conversation is an engine

A lot can happen in a conversation

I’m Writing a Book called “ListenTalk”

with 6 comments

I’m writing a book about talking and listening. I’ve become crazy about what happens in our best conversations: we come alive. We learn something about another person and in the spontaneous moment of creation as we frame up words to describe our own situation, we often suddenly learn something brand new about ourselves. Something we didn’t know before we started talking. I’ve begun to think that when we are in conversation, we are more truly ourselves. And the best conversations have a way of making us very present to each other.

I call this book “ListenTalk: You’re Boring. Let’s Change That.” I think we were created to be in constant, deep, creative, spontaneous conversation. Not just with each other, but with God. That’s why parts of the book develop a theology of communication, starting with God’s act of creation, where His speech-act created dirt and air and giraffes and coffee beans and people, among other things. So you can see that with my book I hope to bring together something of JL Austin’s work on communication with a commitment to faith. Maybe I’m trying to do something impossible. I’m not sure. In a few days I’m scheduled to talk with a philosopher and speech-act theory expert at the University of Minnesota. I’m interested in his response to my notion of combining these things.

Two more pieces of this book project capture my attention in a big way.

Derrida and Welcoming the Other

One has to do with Derrida’s notion of welcoming the other. I recently finished James K.A. Smith’s “Jacques Derrida Live Theory” (Amazing: the book retails for $120! No wonder I cannot afford most of what I read) and was pleased to see a philosopher working from a faith perspective dealing with Derrida’s thoughts. I was impressed to see overlap between Derrida’s notion of welcoming the other into conversation and the God of the Bible’s commitment to welcoming the other. The Bible talks about reconciliation, and that definitely includes welcoming the other. What reconciliation does not mean (and here is where Derrida is particularly helpful in helping throw off some of my Christian cultural baggage) is making the other like me. We’re all tempted to make those around us like ourselves. But that effort misses the point of the kind of conversations that will sustain us.

Is Prayer a Model for Conversation?

Pulling more from theology than communication theory or philosophy on this last point, one of my chapters looks at prayer as the Bible talks about it and posits that we were meant to communicate with each other along these lines. Nothing really mysterious or unorthodox, I just wonder if the way we communicate with God (listening followed by moments of intense listening, and then very frank speech) is meant as a model for how we communicate with each other. Maybe listening is to take more of our effort than talking, which is a lesson advanced people of prayer seem to know.

Social Media is a Way Forward

This book ends with the notion that people of faith are currently presented with a rich opportunity to create and be in conversation. People of faith would do well to place ideas out in the public common areas, since there are far fewer gatekeepers, and see how people respond. This is part of the class I teach at Northwestern College called “Building Community using Social Media.”

What do you think? Would you read a book like this?


6 Responses

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  1. I would definitely read a book like that, provided the sticker price is not $120.

    Listening, intense listening and frank speech, I love these ideas. I am one of the lucky ones, in that, I am married to a woman who forces me into this dark land of listening and frank speech in real life. She has taught me much about prayer as an avenue of communication. Constant. Communication. Overall, I cannot complain about this.


    August 28, 2010 at 12:15 pm

  2. Thanks for the comment, Ryan. You already demonstrate lots of listening and frank speech over at Ream of Paper, of which I am a fan. Maybe it is the habitual conversations that change us most.


    August 28, 2010 at 2:27 pm

  3. […] become intrigued by trying to boil Listentalk down to the most elemental forms. Intrigued because there is a firm foundation for which I can […]

  4. Can I invest $120 to make sure this book sees the light of day!!! As I read the statement “I’ve become crazy about what happens in our best conversations: we come alive.” I was able to think of those conversations & those times. Sadly, on the flip side I was also reminded of the times I brought death instead of life to the conversation. It’s getting better all the time…but I want more!

    Great stuff Kirk!

    Roger Messner

    October 27, 2010 at 10:14 am

    • Bless you, Roger! The life and death sides of conversations come to my mind as well. Actually you’ve provided some pretty significant conversations at times! Hold on to your money, though. The book is written, and now I’m unwriting it (that is editing). I hope it can bless people.


      October 27, 2010 at 10:30 am

  5. […] read the raw argument here and the beginning of the Dummy’s Guide here and see the larger picture here. The book currently has eight chapters and 85,000 words and I’m starting to market it. But I fear […]

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