Power of Life

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The Gospels are replete with examples of Jesus’ power to heal.  Blindness, leprosy, and paralysis all were within His remit to heal.  The centurion’s  servant was even healed at a distance.  It is his resurrections, however, that show His ultimate power – the power of life.

These resurrection accounts show a chronological development and each shows more power, by the an increasing of the period of death.  In  Luke 7:11-17 Jesus encounters a funeral procession at Nain.  He immediately heals the widow’s only son, causing a great commotion.  “16 Fear seized all of them; and they glorified God, saying, “A great prophet has risen among us!” and “God has looked favorably on his people!” 17 This word about him spread throughout Judea and all the surrounding country.” 

Later in Luke 8:40-56 (and parallels), Jesus is sought by Jairus, “the ruler of the synagogue.”  His daughter is dying and he beseeches Jesus for help.  As they head to the man’s house, Jesus is interrupted by by an interlude in which a woman touches His garment to receive healing.  This delay is followed by the servants of Jairus arriving with the news that “It is too late.”  Jesus despite this delay, goes and heals the child, rising to life even before the gathered mourners.

The healing of Lazarus in John 11 is even more profound.  Jesus is called to attend to Lazarus who is ill, and delays in His setting off.  Days have elapsed, and Lazarus has not only died, but been in the tomb for four days.  Jesus nonetheless has the tomb opened, and brings back His friend without decay.

Jesus has the power of life.  “I came that they may have life, and may have it abundantly (John 10:10).”

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Active Listening

“Active Listening” is a widely used technique in counselling, inter-faith dialogue, and conflict resolution. It focuses on what the other communicant is saying rather than how you want to respond. It takes some practice, but has excellent outcomes in enriching communication.

Listen, don’t just hear, and be sure to give the speaker positive reinforcement without too many verbal intrusions such as “yes,” and “I see.” This is better done non-verbally, through nods, smile (where appropriate), and posture. Eye contact is also important. It not only allows you to see the non-verbal cues of the speaker, but it gives them a sense of being followed and understood.

Your posture as already mentioned, is an important conveyer of meaning. An active listener tends to lean slightly forward. While a distracted or bored listener may shift positions or pull away from the speaker. An inattentive listener may also “clock watch” or fidget with a pen or other convenient object. So, keep in mind the messages you are sending.

Again, the goal is to actively take-in what is being communicated. Periodically you may want to ask some questions of clarification. These shouldn’t be too frequent, and ideally should not be attempts to direct the conversation. You may also want to use some reflection and summary of what has been said. For example, “so you are saying . . . .” This allows the speaker a chance to correct any misapprehensions, and reassures them that you are on the same general wavelength.

It is really useful in these exchanges to remember and feedback some exact points the speaker has made. It shows that you have understood, and that their message was important to you.

Summarising what the speaker has said is also a good technique, before moving any dialogue along. By restating the main points of the message and reiterating them gives the speaker chance to reflect on what has been said, and if needed to correct the received message.

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Keep it Simple

Whether making a technical presentation, or giving basic instructions, simplicity is the way to go. Jargon and specialist terminology are really only appropriate when addressing “the initiated.” Face it “existential manifestations of the charisma,” sounds impressive but will leave many hearers bemused. In fact, even “outward signs of grace” is problematic to many audiences. Forgive the examples from my own field, but they do illustrate the point.

Leadership is about getting things done. If you have an entire team scratching their heads over the latest instruction, then the “done” doesn’t happen.

It is not only the word choice which needs to be simple. Sometimes it is the underlying concepts that need to “go back to basics.” Colin Powell captured this concept wonderfully when he pointed out that, “Great leaders are almost always great simplifiers, who can cut through argument, debate and doubt, to offer a solution everybody can understand.” Framing an idea in a way everyone can visualise is a win-win approach.
To sum it up – keep it simple! Plain words, clear concepts, and straightforward instructions seldom go wrong.

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Talking Points

Talking points are defined as a topics that invite discussion or argument. These are useful in political campaigns, but also in making presentations more generally. Good talking points challenge and stretch your listeners. These topics can capture imaginations and set the stage for persuading an audience to come over to your point of view.

