A LOVE SUPREME

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Thursday, April 12, 2007

Listening for what you don't hear

Postmodern theorists take a lot of flak from my fellow conservatives for undercutting the intent of the author. Much of this is deserved. After all, Barthes did eulogize the death of the author...er, actually, he celebrated it.....However, let me simply say that from postmodern literary theory we can see the emergence of a closer reading of the text. Ironic? No doubt. However, one thing we are now paying closer attention to is to what is not said. Doyle had a post on this a few days back on the anti-creeds. What did the ancient Christian creeds not say? What did they leave out? He and I had some interesting disagreements, and as such I was thinking about it this morning.

Now, we have always known that we should "read between the lines" and that sometimes it is what is not said that is more important than what is said. For example, any guy in a long-term relationship knows that the most important things to his girlfriend will not be stated in words! However, he is just as culpable (if not more so) for whether he is able to interpret and apply the unspoken.

Ironically, another example of the unspoken was in my inbox this morning. This summer I will finish my Master's degree in biblical studies, and as such I am applying to some Christian high schools as a Bible teacher. My biggest drawback is no teaching experience. So, I received this response to one of my resume submissions:

Thank you for your interest. We have a number of candidates with
teaching experience. Please contact us in a few years if the Lord
directs.


Ouch! He didn't say, "We are not interested in interviewing you because you don't have teaching experience," but he didn't have to. As is typical amongst us Christians he took an indirect route and couched it in spiritual terms, rather than stating directly what he wanted to say. An example of communicating by what is not said.

How 'bout an example from the advertising world?? This is where it gets really interesting. Remember Mars Blackman and Michael Jordan way back in the 80's? "It's gotta' be the shoes!" Back in those days, the shoes were in our face for the whole commercial! It's a thirty second spot and we see the shoes how many times???



But now a days we don't have to see the shoes anymore. We have been trained by Mars and Michael to identify with our sports heros by wearing their gear and especially the shoes. So, take this LeBron James commercial. LeBron is the heir to Jordan's Nike throne. (Nike nicknamed him "The King.") This commercial is absolutely brilliant. But it has nothing to do with shoes. (We see one quick cut of the shoes, themselves.) The focus is on the fictional characters and the ongoing narrative and dialogue.



Nothing to do with the shoes? Are we kidding ourselves? It still has everything to do with the shoes. The shoes are the unspoken. Check out this one. More brand marketing. This time we don't get any clips of the shoes, at all. It is simply a LeBron hype. Exalt the person. Exalt the image.



What is not said is "buy the shoes." What is, in fact, said is "buy the shoes!" It is what is not said that is said the loudest.

I'm currently doing some exegesis and interpretation of Jonah chapter four. This is the part of the book where Jonah is angry (very, very angry) that God has not destroyed Nineveh, and Jonah has set up camp outside the city to watch it be destroyed. At the beginning of the chapter God asks Jonah an interesting question, "Do you have a right to be angry?" Or it can be alternatively translated as, "Do you do well to be angry?" Question: Does God ever give Jonah/us an answer?

Is it the things God does not say that he sometimes says the loudest?

20 comments:

Melody said...

The question is the answer, it's there to point out Jonah's emphatic lack of ability to say, "YES!"

A similar situation occures in Job when God asks Jonah for several chapters who he thinks he is...pointing out, through questions, that Job wasn't there for the creation of the world and cannot even measure creation and therefore has no right to question the one who can.

I don't know that I consider that to leave things unsaid, it's just implicit rather than explicit.

I realize that implicit statements cause trouble for guys...but leaving something unsaid involves making no reference to it at all.

When a girl talks about an social event without inviting the other girl along in some manner. The idea that the other girl is not welcome to come is neither explicit or implicitly stated, but it is still part of the interaction.

Or, in the Bible...Paul talks about the requirements for a man to become an elder...what is left unsaid is that women (at least in that culture) are not elders.

Jonathan Erdman said...

I realize that implicit statements cause trouble for guys...but leaving something unsaid involves making no reference to it at all.

Right. Which is why in a relationship a guy has to constantly wonder what it is he is supposed to be picking up on. What am I missing??? Of course, I usually just go along my merry way until the situation blows up!

Or, in the Bible...Paul talks about the requirements for a man to become an elder...what is left unsaid is that women (at least in that culture) are not elders.

That's another good example....not as good as my examples, of course, but then again did I really need to say that??!! =)

Melody said...

Which is why in a relationship a guy has to constantly wonder what it is he is supposed to be picking up on. What am I missing???
While the girl is wondering how she can possibly make this any clearer without being rude. If she were that blunt with a girl it would be insulting and pushy...with a guy it's just making things clear.

That's another good example....not as good as my examples, of course,

It's a different scenario...Paul makes no reference to women, what-so-ever, where as God very definately brings up the subject of the person's inadequacy.

Jon said...

Anther good example: The Gospel of Mark (ending at 16:8). In Mark, the disciples are pretty much clueless, and they never "get" Jesus' message. We never see Jesus after he has risen, and the women at the grave run away after seeing the angel and tell no one what they saw. All of this leaves you wondering how will I respond to Jesus? Will I be like the disciples, or will I "get" it?

Sorry about your email response. You should email them back and tell them the Lord showed you in a vision that you need to teach there. I would like to see a response to that!

samlcarr said...

in a funny way, by deconstructing we also get into the hidden part of the author through the text. It is what didn't the author say? even when we don't say it...

ktismatics said...

