CHRIST IN WINTER: Reflections on Faith & Life for the Years of Winter…
COMMUNICATION THEORY & THE WILL OF God [R, 5-10-18]
Granddaughter Brigid and I share a doctoral academic field—communication theory. She starts her formal doctoral-level study in the field this fall at the U of Chicago, in semiology. My doctoral study was in narratology and… a long time ago.
In fact, I finished my formal academic studies in communication theory when the professors who are retiring this year, after forty years of teaching and research, were my contemporaries. I was older when I got my doctorate—40. They were 25. Now they have put in 40 years and are reaping the rewards of all those years of high pay in the groves of academe, with time now to sit down and write that great contemporary novel.
I did a little research and writing and teaching in communication theory after finishing the academic years, but mostly I just practiced communicating. Sometimes not very well.
When my older sister’s 18 and 19 year old sons, Steve and Tony, were killed together in an auto accident, along with two of their friends, I was asked to speak not only at their funeral but at the general funeral for the four boys together. They were popular kids—still in high school or just out. The high school gym was full to overflowing for the general funeral in the morning. The funeral home was also overflowing for Steve’s and Tony’s funeral that afternoon, so much so that the funeral directors set up loud speakers in the parking lot so people who could not get in could stand outside and be a part of the service.
In both those services, I said: “This was not the will of God. God does not will that beautiful young men in the prime of life should be taken away from us. It is the law of physics, that when fast metal automobiles collide with fragile human bodies, the bodies lose, but that is not the will of God.”
That evening, after the funerals, I was sitting with my brother-in-law, Dick, in his den, as other folks came and went in the house. The shadows were deep when the president of the high school sports booster club came. Tony had been the quarterback on the football team, so he was well-known to Dick and Mary V.
We chatted for a little. Then he turned to me and said, “As you said this afternoon, it was the will of God.”
I was overwhelmed. I had a doctorate in communication. All my research and writing and study was current. Could I have communicated so poorly that this seemingly intelligent man heard the exact opposite of what I thought I was saying?
By the grace of God, I think it must have been, for it certainly as not of my own comprehension, since I had so much ego tied up in communicating “not so well that you can be understood but so well that you cannot be misunderstood,” as one of my mentors put it, I suddenly realized what he was saying, what anybody says at a time like that when they say “It was the will of God.” What they mean is: God did not pull the strings on this, but God is still with us, still willing, still trying to make something good come from this, still loving us.”
When I would get frustrated about communicating, despite all my study and theories, along about Saturday night, because I had not yet figured out a novel and inviting way to preach the next morning, Helen always said, “You worry too much about finding a different way to say it. You have only one job when you preach, and that is to remind us that God loves us.”
Maybe that’s all one needs to know about communication theory. We need to tell one another that God is in charge. That God loves us. That love never ends. It doesn’t make much difference how we say it—what words or symbols or artistry we use. We just need to communicate that love is all that counts, and that love never ends.
Poor Helen. She doesn’t know anything about communication theory. But I hope Brigid pays more attention to her grandmother than she does to her professors. Or to her grandfather.
Yes, if you have read The Strange Calling, or if you have heard me preach/speak, you have heard that story about “the will of God” before. I didn’t really intend to tell it again here. I was going to write about how time gets by so quickly--because no one has ever commented on that before--and I was amazed as I thought about a whole generation of scholars, forty years, in between my doctoral work and Brigid’s, so I was speculating about time and how every scholar who influenced me is long gone, and how scholars in the same field don’t even speak the same language anymore, [I never even heard the word “semiology” in my studies of long ago] but then that veered off into the will of God, and I’m glad it did, because how time does not conquer love is much better to contemplate than how time passes so quickly.