A Biblical approach to Conversation
I was watching the old Dick Van Dyke Show recently, and he was at a party filled with pseudo intellectuals. Dick got trapped into a one-sided conversation with a self-absorbed philosophy professor. One of the other guests said, “Isn’t Dr. So and So brilliant?” Dick Van Dyke replied, “He has the ability to say things which are on the surface seemingly vague, but in reality are actually meaningless.” That sums up the way many people make conversation.
The Bible teaches a different approach to conversation. It teaches us to use our words sparingly and to speak with caution. I read the other day that the Ten Commandments contain 297 words. Psalm 23 has 118 words, and the Lord’s Prayer is 56 words long. Yet, in a recent report, the Department of Agriculture needed 15, 629 words to discuss the pricing of cabbage.
Disease is a Breakdown of Conversation in Our Bodies
Our bodies, created in the image of the Triune God, have much to teach us about the virtues of conversation. The human body is a wondrous symphony of diverse parts: 206 bones and over 600 muscles, controlled by more than a billion neurons and energized by 60,000 miles of veins and arteries in the circulatory system, enough to circle the globe twice. These intricate parts work together in a harmonious conversation, mobilizing our body and striving for its health. Our bodies constantly adapt to instabilities among their members.
When I trip over a curb, for instance, my body tries to adjust itself and regain my balance. If that doesn’t work, it will in an instant adjust its members to break my fall and cause as little damage as possible. When my body is thrown into instability by an infection, the lymphatic system works around the clock to fight the infection and restore the body’s stability. Instabilities like these are not merely exceptional cases; to walk, for example, is to fall and repeatedly catch oneself.
Similarly, our bodies are constantly fighting toxins that enter through the air we breathe or the food we eat, and the overwhelming majority of these skirmishes go unnoticed by us. In order for systems and body parts to work together successfully in these ways, the body maintains a complex, constant conversation among its parts as information and needs circulate and are refined and adjusted as a result of this ongoing conversation.
We exist in our flesh as a many-layered conversation that is not simply idle banter but that moves us toward stability, health, and action. At the most basic level, the human body is a conversation among proteins that are absorbed by our cells or transferred from one cell to another.
The emerging science of proteomics studies the dynamics of this conversation, but it is still developing the tools necessary to listen effectively to the conversation and track the changes and movements of the proteins within it.
Researchers like Danny Hillis, a computer scientist who has developed some of the rudimentary tools of proteomics, are hopeful that by better understanding the conversation unfolding at the protein level, we can better describe how diseases like cancer operate.
Cancer is a breakdown, Hillis notes, “at the level of this conversation that’s going on between the cells, that somehow the cells are deciding to divide when they shouldn’t, not telling each other to die, or telling each other to make blood vessels when they shouldn’t, or telling each other lies.” Indeed, it seems that the health of our bodies is intimately tied to the ability of their members to effectively converse together.
A Few Minutes or an Hour?
Tallulah Bankhead (1903-1968) was a flamboyant actress, whom one critic called “more an act than an actress.” She was also known for her extreme talkativeness. One day after an interview, the interviewer said, “I’ve just spent an hour talking to Tallulah for a few minutes.”
Stuart Strachan Jr., Source Material from Clifton Fadiman, Bartlett’s Book of Anecdotes.
A Gripping Lecture
Charles Babbage (1792-1871) was a British mathematician and inventor known for his enjoyment of talking. At one particular dinner, Thomas Carlyle, the Scottish polymath was going on and on about the virtues of silence, leaving little room for anyone else to get a word in edgewise. At the end of the dinner Babbage approached Carlyle and thanked him sternly for his stirring lecture on the topic of silence.
Stuart Strachan Jr.
Archelaus the 5th century (BC) king of Macedon, was once having his hair cut. His barber, quite verbose like many others in his profession, asked King Archelaus how he would like his hair cut. His response, “In silence.”
Stuart Strachan Jr.
R.C. Sproul & The Social Paraiah
Sometimes talking with the wrong person can get you in real trouble. The pastor R.C. Sproul was studying in the Netherlands in the last 1960s and randomly struck up a conversation with a Dutch woman. The conversation was a common, enjoyable interaction, but when it was over someone nearby came up to him and asked, why were you talking with that woman?
His response was something to the tune of; why wouldn’t I? And their response was quite telling. It was because she had collaborated with the Nazi’s some 30 years go. She had become a pariah, an exile of sorts, in her own city because of a decision she had made decades before. This was the kind of animosity that one could expect when you collaborated with a foreign power despised by the local population.
Now working for the Nazis is no small matter, and it was probably quite understandable for people to resent her decision to work with them. But does that also mean she should never be forgiven?
Stuart Strachan Jr.
Showing People Louis
In his excellent book, Recapturing the Wonder: Transcendent Faith in a Disenchanted World, Mike Cosper shares a short vignette about the comedian Louis C.K.*
Louis CK tells fans he meets in public that he won’t take a picture with them, but he will talk to them. Some people are satisfied, but many walk away angry and frustrated. I suspect that it’s because they weren’t after the opportunity to meet Louis—they wanted to be able to show people they met Louis.
*Editor’s Note: The comedian Louis C.K has become a source of controversy during the #MEtoo movement. While his alleged actions were reprehensible, from the editor’s view, the insight created by this illustration made it worth placing on the site.
Taken from Recapturing the Wonder: Transcendent Faith in a Disenchanted World by Mike Cosper. Copyright (c) 2017, pp.75-76. Published by InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL. www.ivpress.com
Sips of Online Connection
Don’t all these little tweets, these little sips of online connection, add up to one big gulp of real conversation?
A businessman moved over slightly as a young man crowded into the airplane seat next to him. As they both fastened their seat belts, the businessman good-naturedly asked whether the young man was traveling on business or pleasure.
“Pleasure,” the young man replied. “I’m on my honeymoon.”
“Your honeymoon?” the businessman asked, mystified. “Where’s your wife?”
“Oh, she’s a few rows back. The plane was full, so we couldn’t get seats together.”
The plane hadn’t started rolling yet, so the businessman said, “I’d be happy to change seats with her so that the two of you can be together.”
“That’s OK,” the young man replied. “I’ve been talking to her all week.”
The Uniqueness of Conversation (And why Technology Can’t Replace In-Person Communication)
In an interview with MIT psychologist Sherry Turkle, Megan Garber asks what makes in-person conversation unique, compared to all the other ways we communicate these days:
Conversations, as they tend to play out in person, are messy—full of pauses and interruptions and topic changes and assorted awkwardness. But the messiness is what allows for true exchange. It gives participants the time—and, just as important, the permission—to think and react and glean insights. “You can’t always tell, in a conversation, when the interesting bit is going to come,” Turkle says. “It’s like dancing: slow, slow, quick-quick, slow.
You know? It seems boring, but all of a sudden there’s something, and whoa.”
Occasional dullness, in other words, is to be not only expected, but celebrated. Some of the best parts of conversation are, as Turkle puts it, “the boring bits.”
In software terms, they’re features rather than bugs. The logic of conversation as it plays out across the Internet, however—the into-the-ether observations and the never-ending feeds and the many, many selfies—is fundamentally different, favoring showmanship over exchange, flows over ebbs. The Internet is always on. And it’s always judging you, watching you, goading you. “That’s not conversation,” Turkle says.
Still Looking for inspiration?
Consider checking out our quotes page on Conversation. Don’t forget, sometimes a great quote is an illustration in itself!