Interesting tour through the history of an ad campaign. Do these Nike commercials work if we don't already have the shoes in our heads? The unspoken, unconscious motivations are powerful not because they reflect some deep personal foot fetish compulsion, but because the motivation is automatic. You don't have to think about it any more; you "just do it."

The unspoken in romantic relationships from the other side... "I love you." Is it unspoken because it "goes without saying," or because everybody knows that guys are no good at expressing their feelings, or because it isn't true?

Melody said...

Re: the romantic relationship thing
I think it could go without saying, sort of, if there were actions that conveyed the unspoken, "I love you," like those commercials conveyed the unspoken, "Buy these shoes."

But people aren't as consistant as a slick marketing campaign, so clarification is usually a good plan.

Jonathan Erdman said...

So, how would that go???

"Honey, I wanted to let you know - just for clarification so that we are on the same page here - I love you."

Yeah, I think that could work.

ktismatics said...

Ummm... maybe not.

Jonathan Erdman said...

Jon says....Sorry about your email response. You should email them back and tell them the Lord showed you in a vision that you need to teach there. I would like to see a response to that!

Don't tempt me! Because that's the kind of thing I might actually do!

Seriously, though, in the U.S. there is a saturation of Bible teachers. I am getting a Master's Degree. It used to be that a Master's would get you the possibility of teaching at the college level. But now the Ph.D. is what you absolutely have to have to even think about it. And even at that it is still who you know. Even at the tiny colleges they get hundreds of resumes for each position.

It is interesting that this is now even true of high school Bible teachers. It's crazy. I am getting some responses that say, "Sorry, we've already got a ton of resumes so we aren't even looking at any more applicants."

Why so many Bible teachers? Are people jaded to the ministry? Are more people just kind of bored with the regular life of making a bunch of cash and living in suburbia? I mean, teaching pays nothing and there really is no market for teacher, but yet there are hundreds of applicants for even the most obscure colleges....what gives???

Melody said...

Yes, trends show that Americans in general are tired of owning alot of things...oh wait.

Are you trying to get a teaching job because you're bored with the regular life?

Besides, for all teachers complain about not making that much, they get paid fairly well.

My el-ed friends make more than I do, and I'm supposed to be the one with the lucrative career!

Jon said...

Don't tempt me! Because that's the kind of thing I might actually do!

I'm not asking you to do it. I'm just asking you to think about doing it. Mwa ha ha ha ha ha!!!!

samlcarr said...

What would happen if Christians opted always for the plain unvarnished truth? Is there not a clash of principles "be gentle" and "be honest"?

I remember an incident where a mentor was asked by one of a group of teenage students over dinner what he thought of one young lady's new hairdo. He first said something like "let's not get hung-up on external stuff" but one boy in particular pressed the question and as the atmosphere became tense, the mentor suddenly said "I don't like it" "It looked better long". The young lady teared up and abruptly excused herself from the table. The group as a whole then put the montor on the spot. His answer was "honesty, first last and always". The kids didn't look impressed...

Melody said...

It's possible to be honest and kind.

When I don't like someone's hair-cut I usually say, "I liked your last cut better, but you still look cute"

Sometimes being honest does mean that people don't hear what they want to hear, but most people don't want to be patronized either.

Jonathan Erdman said...

For some people honesty excludes kindness. They would prefer that you lie to them about their hair than to tell them the truth and hurt their feelings.

Melody said...

Um, yes...but how hurt can someone get just because I personally prefer one haircut over another?

Also, I think people are going to notice a differnece between honestly kindly meant and "honesty" that's spiteful.

The situation we're talking about is really just opinion too.

If a person smells like B.O., that's probably universally true, but people have different tastes in appearance.

I had a friend who wanted me to grow my hair out, he told me that my guy friends who told me how great it looked when I cut it short were lying to me (he'd never met any of them).

He told me I deserved to know the truth...but was that the truth...or just his opinion?

Melody said...

Incidentally, I'm not really asking...I jut tink people should be careful when they figure out what is true and what is their personal preference.

samlcarr said...

After that incident I was left with the same feeling. The mentor wanted to make the point that honesty was the most important thing, but this issue, what he thinks of someone who admires, looks up to him seemed an odd way to make that point. Was her new look 'actually' worse? How would one person know?

That brings to mind another incidence. I was very close to one couple who moved out of town. We had been friends for years. I visited them after about 6 months. Peggy had this long, strtaight, brown, hair that came down to her knees. Anyhow, I came up to the front door and rang the bell and the door was opened by this stranger with really short blond, permed hair. She looked so different that it took me a second to even recognise her! I think I looked so shocked and I didn't have time to 'correct' my amazement, and she burst into tears. I tried to patch up but the damage was done!

So, as far as ladies and their hair, I am a confirmed agnostic. Truth has to be stranger than fiction!

Deanna Regina said...

christian schools need better hr departments...i don't think it's that there is a huge pool of well educated teachers with good theology that would do well teaching and discipling their students i think it is that christian schools don't have enough money to pay teachers much less teachers with a masters and no experience...and i think christians in general (and i am shooting myself in the foot as i am one) are pretty content doing a half ass job...so if the pe teacher can also double as the bible teacher (even though he doesn't have any knowledge or desire to do so) well then that will do just fine.

Jonathan Erdman said...

Thank you for that, Deanna (if that's your real name!), I appreciate that perspective.

To be honest I've been a bit disheartened by the Christian education scene in the States. From my observations there seem to be many teachers for only few open positions. As such, I have thought to myself, "What's the point in teaching if there are plenty of other people who are lined up behind you to do it." But your thoughts give me cause to think otherwise.