Archives For Communication

Л. Н.Толстой рассказывает сказку внукам. 1909

The quote below, taken from Tolstoy’s ‘A Confession’, reads like a critique of the leviathan that is social media:

We were all then convinced that it was necessary for us to speak, write, and print as quickly as possible and as much as possible, and that it was all wanted for the good of humanity. And thousands of us, contradicting and abusing one another, all printed and wrote — teaching others. And without noticing that we knew nothing, and that to the simplest of life’s questions:
What is good and what is evil? We did not know how to reply, we all talked at the same time, not listening to one another, sometimes seconding and praising one another in order to be seconded and praised in turn, sometimes getting angry with one another — just as in a lunatic asylum.
Thousands of workmen laboured to the extreme limit of their strength day and night, setting the type and printing millions of words which the post carried all over Russia, and we still went on teaching and could in no way find time to teach enough, and were always angry that sufficient attention was not paid us. It was terribly strange, but is now quite comprehensible. Our real innermost concern was to get as much money and praise as possible. To gain that end we could do nothing except write books and papers. So we did that’[i].

Of course, it is anachronistic to suggest that Tolstoy was talking about social media as we know it. Tolstoy’s words are, however, a critique of 19th Century, Russian media, its medium and the noise therein. Therefore, they are an early critique of the content and form which makes up a large part of social media. As such, they are a relevant criticism for us to take seriously, particularly when applying them to a 21st Century context.

Today, Henry Ergas from ‘The Australian’, made an interesting observation. In writing about sensitive information, how it is monitored, distributed and delivered. He provided an historical insight, which although topically unrelated, helps us to contextually frame the sharp poignancy of Tolstoy’s reflection:

“19th century’s Pax Brittanica, was built on a solid technological foundation: Britain’s control of global telegraphy. As late as 1890, 80 per cent of the world’s submarine cables were British; Britain ruled the wires even more decisively than she ruled the waves… The sophistication of today’s communications networks is obviously many orders of magnitude that of Britain’s global telegraph system. In 2012, daily internet traffic was in the order of 1.1 exabytes, one billion times more every day than the 19th century system could carry in a year. And the growth rates remain breathtaking: wireless traffic alone is now eight times larger than the entire internet in 2000[ii]

If Ergas’ facts are correct, that is a lot of information being exchanged. For better or worse we engage, encode, disengage and decipher information at ‘breathtaking’ speeds. Matthew McKay suggests that ‘55% of all communication is mostly facial expressions’[v]. Thus, my conclusion is that because most of the information exchanged via social media is in written form, it seriously limits our ability to receive a message, in the same way it was intended to be received by the author. (there are many examples of how comments have been wrongly interpreted).

I consider Tolstoy’s reflection a full-stop. An important interruption that encourages us to take a breath and ask ourselves:

  • Is the information we are consuming authentic, well-informed, or is it just propaganda; distortion (noise)?

Further questions might be:

  • Are we consuming information without really processing and retaining what it is being said?
  • Who is saying this, and why are they saying it?
  • Is the source trustworthy?
  • Will my time be well spent reading this or not?

There is a further word worthy of consideration here. Augustine, in his day, had this to say about grace and human nature:

…’many sins are committed through pride; but not all happen proudly. They happen so often by ignorance, by human weakness, and many are committed by people, weeping and groaning in their distress[iii]

Perhaps there is a timeless clarity by which these words help us to reflect on the interpersonal conduct, and content of the information exchanged on most prominent social media sites today?

Diary of Leo Tolstoy

Diary of Leo Tolstoy (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Even with all its pitfalls, the strength of social media is in its ability to connect people and strengthen relationships. I remain a cautious participant of social media, aware of its limited ability to ‘properly allow a healthy and fair exchange of ideas’ (Elshtain, 2007). Therefore, I find here in Augustine and Tolstoy’s words, a reminder about the limits and the responsibility which coincides with the right to use such mediums. Augustine’s insight here could be bridged to Tolstoy’s reflection, and therefore buttress our proposition. Their words present us with a useful framework for a theological critique of social media.

Finally, if we look at Proverbs 4:20-5:6, we can see a parallel logic that could exonerate this train of thought.

Be attentive to God’s word

Keeping them close.

Guard your heart with vigilance,

Avoiding spin and smear.

(“Refusing to be conned by the rhetoric of either the new right or the new left’’)[iv]

Looking forward, ponder the path of our feet.

