I learnt the Greek word for conversation just yesterday. And the Latin too. I was reading more of Nick page’s Kingdom of Fools. And in particular the way Eutychus falls asleep during Paul’s very lo-o-o-o-ong sermon in a place called Troas (see Acts 20). Or rather – he doesn’t. It’s not that he doesn’t fall asleep – he does. The room is hot, it’s late at night, he’s had to work all day – he literally drops off. And falls to his death (and resurrection, as it happens). But it’s not because Paul is wittering on. The early church just did not do it that way. They took the rabbinical style of teaching, the Jesus style. Questions and answers, debate and banter. It wasn’t just about a monologue from a preacher – even with powerpoint and movie clips. The interaction was a big part of the learning. One of my favourite moments in Luke’s blog about Jesus, post 21, happens when Jesus begins a story about two sons and first asks the audience, what do you think about this? They are allowed to answer back. They are invited to answer back.
A Bishop once said that he often gets invited to churches where he is told that they have a great teaching ministry – to which he often replies – ‘What’s your learning ministry like?’ In the movie Dead Poets Society Mr Keating teaches the boys by thrusting them into new experiences He gets them to jump off his desk, to read poetry as they kick a football, to watch each other walk, to leave the classroom and go somewhere else.
How do people learn? How do you and I learn? What shapes us? I’m not convinced that it’s one person standing up front delivering a monologue. There’s an old Chinese proverb that the theatre company Riding Lights quote at the start of one of their books. ‘I hear I forget. I see I remember. I do I understand.’ I think Jesus and Paul understood this. Engagement and experience help things to stay with us. Tell a bunch of guys they could feed thousands of people with some bread and God’s help and it’s likely to go in one ear and out the other. Get them to feed thousands of people with some bread and God’s help and they’ll never forget it. More than that, it may change how they operate in the future.
Oh, and the Latin and Greek words for conversation? Homily and Sermon.