June 23, 2014
“Is it a significant birthday?”
The question was asked by a younger-than-us – well-intended, but nearly clueless – restaurant hostess regarding a peer’s upcoming surprise party. I thought to myself, “young lady: at this point in life, they’re all significant!”
Every age offers its own potential for advantage. I was thinking about my own seniority last month, as I added another candle. I’ve been embedded in the Christian community for the last half century, and – in that span – have heard all the great speakers. (Cultural note: the Christian faith produces more communicators than the Vegas comedy clubs, the political arena and the downtown service clubs, by a long shot.)
I’ve heard all the great speakers and, during that same five decades, I’ve heard a few great talks. The curiosity: I’ve heard more great speakers than great talks. What’s that about?
A lifetime in really good churches – with really good teaching from the pulpits and platforms – has allowed my belief library to be pretty well stocked. Because of that, it’s rare to hear a message that explores an empty shelf – or, exposes a missing category – in my belief library.
Because of that, most of the times that I’m in the crowd experiencing a great speaker… he/she is addressing a topic I’ve already nailed down with conviction and confidence. When the talk begins to align with an “already knew that” subject, I shift from note-taking to style-watching: for the rest of the presentation, I’m feeling really good about already agreeing with the presenter, and rating the orator on form and finesse.
When asked afterward if I was there, and how it was, my answer is predictable: “It was great! You really missed it!” The follow-up question: “What did he/she say?” That’s where it gets dicey…
“They… were really spot-on, and they got a Standing-O from the crowd!” But, what did they say? I rack my brain trying to recall… and usually cannot.
What’s different about the great talks? For me, I’ve distilled a common denominator among the memorable messages that become unforgettable: they were disruptive.
The word can go either way: a disruption is a major disturbance; something that changes your plans or interrupts something that was moving along without opposition. In the marketplace, disruptive innovation notes breakthroughs that displace earlier approaches or technologies in a way that is far beyond moderate, controlled improvement, and gets positive marks.
I can count on two hands the talks that caught my attention, seized my focus, challenged my premises… and then proposed a new understanding that, if true, would represent a transformational change-point in my belief system that would demand action.
When Paul traveled the population centers of the Roman Empire, he had a limited repertoire of talks, all centered on the Lord Jesus. Most people rejected it without recourse; some embraced his conclusions and joined the movement without hesitation.
His effort in Berea exposed a great reaction: “Now the Berean Jews were of more noble character than those in Thessalonica, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true. As a result, many of them believed…” (Acts 17:11-12). A disruptive message, but they compared it with what they already believed – the Scriptures – and were open to the enhancement of their belief systems that followed… and, they believed.
When was the last time you were disrupted by something you read or heard? Are you restricting your intake to the voices that only say what you already know?