Dear Friends in Christ,
Since before he graduated out of a high chair and into a big boy seat at our dinner table my grandson, Cooper, now age 8, sits at my right hand. Formal dining etiquette suggests that this is a place of honor. I’m not sure Cooper thinks it is and, frankly, neither do I; it just works for us and, not so incidentally, it leaves the place at my left hand for Cooper’s cousin, Allison.
I treasure the time I spend at the dinner table with my two oldest grandchildren because, while the other adults are talking and dealing with the younger siblings, I have the opportunity to catch up on what’s happening at school, in basketball, cello lessons, etc. Unfortunately, as some of you have also found, a little conversation with me goes a long way and so, as soon as the meat has been finished and the last peas have been gobbled up or spit into a napkin Cooper wants to leave the table. I don’t take this desire personally; I think most kids want to get on with whatever is next and sitting at the table seems so, let me use a word that is outlawed in my house, “boring!” So, while the last bit of food is being chewed Cooper often jumps up in an attempt to move on.
I’m not completely unsympathetic to Cooper’s plight. I remember what seemed to be interminable sessions in Grandpa Morgan’s bedroom when we went for a visit and my grandfather had meticulously planned what he wanted to talk about with “Ricky.” I remember asking my mother, prior to one visit, to rescue me after a period of time so I could gain early release from this interaction where, I must admit, I learned valuable things about missionaries, geography and probably one of the most important life lessons which I still heed today – always keep your shoes shined and be sure to put a coat of polish on them before you wear them for the first itme!
Unfortunately for Cooper, my right side is my good side so, as quickly as Cooper rises and pushes his chair back I spring out to him with “the claw” and pull him to my side, saying “Stay here with me, Cooper; let’s have some conversation.” We’ve done this often enough now so that Cooper says the word “conversation” with great emphasis and in unison with me and then we laugh together.
I’m thinking about conversation because our pastor, Nate, the architect of our current sermon series on evangelism has assigned me a text in Isaiah 1 with the subtitle Our Conversations About Jesus which I will deliver one week from Sunday. The text is familiar: “Come now, let us reason together” says the Lord. This is an invitation from God, Himself, to ‘stay here with Me and let’s have some conversation.’
When I traveled to Kansas City a few weeks ago I came across a book that was referenced in an article I was reading in an airline magazine. I was so taken by the topic, the title and the review that during my short layover in Charlotte I ran to the bookstore and purchased the book. It is entitled Reclaiming Conversation: The Power of Talk in a Digital Age. It is one of the most important books we can read and I commend it to all.
The book has captured my attention because it addresses concerns that are prompted by my observations in my own family, the church and in public, generally, which is the decline of conversation provoked, in part, by our focus on digital media and the sometimes obscene amount of attention given to so-called “screen time.” I’ve kidded my grandchildren by calling them “screen zombies” and have warned them that there will come a day when all of their extremities will atrophy with the exception of their thumbs. Mary has threatened to collect all cellphones and tablets in a basket prior to saying grace at mealtime.
The loss of conversation, due in part, but not exclusively to digital media, is a concern because of the important things that conversation does, as delineated by Reclaiming author Sherry Turkle.
Face to face conversation is the most human – and humanizing – thing we do. Fully present to one another, we learn to listen. It’s where we develop the capacity for empathy. It’s where we experience the joy of being heard, of being understood. And conversation advances self-reflection, the conversations with ourselves that are the cornerstone of early development and continue throughout life (p. 3).
Turkle suggests that our mania with media and technologies has silenced us, “cured us of talking,” the most grievous result of which, in children, is the loss of empathy which she documents through numerous studies as a researcher in social studies at MIT.
The loss of interest and facility in conversation has serious implications for believers and for the church, too. If we do not know how to have conversation how can we talk to God? How can we talk to others about God? How can we talk to ourselves about what we think, believe, feel, desire, intend? How can we be and become the fullness of what God has intended us to be and become? If it is true that the loss of conversation is leading to a loss of empathy how can we develop a heart for God and a heart for those who are hurting, afraid and lost?
When cellphone usage first exploded and reception was often spotty the question that came into vogue was “Can you hear me now?” We even used it as a Vacation Bible School theme. When the question was asked previously the answer may have been “No, I don’t have good reception.” How tragic it will be when there is no answer to the question because no one desires or is able to talk about it.
“…and the Lord said…”
Faithfully in Christ,
Posted on Fri, January 15, 2016
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