WELL, WHAT ABOUT THAT! (Part 3)
By Dr. Robert R. Seyda
TAKING MADNESS OUT OF THE METHOD
While speaking to a young college student who volunteered at an American Cancer Society Lodge for cancer patients, the subject turned to music. When asked for one of my favorite songs, I mentioned “Some Enchanted Evening” from the movie South Pacific. The twenty-year old volunteer looked at me as though I spoke in Latin. It didn’t take long before I found out that she knew little of Pearl Harbor, the Battle at Midway, and General Douglas MacArthur’s famous line concerning the Philippines, “I shall return.”
In reflecting on how time changes each generation’s perspective about important people and events, I dare say that subjects and incidents that I used in sermons and lectures some twenty years ago, where I trusted the audience to immediately identify with what I mentioned, no longer proves true. This demonstrates that in order for people to communicate effectively and meaningfully they must be on the same page when it comes to words, terms, phrases, ideas, concepts and themes.
I tried to teach my students in Homiletics that for any audience to truly understand what they communicated and get the main point, they must meet them on the same level of cognition. In order to help them understand this concept I drew a grid with five columns and five rows, creating twenty-five boxes. In the top row, beginning with column two, I wrote: Researched Content; in column three – Sermon Organization; in column four – Spoken Language; and in column five – Sincere Delivery, which spells the acronym COLD. Then in the far left column, starting at the beginning of row two I put: Scripture Factor; in row three – Occasion Factor; in row four – Audience Factor; and in row five – Preacher Factor, which creates the acronym SOAP. Together they spell COLD SOAP, a phrase designed to help them remember it better.
Then I told them to cross reference each box where the row and column met inside the grid. For instance, if they chose the Sermon Organization on top, and Occasion Factor on the left side, then follow the column and row to where they intersect within the grid, allowing them to focus on the importance of knowing how these two factors affect one another in helping the speaker communicate more effectively with the listener. In other words, when a person anticipates giving a lecture or preaching a sermon, they must keep in mind who they plan to speak to. Determine the composition of the group, whether they consist mainly of believers, or unbelievers or a mix of both. Does the group reflect a younger or older generation or both. Does the occasion celebrate a special day or event. This Occasion Factor must then influence the Sermon Organization.
By establishing these factors, the speaker then needs less time to explain the words, terms, phrases, ideas, concepts and themes employed. By being on common ground with the audience, they achieve a common core of comprehension. This leaves the listeners with more time to assimilate the message without constantly struggling over words or phrases they don’t understand because of their being popular before their generation. While the King James Version of the Bible remains eloquent with its Shakespearean form of English, I rarely, if ever, recommend it to a young Christian for daily Bible reading.
They same goes when we study ancient texts, especially for ministers when they go to the original Greek or Hebrew in preparing a sermon. We cannot always take the words as used back then to mean what they mean to us today. Along with the problem of translation, there also exists the need to understand the effect of culture on what the writer wrote or speaker said in their own dialect, time, and place. I insisted that my students remember that each time they chose a particular verse or verses from the Scripture to read as a text, to always inform the audience as to: who wrote it, when they wrote it, to whom they wrote it, why they wrote it, what constitutes the main subject, what problem did they address, if any, and how it relates to the message they’ve prepared for delivery. When a speaker does not do this, many audiences cannot figure all this out even after the sermon comes to a close.
The same lack of general understanding occurred when these ancient manuscripts and tablets, referred to in our opening chapter, came to light in the Near East. The consideration of culture and language did not open the doors to civil dialogue, thus putting all sides on the defensive. So the debate began on whose religion proved more authentic; whose virtues and ethics appeared superior; which document writers borrowed from whom; and whose codes of conduct and laws might be declared as original. They made scant effort to understand why the ancient’s thought the way they did about themselves and their world.
Whenever comparing documents and scrutinizing them for originality, the burden rests on the researcher to determine whether one copied from another, or if by living in proximity to each other under like conditions led to similar conclusions. Also, did these people ever come into contact with each other and share ideas and concepts. Little consideration seemed to be given to the fact that all of these nations descended from one source, through which basic their understanding about God, creation, ethics and values got passed from one generation to another.
If members of one tribe living in one part of the Near East looked up at the sky every night and interpreted what they saw as being so vast and brilliantly displayed that some genius power created it and wrote it down, while members of another tribe hundreds of miles away came to the same conclusion which they wrote down as such, then their geological location, their place in time, and their cultural background and genesis must be taken into consideration. One group while looking up into the sky might conclude they see a polyverse with many gods, while another group looking into the same sky sees a universe with one God.