Be attentive to wisdom.

Use words that guard knowledge,

And ponder the path of life.


Related articles

Tolstoy’s Faith – GVL

The Who, What And When Of Social Media – RVD, The Christian Pundit

Sources:


[i] Tolstoy, L. 1879 A Confession (Kindle for PC ed. Loc. 92-100).
[ii] Ergas, H. 2013 Wrong for Abbott to follow Obama and add lying to spying, The Australian, Sourced 25th November 2013
[iii] Augustine, ON NATURE AND GRACE (With Active Table of Contents) Kindle Ed. Loc. 704-706
[iv] Wright, N.T. 2013 Creation, Power and Truth: The gospel in a world of cultural confusion, SPCK & Proverbs 4:27
[v] McKay, M., Martha, D. & Fanning, P. 2009 Messages: The communications skill book p.59, New Harbinger publications

©RL2013

Postal Ambiguity

July 23, 2015 — Leave a comment

Postal Ambiguity

I liked the joke that was posted.

That one they posted,

Posted not too long ago.

It was a post that I liked;

A good post.

Posted, not too long ago.

You might know the post.

It’s the joke that was posted.

The one they posted.

A post about a joke, posted, not too long ago.


(RL2015)

Calvin quote John CommentaryBuilding a stronghold against our insecurities means being honest with ourselves about our strengths and limitations.

There is the issue of anxiety, of course, but once insecurity is pushed back, the natural response we feel when we experience anxiety can be used to fuel those strengths and improve any limitations.

As Brene Brown (2010) brilliantly highlights in her book ‘The Gifts of Imperfection’, any extreme uneasiness that we may feel is unmanageable becomes instead an energizing motif that motivates us to be free, but responsible, with our vulnerability.

Wholeheartedness requires ordinary courage…Courage originally meant “To speak one’s mind by telling all one’s heart.” Ordinary courage is about putting our vulnerability on the line. In today’s world, that’s pretty extraordinary’[i].

This doesn’t expel with reason and boundaries, in what and how we communicate. Brown’s conclusion involves discernment as much as it involves seeing that extraordinary courage is about being wholeheartedly courageous in the ordinary.

There have been times when I’ve ‘dropped the ball’. I struggle with the echoes of a broken past and I’ve encountered issues with insecurity in communication. These are times when I haven’t kept or been able to keep insecurity and anxiety in check. An example of this is the headline of a post a few weeks back where I misspelled the word ‘disposition’ (since corrected).

I’d like to think that those posts and mistakes are extremely rare, and only exist as an anomaly in an otherwise informative, (albeit eclectic?), sometimes deep but accessible, theological blog. It would be unrealistic and ultimately unhelpful to think that those flaws didn’t exist.

Those of you who are writers with dysfunctional upbringings, or those who are regular readers here will know what I mean.

My point is that we all in some way combat our own sense of inadequacy and no matter how hard we try, the stress caused by that battle, like scars, will sometimes show.

Think about how many times you may find yourself fighting off self-condemnation when we fail to nail that ever elusive ‘perfect’ blog post.

Insecurity can hinder our goals, which for me is seeking to make Karl Barth, et.al, more accessible. If I gave in, I’d post nothing, fearing rejection; that any contributions to theology that I might make is seen as superfluous because of where I come from. However, to give in to this would be a mistake because it means surrendering my strengths, by allowing myself to be overwhelmed by my limitations – some inherited, some conditioned and others of my own making.

{I don’t mean the careful editing process any writer needs to allow room for; I’m referring to the O.C.D tendency that is attached to excessive editing caused when a writer or artist compares their style of writing and content to others we may see as being ”better than” ourselves.}

In the end our writing and the publishing of that work is an act of faith.

In the end it belongs to God. It requires resting broken, fallible words into His infallible hands, for Him to mold and use as He wills.

There, in our nightmares, we who cry out almost breathlessly, ‘Jesus please help me’, will hear the words “Jesus is Victor” spoken back to us; and as the nightmare fades on our hearts realignment with this truth, God, through the Holy Spirit, will teach us how, even in the midst of our breathtaking-tears, we can still find life.

This is where one of Calvin’s statements in his commentary on John finds traction today:

Christ’s voice gives life; As Christ is the only mirror of the grace of God, we are taught…that we ought not to judge the love of God from the condition which we see before our eyes’[ii]

Once we neutralize our insecurity by telling ourselves the truth, by trusting in God’s claim on us that says we are capable, accepted, and loved, we begin our journey towards eliminating the obstacles that stop clear and effective communication.

