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I’m Writing a Book called “ListenTalk”

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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?

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