Tuesday, 11 March 2008

Living in eloquent cocoons

A few weeks ago I was pointed in the direction of an article from the Wall Street Journal. Peggy Noonan was writing about the eloquence of Barack Obama – or rather the lack of it as she defines it.

On this side of the Atlantic, we’re mercifully spared blanket coverage of the Presidential nomination process – although it is impinging a lot more than it used to!

I’m not in a position to draw any conclusion about Barack Obama, but Noonan’s comments triggered two lines of thought that I have been mulling over.

Firstly, she comments on eloquence:

“Eloquence is deep thought expressed in clear words. With Mr Obama the deep thought part is missing. What is present are sentiments… He doesn’t unpack his thoughts… He asserts and keeps on walking.”

It seems to me that this is true in many walks of life – but with particular reference to a lot of preaching. Speeches are prepared, words are organised sometimes elegantly, even poetically – but the thoughts expressed are well-worn hand-me-downs.

To unpack thoughts requires the discipline of application, the balanced consideration of points of view that are outwith the norm of the preacher. Maybe, we’ve focussed too much on the presentation at the expense of thinking?

The second thought from Noonan’s article is based on her analysis of the Obamas’ (Mr & Mrs) understanding of America:

“Have they been, throughout their adulthood, so pampered and praised – so raised in the liberal cocoon – that they are essentially unaware of what and how normal Americans think? And are they, in this, like those cosseted yuppies, the Clintons?”

Are we in the churches guilty of something very similar?


That Hideous Man said...

I don't agree with her definition of eloquence. Standard dictionary definitions stress the effective force of language, but do not consider undelying thought structures to be part of it.

The usual definition allows for eloquence to be a linguistic ability which can be put to use in the service of either well, or poorly constructed thought.

Am am also surprised that you focused your criticism on contemporary preaching, where you did. I have heard several preachers, on the internet for example, who have done a huge amount on thinking - but who have not mastered effective communication! Arid academics are as common as shallow showmen!

Endlessly restless said...

I guess that Noonan's point and mine - is that there needs to be substance behind the veneer.

The reason that I focussed on preaching in particular that this is the form of public speaking to which I have most exposure. It was also based on the fact that in Scotland we've a long tradition of requiring our paid clergy to be well educated and capable of depth of thought. In my experience, too many preachers have concentrated on presentation at the expense of thinking,and have found shiny, new ways of trotting out old tru-isms.

In a sense cliches have replaced communication.

I entirely agree about academics - in many walks of life!

Endlessly restless said...

I should also have confessed that I was feeling a bit low and grumpy last night - even forgot to give the post a title!