This will, from the beginning, make us better people, more authentic Christians and better communicators.

Sources:

[i] Brown, B. 2010 The Gifts of Imperfection Hazelden Kindle Ed. (p.12-13)

[ii] Calvin, J: 1509-1564 Commentary of John Sourced from CCEL.org (p.364-365)

 

When it comes to improving context and expression on social media, #hashtags can empower written communication.

For example #hashtags can provide:

 sharp relief…

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Image: AdamRobertsEF, sourced from Flickr 27th May 2014

They do this by allowing improved delivery of the message. Such as providing context, enhancing dialogue and uplifting an otherwise impoverished form of expression. Hashtags allow the author and the reader to reach beyond the limitations of non-verbal, faceless communication.

However, used on their own #hashtags can be:

hashtags

Jasmine Henry, writing for ragan.com, suggests six areas of social media etiquette where businesses (and I think people in general) should use caution when wielding the might of the hashtag.

Jasmine writes:

First, beware of using ‘too many hashtags. Overuse is annoying and can be difficult to read’.

Second, be careful of the ‘irrelevant use of hashtags.’ There’s no need to hashtag every post.

Third, proper social media etiquette requires a limit of only ‘three to four words’ behind a hashtag. This allows for improved readability.

Fourth, don’t ‘over promote a self-made hashtag‘. Be careful you’re not over stating what is obvious to the reader.

Fifth, understand the mechanics behind hashtags. ‘Be considerate of the trend in order to avoid looking like you are jumping into a pre-existing conversation without having something relevant to contribute to that conversation.’

Lastly, be sure that the hashtag relates to the trend. Avoid ‘hashtag sampling, by misusing or miscalculating the contextual meaning within a hashtag trend’

The Church would do well to not overlook the usefulness, significance and potential of hashtags. Their use allows for bridge building as the hashtag mechanics can carry the message further. One outcome suggested by a hypothetical scenario might be when a person in need of encouragement lands upon a ”trend” directing them back to the Gospel, or the sender opening up opportunity for fellowship, responsible care and/or contextual mission.

Some of us might be unaware of this ”etiquette”, since a lot of people are all awkwardly still working out how to use this technology in community. I had some idea, but it wasn’t until I looked more into it that I realised the use of hashtags is actually not a bad thing.

The fuss in using hashtags appears to involve nothing more than concerns about their overuse and the uncertainly of their usefulness, significance and potential.

These are also important points here that can be made about how this relates to pastoral care and evangelism in an online mirco-blogging environment. For instance, hashtags can avoid a passive aggressive tone when presenting shared material. In a pre-emptive sense, used properly hashtags have the potential to defuse rather than ignite misgivings about the Church, the Bible and God.

As long as the mechanics are understood and not hindered by their programmers or our own poorly considered words, the hashtag allows a way for us to reinforce the context of what we are trying to say. As result we have a way to overcome the limitations of faceless-expressionless communication and the obstacle of misunderstandings unique to social media.

 

hashtag Merriam_Webster

Image: Merriam-Webster

 

Source:

Henry, J. 2012 The 6 most irritating ways to use hashtags on Twitter, sourced from ragan.com

Bridging the Unbridgeable

December 12, 2013 — 1 Comment

Advent day 12: Peace, Goodwill and Reconciliation.

Original design_picmonkey_GVL_RLquoteDecember12122013Advent

A common ground of understanding is the impetus that moves a relationship from the barbarism of blame and “put downs”, to the effective deliberations of civil discourse. Moving beyond current understandings does not mean removing boundaries. Instead its primary goal is to secure a mutual reciprocity between people in order to establish a respectful line of communication, and therefore mutual benefit.

We can do this whilst keeping a firm hold on our wits. However, there can be no real peace without forgiveness and understanding.

Meaning, if we truly are a victim, we do not forget the abuse, rather we apply an understanding to the act of forgiving. This should fuel our momentum towards emotional and psychological liberation. Not as it does in some cases, fuel a victim politic.

The reverb of abuse can linger long after the abuse has stopped.  Sometimes these effects prolong suffering and deteriorate what opportunity there is to reconcile ourselves to the truth. Coinciding with this is easily giving in to the temptation of avoidance strategies.  For example: reactions such as: “the silent treatment” – a deviancy control technique and passive aggressive tool. Or covert-aggressive put-downs strategically placed into comments, smug remarks or throw backs like answering a question with a question.

