more bleak.

So, please, next time you have something negative to say about Detroit, just don’t say it.  Unless your intention is to just be mean.  In that case, good luck in the world.

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This week has been dragging a bit for me, especially in terms of confidence.  It’s astounding to me because I started off so strong and now I’m getting discouraged at how quickly confidence can slip.  Here are some ways I’m trying to deal with it:

My confidence slips when I allow myself to repeat negative ideas throughout my daily conversations.  If I’m telling everyone about how bad a discussion went in class, it means I’m thinking about it a lot.  Those of you who read the testimonies I posted on here a while back know that I believe in the ability to change thought patterns through prayer.  I’m losing sight of that idea.

To battle this, I’ve had to remind myself of what is going well with whatever I’ve been complaining about.  My students are bright and interesting and have a lot to offer me.  I love reading their short assignments and I believe they have a wealthy perspective that I can teach them how to bring out in their writing.  If I say this sort of thing in my conversations, I won’t forget it or get distracted by the silences that sometimes permeate the classroom.

I can also be realistic about what’s not going well and learn from it.  I can make these things a factor in my definition of the classrooms or projects I take on, rather than make them the definition itself.  I hope that makes sense.

It’s healthy to give ourselves pep talks, to battle negative thoughts with sentences that begin with, “yes, but…”

My attitude goes negative when I allow myself to go through a day without noticing things.  When I walk down the streets and I don’t look at what I pass, or think about where I am moment by moment (instead of where I hope to be by the end of the day, or week, or by the end of my life.)

Noticing the small things helps me to grasp the bigger things.  For instance, today I realized that the weather is exactly the kind I missed while I lived in the tropics–cool but sunny.  I like cool air and blue skies.   I also noticed a sign on the garbage dumpster that said “This is a private container.”  The sign was further explained by the plea to keep the dumpster full of the trash from the people who live in our building; “No outside dumpings.”  But I read into the first part and thought about its truth on another level: our garbage bags are full of private information that we might not necessarily want other people to know about.  My cousin wrote a poem about this once.

Once I get this kind of alertness down, I can start concentrating on the larger truths of my life:  I have the opportunity to learn, I have people reading my writing and my writing is going to improve, Salman Rushdie is coming to campus and I’m going to hear a master in my own backyard.  Then I can think about the largest truths:  I have people in my life to love and a God who loves me, who wants me to redirect everything I’m learning into some way to love people.  And He’s going to help me do it.

Going along with the last note, let me bring up my Spanish class.  I failed my first Spanish quiz because I misread “indefinite articles” and filled in a bunch of “definite articles,” which made me lose 8 points out of 20.  This really set me off on the wrong foot with learning Spanish.  Suddenly it became all about grammar and avoiding stupid mistakes– less about loving the language, less about wanting to speak Spanish.  After thinking it through, I ask those of you who pray to pray that I will approach my Spanish class with a different perspective.  Pray that I’ll learn to love the Spanish language and that I will be able to redirect that love for Spanish into opportunities where I will be able to communicate with Spanish speakers.  Because they are who this endeavor is really about–the opportunity to interact with a broader base than my current language skills currently allow me to interact with.   I’ve already seen how knowing some Thai helps me to cross a barrier with a wide range of Thai people.  Noticing this makes me want to learn every language I have within my grasp.  Spanish is a language that I can use here in the States… Pray that I’ll be able to approach my Spanish quizzes with this in mind.

As always, it’s good to be here…

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I’ve been thinking a lot about the  word conversation and so here are some of my thoughts. They are vague and philosophical thoughts, but hopefully I’m hitting on something concrete here.

1) A relationship with God is a conversation

In that book I read, Eat Pray Love, the author (Elizabeth Gilbert) says that prayer is the act of talking to God and meditation is the act of listening to God. I have never really meditated in the way she speaks of (the yoga way, I guess)–I really wouldn’t know where to start. I am willing to learn, but I’m not sure what I think of the concept. Actually, I don’t really know what it is. P’Nui says she counts her steps to meditate. I’ve done that before, and I like doing that, but I wouldn’t call that meditation, I’d call it concentration, which is extremely valuable for me as a writer, or for anyone who needs to concentrate on anything. 🙂

But sitting down with my hands cupped and breathing–I just don’t understand it. I’m willing to take on the challenge of shutting off my mind, but I don’t see the difference between that and sleeping. And to tell you the truth, I have so many wild and vivid dreams that I don’t believe my mind ever shuts off. Maybe I should learn how to meditate, to stop the chatter. Any thoughts or words of advice on this would be appreciated…

Yet when it comes to meditating on things, this I feel like I understand. My brain is constantly grappling with ideas–working things out. I guess this is the closest experience I have to listening to God. Sometimes it seems that I can feel God’s words. The ones that bring me peace–that’s how I know it’s God. Sometimes words settle me and I say He is the one doing the settling. At other times, I just get a great idea that seems like a piece of the puzzle in trying to figure out who God is. This great idea sometimes comes with days or months of grappling with all the evidence. This is another way God speaks to me, answers prayers, and adds to the conversation He’s having with me.

2) There is a conversation going on

One of my favorite things about Jesus is that he invites us to seek after truth. When we read literature, watch movies (with substance), experience any kind of art, and talk to the people around us, we have an opportunity to be alert, to listen, and to learn something true. I like to think that Truth is tangible, it’s not always relative, but there is something concrete to grasp that is true for everyone. And the closest humans have gotten to experience this universal truth is love, which Christians (and tons people belonging to other schools of thought) often equate with God himself. When Jesus says “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life,” I think He is revealing himself in all that we seek. The Good Way (which is in Buddhism as dharma) is apparent to everyone–we all have a sense of right and wrong. This way, just like Truth, and Life, is for everyone. It is not as restricted as we often like to restrict it (maybe through denominational/religious doctrine). I want to live as though my life is a conversation that will reveal these three aspects of Jesus to me.

3) Art is the limitless way we express ourselves in the conversation

Conversation isn’t limited to artists or bohemians, or talent for that matter. Any time we interact with someone, we have opportunity for the conversation. But I believe that God, out of love, put the gift of creativity in the world so that this conversation can be interesting and dynamic. And even if we’re not the creators ourselves, art is there for us to experience. Some people express themselves through food. Others on a canvas, a page, a stage, a screen, a vegetable garden. And music! Music is probably the most fascinating way we experience this conversation. God can reveal his truth in all of these things.

This helps me to understand what I mean when I say I want to create art. Lots of times, my creation is writing non-fiction, which, to me, is the same as talking on a page. Or on a screen, like I’m doing now. But when I craft a fictional story, I am taking the conversation to a new dimension. But the goal is the same–to seek, to learn, and to express everything I know to be true so that I may add it to the conversation.

4) The conversation isn’t limited to creative-types.

We can work at an automotive company (ha!) and contribute to the conversation. It’s really just the act of expressing what we know and listening for a response, all the while seeking, seeking, and seeking after the Way, the Truth, and the Life. Or Love. Or God. Or all of it together. We might progress further in this conversation on a trip to the gas station than we would reading an entire anthology of philosophical or religious thought. All it takes is the ability to know when to speak and when to listen.

I definitely need to improve my ability to listen. Maybe this is what meditation is all about. I hope one day I will find out.

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