Monday, June 3, 2013

In Defense of Words

Throughout the 2012-2013 school year, I was called to serve as the Pastoral Intern to St. Andrews Presbyterian Church. I myself have been a Presbyterian since the foundation of the world, and recognize and value that we Presbyterians have a long tradition of being a people of the Word, having been born out of a revolution of literacy, and literary availability.

I'm speaking, of course, of the Printing Press and the Reformations of the 14-16th centuries. I won't go into the history right now, but suffice to say that the ability to print information had a direct impact on Reformer's ability to disseminate their ideas. Think Chick Tracts, but with good theology instead of unbridled stupid.

I'm a big fan of Gardner's Theory of Multiple Intelligences, which basically posits that there are different ways of being smart. Gardner lists seven intelligences in his original framework, which are verbal/linguistic, mathematical/logical, interpersonal, intrapersonal, visual/spacial, musical, and bodily/kinesthetic.

Everybody has some of each of these, and people tend to have a couple in which they are particularly excellent.

Over the last year or so, I've heard a number of people express varying degrees of concern and excitement at the increasing influence of non-verbal ways of communicating. For some people, the future is in imagery, and the internet has made it possible to quickly and easily create and publish visual media.

I'm a big fan of using video and images to engage with people who don't experience the world primarily through reading and speaking. Really any opportunity to further open the doors of the church is one I'm in favor of. Using signs and symbols to cross boundaries and let people engage in their own authentic expressions of worship is one of the tasks of church leadership in my opinion.

However, we cannot simply abandon words. Certainly not in a church that ascribes such weight to scripture as the PC(USA). We can proclaim the word visually, or enact the word through scripture, but we mustn't forget that at some point, we need to be able to read this book that the Holy Spirit has preserved and lifted up for us as a unique and authoritative witness throughout the centuries.

My verbal linguistic intelligence deserves to be addressed just as much as my visual/spacial intelligence. So it's fine if you want to show me a picture that's worth a thousand words, but know that the poem that describes that image and the emotions associate with it is where I want to be. Opening the door to other kinds of expression means a necessary diminishing of what has been the almost exclusive means of expression. But it cannot mean abandoning those historical and foundational elements. Neither should it mean that we intentionally downplay our use of words. Words are still good. God still speaks through them.

Particular ways of expressing Truth are equal to, but never greater than, others ways. So bring on the words, that we may describe our images more fully.

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