These “echoes from the past” exhibit themselves in “negative patterns of behaviour”, such as addictions, rage, resentment, a plethora of failed relationships with otherwise well-balanced people, and the list can go on.

To say that there can be no peace without forgiveness and understanding is to recognise that the desire to establish peace and understanding must be generated from a source outside ourselves.

We, sinful, broken human beings need help.

Bridging over a chasm of hurt deemed unbridgeable is to reject nothingness. We overcome this abyss by acknowledging that we are enabled by God to do so. An unbridgeable bridge may manifest itself in the recognition that identifies a need for professional counselling, medication or a period of mourning to allow us to grieve the loss of relationship well.

Along with this Gospel ethics (grace and law) teaches us to reach for forgiveness in the power of God as Father, Son and Holy Spirit,  ‘keeping the commandments and holding to the testimony of Jesus’ (Rev.12:17, ESV). Total forgiveness does not entail forgetting the abuse or remaining in a cycle of abuse. Rather, it translates in responsible, just actions that move the abused to safety and towards healing.

John writes:

‘they have conquered by the blood of the lamb and by the word of their testimony’ (Rev.12:11)

Humans are certainly not powerless outside this because of Jesus the Christ. However, attempts to singularly take on forgiveness without God will overtime lose effectiveness.

This is because it is a rejection of grace; a facade of strength packed inside the image of self. It eventually breaks self, condemns self and alienates us from the community that surrounds us.

Inside the paradigm of broken relationships there comes a time to move on. With or without the bridge of mutual understanding; as difficult as this may be. Being at peace with ourselves; reconciling the past by accepting God’s peace with us is an important step in the process of making a full recovery.

Rejecting grace, on the other hand, surrenders our God-given power. Consequently we become overpowered, beaten and burdened because we failed to acknowledge that on our own steam, we are unable to sustain honest and necessary change.

Paul makes mention of this in his letter to the Corinthian Church writing

‘According to the grace of God-given to me, like a skilled master builder I laid a foundation, and someone else is building upon it. Let each one take care how he builds upon it. For no one can lay a foundation other than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ‘ (1 Cor.3:10 & 11)

As a scholar once said:

‘Jesus Christ is grace in the flesh’[i].

In Christ, God builds a bridge deemed unbridgeable. He reconciles us to Himself and asks for our gratitude and relationship in return because:

 ‘under this name He has revealed Himself. According to Scripture the One who bears this name is the One who in His own ” I ” introduces the concept of sovereignty and every perfection. When the bearer of this name becomes the object of our attention and thoughts, when they are directed to Jesus Christ, then we see God, and our thoughts are fixed on Him.’[ii]

It is in Jesus the Christ that we find the concept of God. Not in elevated opinions drawn from our own presuppositions, or preferences about who we want God to be.

The special message of Advent is that God makes Himself known to us.  Within this is the invitation to recognise Jesus the Christ as the invisible God made visible (Col.1:15-20).


[i] I forget the source for this. I think that it was John Webster, or Karl Rahner.
[ii] Barth, K Church Dogmatics: A Selection With Introduction by Helmut Gollwitzer Kindle for PC Ed.

Medieval words that bounce off the page, and land in the present.

Cath_Siena quote 4_1

This was one of four items that found its way onto my desk this week:

 ‘The Dungeon’ – Coleridge

And this place our forefathers made for man!
This is the process of our love and wisdom,
To each poor brother who offends against us –
 Most innocent, perhaps and what if guilty?
Is this the only cure? Merciful God!
 Each pore and natural outlet shrivelled up
By Ignorance and parching Poverty,
His energies roll back upon his heart,
And stagnate and corrupt; till changed to poison,
They break out on him, like a loathsome plague-spot;
Then we call in our pampered mountebanks –

And this is their best cure! uncomforted
And friendless solitude, groaning and tears,
And savage faces, at the clanking hour,
Seen through the steam and vapours of his dungeon,
By the lamp’s dismal twilight! So he lies
Circled with evil, till his very soul
 Unmoulds its essence, hopelessly deformed
By sights of ever more deformity!

