When does a person run out of things to say? Oh, there are plenty of times in conversations when there is a lull, no one knowing quite where to go from the last comments, but after a few moments we think of something to talk about. And there are those moments when the talk comes abruptly to a full stop, because the “last word” has been spoken on a particular topic, and the next words must either change the subject or plunge into deeper turmoil. There is usually something to be say.
When I first started to preach, at age 16, receiving a Methodist Local Preacher’s License, I couldn’t imagine not having something to say. There was a rather full Bible. There was a four thousand year history of Abraham’s children to draw from. There was my own “vast” experience as a teenager, and later young adult, and still later…. After all I had a “license” and people were willing to have me preach. To fill ten to twenty minutes of sermon time started as a challenge, but after getting started it rarely was a problem for me. For my listeners on the other hand….
After more than fifty years the question is still not one of running out of material or topics. I have no trouble filling three hours of class time in one evening session at the local community college. The question of value persists. What difference does all this talk make? Who is listening? Who is really paying attention? When do we reach the heart of the matter? Or is it so much fluff and unimportant irrelevant detail? Where is the good in all this talk? Will people recognize it when they hear it? Will they remember it?
Maya Angelou, who often had profound things to say, in well-chosen words, said, “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” This is more than the “medium is the message” of McLuhan’s theme, which itself seems more valid now with all the technical options available for communication than it was in the 1960’s.
I have mostly stopped making speeches during the last eight years. In writing and editing students’ words I haven’t stopped reworking vocabulary to say things in the simplest way, eliminating passive verbs and being verbs, trying to touch emotional nerves without rubbing them raw, detecting where we have hidden the meanings rather than revealing them. I have been listening to preaching and powerful speaking and taken time to remember the many times speakers and writers have moved me in different ways with different voices. Not simply informed or entertained, but made me alive.
Parables are a part of this search for meaning beyond the words. More on this later….