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Tuesday, August 15, 2006

That's Not What I'm Saying

This is part 76 in my long-running series about word definitions...

Whenever someone shares a fresh perspective, or wants to challenge the status quo, he or she is bound to be misunderstood. It starts like this:

"Hey guys, I'm thinking that maybe the Earth isn't the center of the solar system."

Well-Intentioned Misunderstanding Guy:
"So the sun stood still, and the moon stopped, till the nation avenged itself on its enemies, as it is written in the Book of Jashar. The sun stopped in the middle of the sky and delayed going down about a full day." Joshua 10:13

Misunderstanding Guy #1:
"Are you saying that all of the astronomers that have gone before you are stupid? How arrogant!"

Misunderstanding Guy #2:
"Oh, so you're throwing out the entire concepts of planets, then? I suppose we're all floating around in space on figments of our imagination, then."

Misunderstanding Guy #3:
"You're a liberal."

Misunderstanding Girl:
"Why are you so negative all the time?"

Misunderstanding Old Guy:
"When I was your age, I used to think the Earth revolved around the Sun, too."

Misunderstanding Guy #1(again):
"I defy you to prove your theory."

Anonymous Misunderstander:
"Yeah, but the Earth is still round."

Of course, I'm no Copernicus. While I realize that what I write here is neither fresh nor challenging, I run into the same sorts of trouble. Say I question a commonly held missiology. Someone is bound to accuse me of being proud or ignorant or both.

The worst part of the misunderstanding game is having to preface everything I'm trying to say with everything that I'm not saying. People read one bit of a post and jump to conclusions. If a key word is used or some vaguely familiar reasoning is appealed to, the labels come out and the communication ceases. That's why we can't talk about miracles without adding the disclaimer: "I'm no Charismatic, but..."

"I affirm the Baptist Faith and message, but..."

So someday, I'm going to put together a book that contains all the things I'm not saying. By questioning the wisdom of a rule, I'm not being disrespectful of those who set the rule. When I say that we need to live out our faith, I'm not saying that we shouldn't tell people about Jesus. Don't get upset when I write "I'm uncomfortable calling myself a missionary" or "I don't go to church" until you know (or at least have made an effort to know) what I'm actually saying.
If you have a question, please ask! That way we can discuss what's being said, instead of arguing over what isn't.


Nomad said...

So, you are saying that we aren't smart enough to understand what you say the first time? :-) Just kidding.

I share your frustrations. Sometimes, it's just easier to not say anything. But I can't do that.

Hang in there, Bro.

A 10-40 Window Missionary said...


I loved this post...I can readily identify with it. As your example seems to indicate (but not say, so here I am making an assumption) that these conversations are with people who have the same first language as we do. Throw in cross cultural and other language barriers to this mix, and for sure you get confusion.

One quick example...I was leading a service and told people, in their language, turn in your word for word translation had two young men up, out of their pews starting to collect the hymnals. It was a great moment in my language learning.

Brittany said...

You mean the earth isn't flat?!? Heretic!

seriously - I seem to have garnered a reputation for being a rebel because I question things - everything, really - because for too long I gullibly accepted anything I was told. People assume my questions are a form of rebellion, but really I'm trying to understand the motive for certain decisions and the background behind opinions. I'm not saying I disagree with you simply because I question you, I'm just trying to understand you!

Watchman said...

When I first started my blog, I had this tendency to start everything with a caveat like, "I'm not trying to sound negative here." Then I realized I spent too much energy on it and just tried to say what I meant. There is no way I am going to be perfectly clear in a few paragraphs. But maybe, just maybe, I might connect with a few with whom it is clear.

ewinwe said...

brittany, nah, yer really *are* just a rebel, admit it!

stepchild, another one that makes me want to scratch my head while screaming softy at the bottom of my lungs ... "I work for the company, but ..."

as i recall, copernicus was only one of many - galileo, darwin, einstein, etcetera, etcetera, etcetera ...

Bryan Riley said...

well said. i think i understand. :)

Anonymous said...

Anonymous Commenter here. Umm...I really have nothing good to pick at on this....but the liberal line was stinkin' funny.
I am wondering---some use cynic jabs of humor to make points, some argue by trying to prove that their logic is better, some try to break out their mastery of old languages--at what point do you think we really do start to understand each other a little better? Do you think that the reality is there are too many of us that are just worlds apart when it comes to our understanding of the way things are? Do you think that we would react with the same knee jerk reaction if something was said that was totally against (in our opinion) what we thought to be right? For instace, if I said that relationships already happen in southern Europe...what we must shift all of our time and energy on is starting mega-church! How would you react?

I love the game of communications. All of these years of practice, all of this technology...and we still don't have it down! We still can't figure out the most basic of things...I think that we will figure it all out as soon as we can come to an agreement on the question, "What is art?"

Have a super week! Ciao.

Brittany said...

Which is easier: communicating cross-culturally where people know their language skills aren't great therefore there often is grace for gaffes, or communicating with folks from your own culture/sub-group where it is assumed you all speak the same language thus you share the same definitions and views?

Prime example: my boss one day noticed I was in a foul mood, so he questioned, "Are you having a bad hair day?" I heard, "Your hair looks awful, is that why you're in a bad mood?" but he was trying to say, "Are you feeling like a person would feel who was having a bad hair day: miffed and annoyed?" Rather than communicating sympathy (like he intended to do) he only added to my annoyance by making me paranoid about my hair. We're both Americans from the South but we had totally different definitions for "bad hair days."

cafeaddict said...

i think there is something in the very core of our protestant hearts that makes us want to define what we are for by saying what we are against. we very naturally attack, rebuff, critique and find the one sentence or word that we are against. have you noticed that to be true? i know you have in your blog! do we know how to be who we are without it being described in the negative? for example, can southern baptists be known for something besides being anti-liberal, anti-homosexual, anti-cbf, anti-etc? i don't mean to be negative but...

stepchild said...

I'm with you. Maybe eventually, with the combined writing of all my posts, I'll make a point that communicates something to someone.

Anonymous Commenter,
Yeah, it makes me wonder if communication is even possible. Can I ever be sure that anyone understands me? I guess that's a good reason for me to write here. I'm searching for someone that might be dysfunctional enough to discuss the questions I'm asking.

You ask which is harder. I think they're both pretty though! We certainly don't expect to have difficulty communicating within our own culture, but it happens all the time, doesn't it? I ran into trouble with some volunteers not too long ago. I asked a student to do something, and they responed by saying, "I don't care to do that." I understood that he was refusing to do what I had asked. What he meant was, "I don't mind doing that." No small misunderstanding!

You're right about defining ourselves by what were against. Our faith tradition is just that (prostestant!). I'm not totally sure that it's a bad thing to explore the boundries of what we agree with by deciding what we disagree with. Unfortunately, articulating what we're for has proven to be difficult, especially (as you can tell) for me.

TheMDude said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Paul Burleson said...


I know what you mean. I have wanted to say the same thing. You've said it, I'm grateful.

And by the way, you've been prayed for this week. [Whatever that means.] :)