In ancient tribal times, there was a simple method for settling disputes. The elders and leaders of the clan would sit in a circle and pass around a small tree branch called a talking-stick. The stick was passed from one person to the next, and the one who held that tool of civility could speak his piece without any interruptions. This was a respectful and practical way to solve disagreements. The talking-stick worked well for a long time, but power-hungry people eventually corrupted the system. Those who craved the power of the talking-stick, the outward sign of temporal control, cheated, stole and killed for domination. They wielded the talking-stick through dominion carved out for themselves, as usurpers holding their imposter talking-sticks. A few people groups, like the Native Americans or the Masai warriors from Africa’s Rift Valley, still use the original talking-stick method of discourse, just as they did millennia ago. However, for every true talking-stick there are multitudes of imposter talking-sticks, each held tenaciously by those who are willing to forfeit decency, honor and truth just to take control.
We find imposter talking-sticks in the esteemed halls of education. An entrenched anti-supernatural bias governs the worldview of secular scholarship, and these scholastics get to stand in front of students (uninterrupted) and disseminate their version of truth. Most secular scholars sit upon a three-legged stool - one held up by the three P’s: prestige, publication, and promotion. Scholars who veer from the blessings of the secular hegemony are unlikely to receive any of these three things. If they admit to believing in miracles while employed by a secular instruction, they will unlikely receive much prestige. Promotion will be nearly impossible for scholars who credit the parting of the Red Sea to supernatural forces. Those scholars who believe the natural evidence points to a supernatural God cannot publish in peer-reviewed journals concluding as much. Because of these pressures, most scholars will remain anchored in the safe harbor of mutual consent, adroitly avoiding the choppy waters of discontent that would be brought about by disclosing a belief in Biblical marvels. The long road to truth is often strewn with much intellectual carnage.
F.F. Bruce once wrote, “We must bear in mind that the cause of learning has often been promoted by scholars who are prepared to take a risk and expose their brain-waves to the pitiless criticism of others.”
It takes courage to stand up before waves of reproach and disparagement. It’s easier to avoid risk and embrace the “go along and get along” mentality.
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To Answer Or Not To Answer
I am sure – O Gracious Reader – you have experienced something similar to any or all of the following. Several months ago, I opened my e-mail program only to find dozens of unread e-mails had flooded my inbox in a short period of time. Upon closer inspection, the culprit was an initial e-mail sent to thirty or so recipients, and each recipient had responded at least once. Do I respond to the initial e-mail? To the last e-mail? To every e-mail? On another occasion, I e-mailed to about 1,000 recipients a hopeful and happy devotional of about 800 words. Later that day, I received a diatribe completely lacking in humor, which was easily twice the word count of the original document. More importantly, it seemed to barely address anything I wrote about in my devotional. And who among you share my experience of inconsistent cell phone coverage. When you finally reacquire signal, the phone pings seemingly without end all the notifications from social media about some inflammatory post or tweet. To answer or not to answer – that is the question!
Over the past several months, I have used my space in this publication to address the art of conversation in the twenty-first century. Not that long ago, our conversations were limited by time and proximity. You might have a five-minute chat with a friend while doing errands. Many forty-minute periods at the high school I taught were conversations rather than dissertations. Even a warm summer evening drinking coffee in the back garden with friends could only cover so much ground. Years ago, my wife and I would do our best to talk about the Bible until midnight every Friday night with our dear friends – eventually, the eyelids were heavy, and we need to return home for some shut-eye! Even that delightful habit had an end. Today’s conversations through e-mail and social media suffer no constraint based on time or location. We are confronted with a never-ending opportunity to go back-and-forth, forth-and-back, and back-and-forth again with no end in sight. I am reminded of a FAR SIDE panel with two mosquitos where Betty hit an artery, and her only chance for survival is to stop. But Betty is unable to extricate herself from her plight. (see picture) So many of today’s interactions remind me of this unforgettable comic panel. Once you are in the torrent of the river, how do you swim safely to shore?
We find advice in the Bible (no surprise) in the book of the Proverbs (even less of a surprise.) Two consecutive verses are often seen as conflicting, and upon closer inspection, we can find some advice for today’s conversations, whether personal or on-line. Proverbs 26:4-5 read in the New King James Version as follows:
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