Admittedly, I was an unusually religious kid – Jesus and the Bible have arguably been my main interests since before I went to preschool – but religion wasn’t ALL that interested me. I have lots of extracurricular interests. I love history and art and music, I like being able to identify many trees and plants on hikes in the forests of the Southeastern U.S., I enjoy cooking new things for friends…
But when I think of some of my deepest most abiding interests – things that I could satisfy myself with as careers if I had not been called to a lifetime of service to the church, I immediately think of cartography, etymology, filmmaking, and photography. It is only in the past couple of years that I noticed that these are all rooted in my interest in people, and (by necessity, therefore) an interest in communication.
Communication is so difficult. In our speaking we reveal not just what we intend to reveal, but our history, our experience, our convictions – often without any awareness that we are doing so… Or perhaps we convey nothing we intend, much less reveal ourselves deeply, depending upon the abilities, interests, and attentiveness of the person(s) we are attempting to communicate with. (The webcomic xkcd illustrates this brilliantly.) Communication, intended to convey information from one person to another – to bring us closer together – can just as easily drive us further apart.
These seemingly extra-curricular interests get to the heart of who I am and what I care about: What do we desire to communicate? How well does that correspond with what we actually communicate? Who do we communicate with? In what ways do we communicate with one another? And why do we make the choices we do in answering those preceding questions? To care about other people means to care about the connections we make in the space in between us – it means caring about our communication.
It is no surprise, then, that the Christian academic discipline I most identify with is evangelism. Evangelism simply means the communication of good news to another – in a Christian context, this means the communication of God’s saving love for all people. How do we communicate this? Are we consistent in our witness? Who do we witness to and who don’t we witness to – and what does this say about our convictions about God’s love? If we extend God’s love only to a few, aren’t we then communicating that God’s love is not in fact for everyone?
Sometimes the origins of a word and its connection to other words changes its meaning for a listener. Other times meaning is hidden in plain sight in the lighting or sound editing of a motion picture. Other times assumptions are revealed in the decision to point a camera in one direction and not another. Other times perception is subtly manipulated by the decisions of a mapmaker: the choice of one projection over another, by the decision to label this city and not that one… In all aspects of church life – not least in worship – we too are sending messages both plain and subtle.
What messages are you sending? Are you communicating what you intend? Can you find a way forward through your own “extra-curricular” interests – integrating the insights from what you enjoy in your down time into an improved understanding of yourself and the world – and so an improved witness?
From time to time, I will be adding pages here that expand upon my own extracurricular interests in more detail.