How To Have a Good Conversation

1. Turn off all devices.

2. Listen.

3. Do not interrupt.

4. Ask good questions

5. Find a quiet environment.

6. Add coffee and/or adult beverage–in moderation.

7. Do not do all the talking.

8. Monitor the other persons responses. Are they bored or offended or interested?

9. Try to speak well.

10. Do not complete another person’s sentence unless they are obviously having difficulty finding the correct word. Some people–believe it or not–pause to find the right word. I am one of them. I do not need you to help out, thank you.

11. Pray for the person with whom you are speaking.

12. Before a planned conversation, ask God to work through you to minister to the other person.

13. Do not fear silence.

14. Know when to end it.

Notes on Visiting An Art Museum

Turn off all electronic devices and do not turn them back on until you are far, far from the exhibit. You will live without them for a spell; in fact, you are likely under their spell. Put them in their place and try to open up to new areas of culture and history.

I have found that you need a certain arrangement of people to profit from the experience, unless you are going along (which has its charms, especially for introverts). Some people want the visit to be a socializing event, and thus will talk less about the art than about anything else. If you are an art-lover, this is annoying. Furthermore, to get deeply psychological, some combinations of folks do not work well. Let us say Person A wants to talk about the art with Person B and Person C. But Person B dominated the discussion by clinging on to Person A at the exclusion of Person C of the discussion, thus causing Person C to be ticked off at both Person A and Person B. This is not good.

Going to an exhibit with a painter or expert on art adds much to the experience. If you can do it, listen to that person and ask many questions. If you are an artist or expert, do not be afraid to comment, but not at the expense of the ideas of others with whom you attend the exhibit.

It is usually best to follow the path of the exhibit in a linear fashion, since that was intentional by the curator. However, there are obnoxious people who talk too much or too loudly or both. If so, you may need to skip ahead or lag behind. The alternative of telling off the blokes will not usually work.

Do not rush your way through the artworks. Linger and gaze on them. Look at them from various angles. Read the accompanying textual material, if their is any. Listen to the audio, if available. Ask your companions what they think and why.

When you are finished, you may want to purchase a book that accompanies the exhibit for further reference and reflection. You may even want a print of one or more of the paintings or sculptures. It is best not to immediately jump into some other immersive activity, but to let the experience settle within you.

You should consider visiting a particularly excellent show more than once. I attended “Modern Masters” at the Denver Art Museum four times, once by myself and then with various combinations of friends three other times. Each visit was unique and enjoyable. Even on the fourth visit, I discovered things I had missed the first three times.

Painting is one of culture’s greatest gifts to all of us. Even ugly and off-putting pieces may tell us something significant about culture and history. Deep and great works enlarge our understanding and please our sensorium. Let your mind dwell on these good things, as the Apostle Paul said.

A Short Theology of Listening

In a world scrambled by aimless philosophical speculation and ever-more commercial and marketable religious apostasy and crass superstition, we should exult in our knowledge that we personally bear the very image of God (imago Dei). Consequently, we have the God-given capacity to reasonably and spiritually respond to the Creator-God’s revelation and to know Him personally. We can further rejoice that our Lord Jesus Christ, through His costly grace, has died for the sin that previously blinded our eyes and deafened our ears to spiritual reality (2 Cor. 4:3-6). The Lord has spoken:  in creation, in the Bible, and by his Son—and we have heard and obeyed, by His grace. Jesus preached:  “I tell you the truth, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life” (John 5:24).

Yet how do we listen to Christ’s prophets and teachers and preachers? How do we respond to the spoken word of biblical teaching and preaching? Do we really hear?

In his classic text, Biblical Preaching, Dr. Haddon Robinson affirms the centrality and power of preaching the authoritative word. He says of the Apostle:  “Preaching in Paul’s mind did not consist of a man discussing religion. Instead, God Himself spoke through the personality and the message of a preacher to confront men and women and them to himself.”

God has specially appointed teachers and prophets for equipping the saints and for the building up of the Body (Eph. 4:11, 14). They must be heeded, for they are no less than the spokespeople of God. In an age rebelling against all legitimate authority, during a time when error is enthusiastically embraced and Truth largely shunned, we must become disciplined, earnest listeners to the Truth. It is our privilege; it is our responsibility.

Our worship doesn’t end with the last hymn or chorus before the teaching; rather, our worship shifts from vocally praising God to actively listening to Him. “Hear O Israel,” cried Moses, God’s prophet, “The Lord our God, the LORD is one. Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength” (Deut. 6:4).

Listen . . . with all your might; hear the living and active word. The teaching and preaching of God’s imperishable word is truly a sacred event whereby the Truth penetrates hearts and minds, consciences are quickened, sin is disclosed, salvation is offered, wisdom is imparted . . . if we listen, if we actively engage ourselves in hearing, if we participate as the Holy Spirit works in our midst.