With other ministrations thou, O Nature!
 Healest thy wandering and distempered child:
 Thou pourest on him thy soft influences,
Thy sunny hues, fair forms, and breathing sweets,
Thy melodies of woods, and winds, and waters,
Till he relent, and can no more endure
To be a jarring and a dissonant thing
Amid this general dance and minstrelsy;
But, bursting into tears, wins back his way,
His angry spirit healed and harmonized
By the benignant touch of Love and Beauty.

The other three being my careful reading of Elshtain’s ‘Democracy on Trial’, a brief discussion with someone about the freedom of the Holy Spirit and my recent attachment to a song from Canadian three-piece band, Thousand Foot Krutch.

This may all sound a little dislocated, as in all four genres are unrelated; if so it is because they are and yet they aren’t. The themes within each are similar and it is this discernible connection that has me intrigued.

I have settled on labelling this link ‘permission to speak freely’.  It is a loose category but one that seems to best fit the interwoven nexus observed here.

When I am encountered by something like this I generally make an effort to slow down enough in order to hear what is being said. Some readers will know right away that this repeated and discernible “voice” before us can be the Holy Spirit unveiling some truth, delivering correction or affirming a direction. Although I have some reservations I would agree with that conclusion.

Of course this means that we need to actively discern and then determine whether or not this “word” is free from the manipulation of others or that it isn’t just a construct of our own imagination. Something which might occur because of excessive anxiety or some other ailment.

To do this we examine content critically. Matching what we hear and the form of it with an authority such as the Bible, theology and community. Keeping in mind that: ‘scripture is the primary organ of the voice of God in the church. Thus, it will stand over-against the church; and the voice of God must not be confused with the voice of the church’ (2010:1752-1753, Kindle Ed.).

When we are being constantly made aware of a particular “something”; such as a discernible pattern, theme, consistent word or message, it is likely that God is whispering something sweet as well as potentially transformative into our lives.

The statement ‘permission to speak freely’ is itself to be regarded as being both political and theological. The former, because it is grounded in the promise of the democratic right to freedom of speech (classical liberalism), and the latter because the Christian understanding reveals a reconciliation affected by the incarnation of Christ, between a rebellious and therefore unfree humanity and our free creator.

Humanity can as a consequence, speak and approach Him freely. Realising a living relationship with God can exist, does exist and is one that God longs for. For example the covenant formula: I will be your God and you will be my people.

In sum, the four working theses which can arrived at here:

First: Gagging God may serve to fuel denial of His existence, but in the end it just perpetuates ignorance. This falls in line perhaps with Coleridge’s lament – Humanity ‘lies circled with evil, till his very soul, unmoulds its essence, hopelessly deformed
By sights of ever more deformity!’.

Second: Gagging God does not delegitimise the potency or reality of what He has spoken and still speaks today.

Third: Gagging God as he speaks to us through the Biblical documents is hypocritical and unscientific. Eliminating the possibility for us to hear God, as he speaks, serves a narrow political agenda in much the same way that name dropping Christ in the malicious service of confusing rights with wants does.

Fourth: In gagging God we fall prey to a ‘politics of resentment, the collapse of distinctions where we gradually lose the right to call things by their real names’ (Elshtain 1995:38).  There are multiple examples of this happening. Particularly from the 20th century where citizens in “free” countries have fallen victim to superstition, oppressive regimes, and mundane routines brought about by impersonal industrialization and excessive-sometimes-murderous consumption.

We must allow the God of the Scriptures the same permission to speak (His word) as freely as we allow ourselves to speak. Coleridge’s ‘benignant touch of love and beauty that heals and harmonizes an angry spirit – calls for confession – a bursting into tears’; (benignant: a kindness and warm courtesy from a King to His subjects). If `God speaks to us through communism, a flute concerto, a blossoming shrub, or a dead dog. We do well to listen to Him…the church in its commission must then seek to obey by listening and responding’ (Karl Barth, CD 1.1, 1936:55).

Do you agree with my tentative conclusions here? Rhetorically: If so is there any discernible evidence this week, where the Holy Spirit might have been or is perhaps still speaking to you?

Sources:

Barth, K. 1936 Church Dogmatics 1.1: the doctrine of the Word of God , Hendrickson Publishers
Coleridge, S.T The complete Poems Penguin Classics
Elshtain, J.B 1995 Democracy on Trial, Basic Books Perseus Books Group
Jensen, M &  Wilhite, D. 2010 Church: A Guide for the Perplexed Kindle Edition.

©RL2013