Therefore, when finding narratives in all these documents related to their understanding of the cosmos and earth’s relationship to it, along with stories of how life came to be here on earth and the acceptance of a higher power, no matter what name they gave him, and a list of certain events of the past as well as those occurring during their time, the question of how did the children of Abraham come into possession of similar subject matter while identifying other origins and outcomes, the question does not become whether they borrowed this from some earlier culture, but that people living in near proximity to each other during that period shared similar ideas and ideals with them.
It must be recognized that a considerable gap exists between one culture borrowing thoughts, concepts and ideas from another then claiming them as their own, and the reality that such ideas infiltrated their culture from outside sources and became part and parcel of how they thought and lived. When such similarities of expression and concepts evidence themselves in subsequent literature, that does not dictate that an indictment of borrowing or coping be levied against one or the other.
For instance, common verbal expressions of my day included, “One bird in the hand is worth two in the bush.” Also, “A penny saved is a penny earned.” Therefore, when I passed them on to my children, did that make me guilty of plagiarism? I think not! These ideas came into my conscious mind by way of hearing. When I used them in a lecture or sermon, did I purposely borrow them from some other sermon and then present them as being original with me? No! I lived in a world and at a time when these maxims existed as part of the culture.
One of the more intriguing encounters in the Old Testament occurred when Abram, who came from the city of Ur in Chaldea (modern Iraq), found himself needing to rescue his nephew Lot, who lived in the twin cities of Sodom and Gomorrah near the Dead Sea, from the hands of king Kedorlaomer and his army who took them captive. So after assembling a small army of some 318 trained fighters, Abram chased after the enemy and in a surprise attack successfully rescued Lot and his family. On his way back home, Melchizedek, the king of Salem and a priest of the Highest God, waited for him in the Valley of Shaveh, where they served Abram and his entourage bread and wine. Upon greeting Abram, Melchizedek said, “Abram, may you be blessed by the Highest God, the one who made heaven and earth. And we praise the Highest God, who helped you defeat your enemies.”
Moved by this expression of support and honor, Abram gave Melchizedek one-tenth of everything he had taken during the battle. No known evidence exists that Abram and Melchizedek previously met. So how did they come to share the same belief in this higher power, this Highest God? Certainly they did not read the same manuscripts, nor enjoyed being taught by the same teacher. Such belief in a divine power existed among most, if not all, the cultures of that day. So Melchizedek did not borrow the idea from Abram, but Abram immediately recognized this belief in the Highest God and responded to it favorably.
At this point we must understand that only pure conjecture allows for any postulation that Abram and Melchizedek fully comprehended the same depth of knowledge concerning this Highest God that later came to the people of Israel through the revelation Moses received on Mt. Sinai. After all, Abram was not a Jew, but a descendant of Shem, the son of Noah, while Melchizedek lived where the descendants of Noah’s grandson Canaan, the son of Ham, lived. This clearly points to their arriving at the same conclusion about this Highest God from that passed down to them by their ancestors. So the question of who borrowed from who does not apply here. To take this further, what Moses wrote about concerning his understanding of this Highest God does not include what Isaiah saw in visions and wrote about this Highest God. By the same token, no Old Testament prophet came to know as much about God as those privy to the teaching of Jesus of Nazareth.
So in this case, the cultural trail appears more evident than a literary trail. Universities did not exist at this time in human history, therefore acceptance of what many thought of as the obvious became part of their common core belief system via verbal traditions. Today we hear this concept referred to as universal consciousness and the metaphysical aspect of reality. It addresses the inner guidance by a higher power found in almost all religions to which each culture gives different names and identities.
This of course, leads us back to the idea of a common creator of all things, one who said He desired to make man in His own image; one who breathed into mankind His breath that brought not only life, but that inner guidance we know as conscience. Therefore, no matter how far apart the descendents of Noah dispersed after the flood, they carried this with them. As cultures changed based on location, time, influence from others, and the need to survive, this inner guidance led to expressions of faith in something not seen but the presence of which remained an accepted fact. This substantiates the fact that essence precedes existence. In other words, creation does not prove the existence of God but the essence of God. Therefore, the essence of God proved necessary before creation came into existence.