Archive for September 2011
If it makes you think of blue-haired older women drinking tea and serving Jello salad in a musty church basement—like I did—then you need rehab.
A few of us are making our way through an ancient text: a very old letter from around the first century. The writer said he had seen and heard and touched a man claiming to be God. This writer, eager to connect with his audience, was also eager for his audience to connect with this Man (the writer said his “joy would be complete” if they also had “fellowship”). That’s because there was something about “fellowship” that was not just “nice” and way more even than “robust.” As one of our readers put it: “these first few lines are awesome.” The writer opened an invitation to some kind of life and some kind of relationship that was well beyond ordinary human experience. The open invitation hints at far more than idle conversation. The writer invites full-on partnership/participation/relationship with this God and God-Man and the other people known to both.
Which is awesome. And becoming more so every day.
I see the notion of “fellowship” changing before my eyes.
“…Words work as stepping-stones through confusion to resolution.” — Marilyn Chandler McEntyre in Caring for Words in a Culture of Lies
This happens in ordinary conversation: I start my explanation with one set of words and end up in quite another place. Often the conversation takes me from confusion to resolution. But more often I come to the end of what I’d never planned on saying with a new insight or a new question that needs answering (if only in my own mind).
But Marilyn Chandler McEntyre was actually talking about the way prayer works in the above quote. She had been quoting a poem by Gerald Manly Hopkins. Here’s how she finished the quote:
“What begins as argument ends in an act of vulnerability and self-yielding. The words we encounter along the way [from GHM’s poem]—just, contend, plead, disappoint, friend—offer stopping points for reflection upon our paradoxical situation before God: familiar and strange, bound by law and freed by grace, fulfilling and frustrating, longing satisfied.”
I had not been familiar with Hopkins’ poem. But the words I encounter in the Psalms offer movement from argument to self-yielding with stopping points for reflection—and the entire Psalter functions like a bolus of spot-on conversation.
Ours is a transactional economy: we pay cash-money (well, plastic money) for a product or service. We don’t need a relationship with the product or service provider. Our cash-money relieves us from relationship and moves us to ownership. In a gift economy (See Lewis Hyde’s The Gift) we receive a gift and are obligated to a relationship. We give the gift back, though not to the one who gave it to us. We give the gift on to someone else. The gift finds its way back.
Is conversation a gift or a transaction? The answer is yes. But where does conversation live as a spontaneous wild-child?
Image via 2headedsnake
May she judge her team with righteousness,
And those with a steep learning curve with hope.
Let the mountains bear prosperity as she credits workers for their work.
May he listen to the wisdom of the poor and experienced on his team
and defend their cause.
May righteousness and honesty flourish under him,
So the team has success and all they touch may progress.
Turn his ignorant bloviating
To intelligent questions.
Set her mind on reaching out with wisdom and skill to others
Rather than hunkering in protective maneuvers.
Free his tongue to utter truth
Rather than reacting with clichés that obscure ignorance.
Separate her ego from the work
So she can direct her team and fix her talents on our larger goals
In her days may the righteous flourish and peace abound, till the moon be no more!
In her excellent Caring for Words in a Culture of Lies, Marilyn Chandler McEntyre wrote of a text as a place or a space to be entered. She wrote of entering the antebellum world of Gone with the Wind, or the restful city of Rivendell or the caves of Moria:
“When we enter a story, we leave something behind. We suspend disbelief, abandon the social contract that normally binds us and adopt a new one. We consent to the terms of the story, navigate its spaces…. “(72)
I’ve taken to heart (and begun to practice) the sharing of threshold stories when I teach. My hope is the story will help us capture that sense of “entering a space” though it is a discussion-space rather than a story. Sharing some story that helps us cross a threshold, that presents a wider or longer horizon than any of us had before class and so hints at what could be—that is the goal.
The best stories give a bit of information and also elicit a visceral reaction. A couple days ago I used this old commercial in my writing for organizations class. It became a threshold story as we talked about how best to prepare for writing. Many students—laboring to write papers they may or may not be interested in—do the least the assignment requires. But doing the least is not rewarded when working for clients. There is a lot to say about chumming the waters (with information and purpose/audience thinking) to come up with really good ideas. Threshold stories can also play a huge role in our regular conversations. A good story can open warehouses of good conversation.
What threshold story have you heard recently?