Why I Communicate With The Dead. . .

listeningNo. . . I haven’t gone all “Long Island Medium” on you. That kind of stuff is just flat out nuts, dangerous, and off the charts wrong.

What I am saying is that I’ve learned that there are a host of valuable voices out there that we often ignore to our detriment. . . voices of those who have gone before us in life. . . some who have been dead for centuries. They are voices we should seek out and listen to if we are to understand and grow in our faith, our lives, and our ministries. They are the voices of those who have preceded us in this life and have moved on to eternity with Christ. They are the voices that belong to those who populate that “great cloud of witnesses” the writer of Hebrews talks about. They are seasoned, experienced, and wise.

But isn’t this a no-brainer for the follower of Christ? It should be. But I’m wondering if our natures and our times are combining in a risky mix that leaves us choosing deafness/ignorance over wisdom. Let me explain. . .

First, our natures. I clearly remember my first few years of adolescence. I knew more than my parents. . . or so I thought. And, I clearly remember my first few years in youth ministry. I knew more than the older guys in youth ministry. I knew more than the parents of the kids I ministered to. I’m not sure what exactly was happening, but conversations with peers about their own experience indicates that I was not alone in my arrogance and ignorance. As I think back on that part of my life, I realize now that my circle of wisdom, knowledge, and advice was pretty homogeneous. It was limited to people close in age, close in proximity, close in opinions, and close in vocation. We do that a lot, don’t we? How stupid is that???

An article I read last week is what prompted my thoughts on this. Baseball Hall-of-Famer Mike Schmidt penned a column for the Associated Press entitled, “Today’s Hitters Don’t Want Help From the Older Generation.” Schmidt describes conversations with his fellow Hall-of-Famers. . . some of the greatest baseball players who have ever played the game.  Specifically, Schmidt and his peers have discussed their interactions with today’s young professional players. Schmidt says that “to the man, we find it amazing that this generation has little interest in our help.” He writes about something that happened to George Brett: “One of the most telling stories was shared by George. He said when he was a hitting instructor last year, there were two indoor cages, and he would be in one flipping balls and the assistant coach in the other. The young Royals hitters were lined up to hit in the cage with the assistant, and none to hit in George’s cage. I find that hard to believe, but at the same time know why. George, one of the greatest hitters ever, was there to coach, to offer his expertise, to suggest mechanics that might make a young hitter better. The other coach was there to coach as well, but not with a sense of urgency — rather, more by telling the hitters what they wanted to hear. George eventually quit because he felt he was wasting everyone’s time in a failing effort to connect with them.”

Schmidt’s on to something that’s not just evident in the world of professional baseball. I see in the world of the church and in the world of youth ministry. Business people lament its presence in the marketplace as they struggle with integrating younger employees into the culture of their business.

Is it possible that our arrogance and ignorance combine with our desire to be affirmed in a way that leaves us seeking out and listening only to those who tell us what we want to hear? Those who think like we do? Those who won’t rattle us with something that will require a shift in how we live, move, and have our being?

Second, there are our times. We live in a day and age that puts premium value on “the now.” We are told to live in the moment. Carpe Diem. Don’t worry about the future. And certainly, the past has little or nothing to say to us. The voices from the past are old. . . primitive. . . unsophisticated. . . irrelevant. And as we live in the now, we believe that the only “now” voices worth listening to are those that affirm and like us. . . typically those who are close in age to us.

Consider this. . . I’m currently reading Larry Rosen’s fascinating and frightening book, iDisorder: Understanding Our Obsession With Technology and Overcoming It’s Hold On Us. Rosen’s “iDisorder” is a new disorder that combines elements of many psychiatric maladies and is centered on the way we relate to technology and media. He shows, chapter by chapter, how technology coerces us to in the moment act in ways that may be detrimental to our well-being, and that promote and facilitate behaviors and habits that are similar to many psychiatric disorders, including things like addiction, narcissism, and obsessive-compulsive behaviors.

In his chapter on narcissism – “Media Starts With Me” – Rosen describes how we create the selves that others will like. We then curate our online personas so that we will be liked, followed, and friended. In other words, if we are going to change and conform into an image, it’s the image that appeals to others, even if that image is not at all like the image we should be. In other words, we only change if it generates social capital and increases the number of eyes that focus – along with our own eyes – on ourselves.

Consequently, anyone who might challenge us to get our eyes off of ourselves. . . for example, those voice from the present and past. . . who would upset our carefully self-curated selves. . . by encouraging us to worship God rather than ourselves. . . well, we ignore them.

What’s the take-away in all this? Simply stated, I need to break free from myself and the moment to listen to those who have gone before me. As Francis Bacon has said, “History makes men wise.” And the voices from the past can pass on wisdom that far exceeds what I might find in the world today. At the very least, I can expand my horizons to learn a few good lessons from people of faith who have lived, learned, and studied in ways that had them not only drinking from the fountain of wisdom, but have left that legacy of wisdom for us to tap into thanks to the writings they’ve passed on. For me, I want to read and learn from deceased theologians, cultural critics, philosophers, artists, poets, novelists, etc. If I write them off, I’m forfeiting growth.

All truth is God’s truth. And just because someone isn’t alive today, that doesn’t mean that what they once spoke is outdated or expired. Truth has an unlimited shelf life.


4 thoughts on “Why I Communicate With The Dead. . .

  1. Hey Walt, this is a great post. It would be helpful if you could suggest some of your favorite books, etc. to help us expand our horizons. What books related to this post have been the most transformative for you?

    1. Chad. . . great question. . . and one I was hoping someone would ask! Let me recommend some of my favorite “voices.” I’ve read many of their books, but certainly not all. I would recommend choosing one of these voices and then Googling them to check out what they’ve written and then make some choices from there. If I was to do this the best way, I would stand in front of the shelves in my office and scan them. But since I’m not there right now. . . here goes. Some of the great voices I’ve come to trust (not the least bit exhaustive here, but a start) include John Stott, Francis Schaeffer, Paul Tournier, Jacques Ellul, Hans Rookmakker, Abraham Kuyper, and Donald Drew. OK. . . fasten your seat belt for these two as they sometimes take people off guard. . . John Calvin and then the Puritans. I’ve found that many who have a bad taste in their mouth on these two counts have that bad taste due to stereotypes. They’ve never read either. The Puritans have really helped me to pray. I have a prayer book, “The Valley of Vision,” that is based on Puritan writings and prayers. Excellent. Can’t recommend it enough. There’s a little start for you. Hope it’s helpful.

  2. Walt, I just wanted to express my appreciation for the time and thought you put into your work – especially these blog posts. I might not comment on all of them or retweet them, but I do read, reflect, and try to absorb them into my thinking, parenting and leading. Your posts are some of the most impactful resources I encounter. Keep up the diligent and hugely helpful work! Thank you

  3. John Newton is another good dead man to read… The Letters of John Newton are especially shepherding and helpful. Much in his letters on which to savor and meditate.

    Thankful for your post! And all you write…

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Subscribe to Our Blog