The Communication Canyon

In my opening article for this website, I wrote about how applying the Bible seems like crossing a canyon. I named this site “Canyon Crossers” for that reason.

Applying the Bible is not the only canyon to cross in living for Jesus Christ. Interpreting the Bible can, at times, feel like crossing a canyon and I intend to write about that in future articles. Another canyon that we face is the canyon of communication. This article will begin discussion on that issue.

I have never read the fiction of Stephen King and, from what I’ve heard about his writing, it seems wise for Christians to avoid reading his fiction. Many years ago, however, I heard King interviewed about a non-fiction book he had recently published called On Writing – A Memoir of the Craft. I was interested in what King said in that interview, bought the book, and read it rapidly. The first part of the book was King’s autobiography which I found fascinating. The second part of the book was some helpful advice he had for other writers.

In that second part of the book, Stephen King wrote that writing is telepathy, meaning that it is a means of transferring a vision or an idea from one brain to another. He explained:

And here we go— actual telepathy in action. You’ll notice I have nothing up my sleeves and that my lips never move. Neither, most likely, do yours. Look— here’s a table covered with a red cloth. On it is a cage the size of a small fish aquarium. In the cage is a white rabbit with a pink nose and pink-rimmed eyes. In its front paws is a carrot-stub upon which it is contentedly munching. On its back, clearly marked in blue ink, is the numeral 8. Do we see the same thing? We’d have to get together and compare notes to make absolutely sure, but I think we do. There will be necessary variations, of course: some receivers will see a cloth which is turkey red, some will see one that’s scarlet, while others may see still other shades. (To color-blind receivers, the red tablecloth is the dark gray of cigar ashes.) Some may see scalloped edges, some may see straight ones. Decorative souls may add a little lace, and welcome— my tablecloth is your tablecloth, knock yourself out. Likewise, the matter of the cage leaves quite a lot of room for individual interpretation. For one thing, it is described in terms of rough comparison, which is useful only if you and I see the world and measure the things in it with similar eyes. It’s easy to become careless when making rough comparisons, but the alternative is a prissy attention to detail that takes all the fun out of writing. What am I going to say, “on the table is a cage three feet, six inches in length, two feet in width, and fourteen inches high”? That’s not prose, that’s an instruction manual. The paragraph also doesn’t tell us what sort of material the cage is made of— wire mesh? steel rods? glass?— but does it really matter? We all understand the cage is a see-through medium; beyond that, we don’t care. The most interesting thing here isn’t even the carrot-munching rabbit in the cage, but the number on its back. Not a six, not a four, not nineteen-point-five. It’s an eight. This is what we’re looking at, and we all see it. I didn’t tell you. You didn’t ask me. I never opened my mouth and you never opened yours. We’re not even in the same year together, let alone the same room . . . . except we are together. We’re close. We’re having a meeting of the minds.

King, Stephen (2000-10-03). On Writing: A Memoir Of The Craft (pp. 105-106). Scribner. Kindle Edition.

That paragraph describes both how we are able to communicate meaningfully with each other and how what you receive from my communication can differ from what I think I sent. There are gaps–canyons, if you will–that have to be crossed in order for communication to happen. Some of the articles I intend to write for this site will address how to cross the communication canyon. Since I am a pastor who teaches weekly, these articles will focus on effective teaching, but the communication principles will apply to all kinds of communication.