But how do we use them? A great starting point is to define your main message. What exactly is the issue, and why should your hearers care about it.

That established define key sub-points. Don’t bombard your listeners with hundreds of semi-significant details, but rather give three or four strategic facts to ponder and digest. Then, develop those points with significant evidence and supporting materials.

When organising your presentation use sandwiching with strongest point first and highlight it to make the most of its persuasive power. Place any weaker arguments in the middle and finish with another strong point.

Be sure to stick to the point though. Use only materials which support your case. Don’t use any arguments you can’t substantiate, or deviate from your main topic. Where possible provide specific examples that support your argument. Concrete examples are always best, though real-life anecdotes can give your talking point an emotional appeal.

 

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A House Built on Stone

Jesus told a parable of two men, in Matthew chapter 7: 24 “Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. 25 And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock. 26 And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. 27 And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell, and great was the fall of it.”

Such wisdom as was shown by the builder with deep foundations is also reflected in Proverbs 24:3-4, “By wisdom a house is built, and through understanding it is established;through knowledge its rooms are filled with rare and beautiful treasures.”

We often put our trust in things that can’t deliver.  The lottery, get rich schemes, or even our own efforts.  These are all figurative sand to build on.  Face it, the chance of a substantial lottery win is over 13 million to one, and your effort will only go so far, there is one of you and only 24 hours in a day.  Jesus pointed out that real security comes from a different place.

In the last few years I have faced the loss of a child, a heart attack, and my wife’s cancer. No lottery, or entrepreneurial triumph will impact these.  It is a matter of getting priorities straight.  Is our temporal, immediate “good” really that important?  I recall a homily I heard decades ago given by a priest who had been a fairly accomplished football player while at a Catholic university.  In a “big” game, he dropped a pass just outside the end zone. While many of his team-mates were very unimpressed, one of his coaches (a priest) remarked to him in his dejected state, “What does it matter in eternity?”  Enough said.

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Be Real!

“Real” people are seldom boring. People who reveal something of themselves, start to build a connection. Audiences begin to feel they’re getting to know you. This sense of relationship gives a little “magic” to the verbal transaction. It is not “at” an audience but “with” an audience and as such gives a shared experience. This sharing reduces any boredom, as it offers an engagement of its own. Being real also includes speaking from the heart, don’t over think, or over-prepare (over preparing is not the same a practicing, but rather trying to be “too perfect” and thus sounding unnatural).

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A Higher Art

Why is oracy generally and rhetoric in particular seen as “a higher art?” The Roman politician, lawyer, and orator Cicero summed it up thus, “Rhetoric is one great art comprised of five lesser arts: inventio, dispositio, elocutio, memoria, and actio.”

But what are these lesser arts? The first, inventio (invention) is the process of developing and refining your arguments. You need to know exactly what your stance is, if you are going to persuade others of it.

The second, disposition (arrangement) is the process of organizing your arguments for their fullest impact. Whether sandwiching your weaker points between stronger ones, or a progressive build-up of ever stronger points, the arrangement of presentation is a skill to be developed.

Elocutio or style, is the third sub-art. It is the process of determining how you phrase your arguments using rhetorical techniques such as metaphor and hyperbole.

The fourth important skill is memoria or memory. This is the process of memorising your speech in order to avoid the use of notes. This is not only by rout retrieval of the speech itself, but of supporting materials such as literary references and statistics that might enhance your presentation or lead to impromptu embellishments in response to your audience.

Finally delivery or actio comes into play. This is the process of practicing your delivery. Not only of the speech’s text but of your gestures, inflections, and pauses as well.

This complex arrangement of “arts” leads to the mastery of the “uber-art” of rhetorical persuasion; or as Cicero put it “speech designed to persuade.”

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“They that go down to the sea in ships”

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As a child the idea of the sea was fascinating.  It was a place of Treasure Island, Pirates, and Mermaids.  Children’s literature painted a picture of this “other world.”  I was in awe.

Then, while I was still small, we went to the beach.  It was amazing to a small boy that this great body of water seemed to appear as we got near the coast.  It not only appeared but loomed over the horizon.  Yes, as an adult I understand that the sea by definition is at “sea level” and is “below” the surrounding land, but the illusion is nonetheless impressive to a small child.