We are all too accustomed to being entertained and passively amused. Television often hypnotizes or anaesthetizes us; it demands little response and by its very nature stimulates stagnation, not spiritual encounter. Video games, cell phones, and internet access offers an endless source of possible distraction. But when we come together as the Body of Christ we come as participants not as spectators, we come to hear and obey the Truth not to be entertained. Neither Moses nor Paul captured their audience through eloquence or style. They were not entertainers but Truth-tellers:  they spoke God’s word with a power that provoked response.  Our Lord, when teaching by parable, alerted his hearers: “Therefore, consider carefully how you listen” (Luke 8:18). We are to be engaged in listening, intent on hearing.

Just as it is morally incumbent upon the teacher or preacher to diligently hunger and thirst after an exegetically and theologically correct message (James 3:1; Matt. 12:36, 37), so it is ethically imperative that the hearers receive and respond to the word—always considering the message according to Scripture. For no human is infallible, and all must be corrected biblically; yet God in His mercy uses these earthen vessels “to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us” (2 Cor. 4:7).

Sound biblical teaching and preaching when illumined by the Spirit is a transaction of grace: needed Truth is dynamically imparted to both redeemed and unredeemed sinners through the spoken word—a momentous event! It’s not just another Sunday’s half hour, not just another “religious” routine. The gracious gifts of the Spirit are to freely operate with the wind of the Spirit filling our sails and refreshing our hearts.

Practically, we must regain a biblical reverence, a fear and trembling before our Maker (Prov. 1:6). As a teacher and a preacher, I know the meaning of the congregation’s eye contact, facial expressions, and posture. Yes, in a way it is the speaker’s responsibility to provoke the interest of the hearers. But it is equally our responsibility to listen and to help the speakers by demonstrating an interest. This may require a sacrifice if you are not naturally captivated—but isn’t that the essence of following Christ—sacrifice (Romans 12:1-2)?

We obey what we have truly heard; we truly hear what we dedicate ourselves to hearing “and the message is heard through the word of Christ” (Rom. 10:17).  “Hear O Israel.” “Let everyone be quick to hear” (James 1:19) that the Lord may be honored, revered, and obeyed.

Save the Pen, Paper, and Ink

Pen, paper, and ink win out after all. This article from Scientific American says that taking hand-written notes is more conducive to learning than using a laptop. I have long banned laptops from my classrooms, but this piece gives me even more evidence for my curmudgeonly rule.

Laptop users tend to write faster, which seems to be a benefit. Not so. The typists tend to take what is said and repeat it in their notes, thus tending to rote recording of material. The pen and paper crowd writes more slowly, but–and this is key–synthesize what they hear before they write. That is, instead of being stenographers (though the rapidity of the technology), they are more like students (who organize ideas into their writing).

The authors also mention that those using a laptop spend, on average, spend 40% of their time on line doing things totally unrelated to the classroom. That is diversion with a digital vengeance.

Faster is not always better. Technologies may as easily impede learning as promote it.

America Today: 1984 and Brave New World

George Orwell’s novel 1984 and Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World are each prophetic dystopian works. Both have come true in different ways in these United States. Neil Postman first drew my attention to the differing visions in Amusing Ourselves to Death.

Orwell wrote of the omnipotent state–“Big Brother is Watching”–that controls the population from the top down. (C.S. Lewis wrote of the threat of “the omnicompetent state” in The Abolition of Man,) Privacy is nearly dead and the state aspires to omniscience to control its slaves.

Huxley warned of a culture that self-medicates itself to death by entertainment: “the feelies” (full sensory immersion) and soma (the recreational drug). In his vision, the population denudes itself of critical faculties through voluntary oblivion.

America has realized both nightmares. Through “amusing ourselves to death” (Neil Postman) we have lost our ability to critique the omnipotent state seen in the Obama regime. Given our immersion in entertainment technologies, our shortened attention spans and “low information voters” (that is, ignoramuses), we have led a power-mad manipulator become President, a man who flagrently disregards and violates the Constitution of the United States. Why care? If one is sleepwalking or sleep-running, distracted by endless stimulation, there is no reason to care–if we still have our toys. The legalization of canabis is another indicator of the passive, escapist mentality.

Ala 1984, spying on citizens has reached a new low. Cameras are everywhere. Drones can spy and kill.

In a nutshell, Brave New World leads to 1984. Those drugged into oblivion lack the resources to resist the intrusions and excesses of the civil government. So what can be done?

Work at rebuilding a foundation for a better civilization, which is probably long in the future. Be countercultural by educating your own children; do not give them over to statist indoctrination. Be critical of the technologies you use. Study the past so you are not controlled by the zeitgeist. Have a transcendent and true point of reference by submitting to the God of the Bible. Think through your philosophy of protest and resistance.

The Best Voice To Use is Your Own

Justified Faith

A word to teachers, pastors, and other public speakers: Don’t try to sound like anyone but the best version of yourself. If you sound radically different on stage than you would over a cup of coffee, it is distracting and sounds glaringly inauthentic to those listening. When you develop and strengthen your own voice, you are better able to keep yourself from obscuring your message.

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