C.S. Lewis & Conversation

January 7, 2019 — 15 Comments

Luther & Mic.jpg

The most effective way to influence another person is through a fruitful conversation. This is especially true when one is attempting to persuade someone that a given point is true.

One drawback to conversations is that they are, by definition, rather intimate. After all, a person can only carry on a genuine conversation with a small audience. The ebb and flow of the spoken words, exchanged between parties, is utterly different than a speech or sermon. (This is one reason I prefer to teach in a conversational manner—soliciting questions, insights and even challenges during the delivery of whatever material I had prepared in advance.)

I recently read an interview conducted with a friend of mine who is an officer and a gentleman in the literal sense of those two words. Michael Zeigler and I served together at Fairchild AFB, after which he entered the ministry.

What most struck me in the interview, was a part of his response to a question about a book he has written. In it, he mentioned a theologian that I too have had the joy of studying under. That professor offered some invaluable advice for those of us who write. As Michael related:

My teacher [Seminary Professor Emeritus] Robert Kolb told us that, when we write, we should not seek to have the last word, but to contribute to the conversation.

This is contrary to the way most writers approach the keyboard. Having the last word is precisely what so many of us strive to do. And that very attitude undermines the opportunity for truly productive conversations.

Writing is inherently prone to unidirectional communication. Conversation can enter in through comments to authors, and this is one of the things that makes blogging somewhat more emotionally satisfying than traditional publishing.

The radio offers another example of one-way communication.* There are, of course, ways to offer feedback to commentators, but these are rather limited, and always consequent to the original message. But, it does possess a singular advantage over the printed media.

The graphic above pictures Martin Luther at a microphone. Had he lived in the appropriate era, I have no doubt he would have engaged in broadcasting . . . just as he embraced Gutenberg’s press to spread his message.

Lewis’ Broadcasts

My friend Michael has recently embarked on a new journey with a widely respected radio ministry. And, in this, he bears a striking resemblance to the great C.S. Lewis.

(Evan Rosa offers a rare example of Lewis’ broadcasts here.)

The similarity between Zeigler and Lewis is that their broadcasts are conversations, rather than presentations. Their conversational essence extends far beyond their friendly, approachable tone. They are truly engaged with their hearers. You know that they would welcome an actual interchange beyond the limitations of their microphones.

It is a rare talent to be able to touch the individual members of a mass audience so they feel like you are speaking to them alone. With both of the aforementioned individuals, I believe a key element of their effectiveness is their unfeigned humility. In 1941 Lewis wrote to a correspondent about his upcoming BBC radio talks.

I’ve given talks to the RAF [Royal Air Force] at Abingdon already, and so far as I can judge they were a complete failure. . . . Yes, jobs one dare neither refuse nor perform.

One must take comfort in remembering that God used an ass to convert the prophet; perhaps if we do our poor best we shall be allowed a stall near it in the celestial stable.

This is a good reminder not only to broadcasters, but to all who write as well. Picking up our pens in a spirit of humility goes a long way towards receiving a warm welcome for our words. And, if we are truly fortunate, our readers will recognize we are not seeking to have the last word, but merely hoping to contribute to the conversation.

Addendum

The Rev. Dr. Michael Zeigler is a long-time friend. We met years ago when he was a young Air Force officer, a first-class product of the Air Force Academy. After completing his active duty commitment, Michael and his wife journeyed to Concordia Seminary where he first earned his M.Div. and continued on to receive a Ph.D. For years they served a wonderfully diverse urban congregation in St. Louis.

Now Michael has received a singular “honor” in being chosen as the speaker for The Lutheran Hour.

The Lutheran Hour is the world’s longest running continuously broadcast Christian radio program. It began in 1930 and currently airs on more than 1,800 stations. Lutheran Hour Ministries currently reaches into more than 50 countries through its various ministries.

You can sign up to listen to podcasts of the program for free on iTunes here.


* I wish I could take some credit for Michael’s pursuit of a pastoral vocation, but I can’t. It was purely a matter of the Holy Spirit calling him to ministry. However, I cling to the notion that at least my example as a chaplain did not discourage him from answering God’s call.

** The exceptions would be when there is a studio audience or a “call in” option. However, one would be hard-pressed to identify radio or television broadcasts as “dialog.”

15 responses to C.S. Lewis & Conversation

  1. 

    “not seek to have the last word, but to contribute to the conversation.” – would that this would be the guiding phrase for the new year.
    Intriguing post ( as usual) Enjoyed it

  2. 

    What a great piece of advice to remember in writing and conversation! It goes against the grain of our natural (worldly) desire to be heard and dominate, a prideful defense mechanism. Complements James’s advice, I think: “My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry,” (1:19).

    • 

      Looking forward to checking out “The Lutheran Hour,” by the way.

    • 

      You’re right about the way the advice echoes James’ counsel. Good observation.

      As for listening to the broadcast, I pray you won’t be disappointed.

      • 

        I wasn’t. Plain-spoken with well-constructed and well-developed analogies. Oh for more such ministers in pulpits! When Christian teaching is clear as a bell, God’s grace towards us astonishes and touches the heart and mind. Lewis would approve.

      • 

        That is great to hear.

        You have a great book title in your comment: “Astonished by Grace.”

  3. 

    A spirit of humility when writing and speaking would do the a world of good!

  4. 
    Michael Zeigler January 9, 2019 at 7:59 pm

    Rob, thank you for the post and the encouraging words!
    – Michael

    “Lord Jesus, help me live up to these gracious words of my dear brother. And, by the way, thank you for sending him to guide me fifteen years ago at that turning point when I was wrestling with your will and plans. Though he can’t fully understand all the grace you’ve channeled through him to me and many others (which of us could?), give him the joy of seeing that what he has done has been done by you. Amen.”

  5. 

    Hi Rob,

    Yes, to be able to talk with and not just at someone is important. Do you find blogging to be a good connection with others? How have you felt like you have connected with your audience?

    In Christ,

    Gary

    • 

      I’ve enjoyed blogging in the sense of being able to share my thoughts, in the hopes that readers might learn enjoy them. I also hope to inspire or edify readers, and when comments reflect I’ve accomplished any of my goals, it’s quite invigorating.

      Over the years I’ve had regular commenters such as yourself, with whom I have developed genuine relationships. It’s not that common, but it is especially rewarding.

      • 

        Sometimes it is just a few, right? I sometimes wonder who gets encouraged because people don’t like and comment like before.

      • 

        Some people don’t want to write anything at all online. My family and local friends will comment verbally on my posts, but will never type up their thoughts.

        It can be due to unfamiliarity with the process, but I think far more often declining to comment is an example of people wanting to protect their privacy.

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