Later I had the opportunity to go on small boats out into a bay.  This experience gave a greater insight into the deep. The vastness of the seaward went on to the horizon, it was “all” there was in that direction.  Sheer size added to the teen-aged awe of it all.

Then I went to sea!  As a young man, I sailed the Pacific.  This was no day excursion on a pleasure craft, but an extended voyage on a warship.  The sea was indeed “endless.”  In all directions, there was Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s “Water, water, everywhere . . . . ”

Then came the storm.  Yes, the majesty and power of the sea had already been imprinted in my psyche, but now WOW!  Waves several stories high, the sense that the entire world was in motion.  The exhilaration and terror (though the later tempered by confidence in the vessel, but terror nonetheless).  I was glad the storm ended.   We were still afloat, and all was well.

When Jesus was on the Galilee, a storm struck, and his seasoned fishermen friends felt that same terror.  Yet, even with all the tremendous power of sea and wind, there was a force greater.  Jesus arose in the boat and said “Peace, be still.”  The sea and wind obeyed.

I love the sea. I am still in awe of the sea.  I respect the sea. I have seen the deep when it has been placid, and when it has been angry.  It remains the greatest power on the Earth in my opinion. But it pales to God – in its power, in my love, my awe, and my respect.

Psalm 107:23-31 (KJV) captures this: “They that go down to the sea in ships, that do business in great waters;  These see the works of the Lord, and his wonders in the deep. For he commandeth, and raiseth the stormy wind, which lifteth up the waves thereof. They mount up to the heaven, they go down again to the depths: their soul is melted because of trouble. They reel to and fro, and stagger like a drunken man, and are at their wit’s end. Then they cry unto the Lord in their trouble, and he bringeth them out of their distresses. He maketh the storm a calm, so that the waves thereof are still. Then are they glad because they be quiet; so he bringeth them unto their desired haven.  Oh that men would praise the Lord for his goodness, and for his wonderful works to the children of men!”

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“Who, What, Me?”

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I recently had an experience in class which brought Proverbs 28:13 to mind: “Whoever conceals their sins does not prosper, but the one who confesses and renounces them finds mercy.”  So what was the event.  I had a student texting (contrary to college rules) under her desk, “being sly” (by which I mean totally obvious).  I told her to bring the phone up to the front.  Her response was to quickly slip it into her bag, and questioning “What phone? I don’t have a phone.”

Okay, many people today cannot survive more than a few hours without their e-fix, but the issue here is that she was missing a lesson on exam specific material.  Her “concealing:” a) was as obvious as our sins are to God, b) by missing key information she is (in exam terms) setting herself up to “not prosper.”

The parallel, I realise, is weak.  But the principle of denying guilt, thinking it will excuse it remains one we all can learn from.  I have never texted in class, but I have doodled, day-dreamed, and otherwise not been as attentive as I should have been.  “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.”

Lord, help me to see the plank in my own eye, rather than the specks of others.  Lord help me in so doing be ready to confess and seek mercy.

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A Speech to Stir Emotion

In 1877, Chief Joseph of the Nez Perce attempted to lead 750 – 800 of his people to Canada rather than be confined to a reservation. The U.S. Army pursued him, and after a trek of over 1100 miles, and culminating in a five day long battle, he formally surrendered his remaining 431 people to the authorities. His formal surrender speech to General Nelson Appleton Miles on October 5, 1877 is powerful in its sincerity, simplicity, and brevity:

“I am tired of fighting. Our chiefs are killed. Looking Glass is dead. Toohulhulsote is dead. The old men are all dead. It is the young men who say yes or no. He who led the young men is dead.

It is cold and we have no blankets. The little children are freezing to death. My people, some of them, have run away to the hills and have no blankets, no food. No one knows where they are–perhaps freezing to death. I want to have time to look for my children and see how many I can find. Maybe I shall find them among the dead.

Hear me, my chiefs. I am tired. My heart is sick and sad. From where the sun now stands, I will fight no more forever.”

One hundred thirty two words which potently tug at the heart. They are a masterpiece of the spoken art.

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