Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Communication in Theological Education

The word communication brings to mind words like commune, communion and community which suggest that it means bringing together or coming together. All forms of communication thus seek to bring people together for whatever purpose. Communication also brings to mind sharing, participating, giving, taking, co-operating and transmitting. Communication thus involves people and what they do. Communication is a basic human need like food, shelter and clothing. It is a right of people. ‘One cannot not communicate’ and ‘one cannot but communicate’ provides the essence of the importance of communication. Even if we are silent, we communicate something. Religious institutions are usually happy with providing food, shelter and clothing to people in need. But this does not give the right to speak and express ones thoughts and very being. A world and church without communication would be just this. A world confined to superficial charity while refusing to give the poor and needy what is their fundamental right. This is the right to communicate.

Some definitions of communication are
1. The English word communication is taken from the Latin noun ‘communis’ and the Latin verb ‘communicare’ that means ‘to make common.’
Making common also means having something in common. Usually only people who have something in common can talk to each other. But this cannot be a hard and fast rule making us think that people who don’t share anything common cannot interact with each other. But on the other hand an element of commonness is definitely essential. All human beings have something in common but one needs to look to find and feel this commonality. Commonality includes religious beliefs, colour, taste, region, education and the like. In a theological setting it is very essential that we look for things that bind us together rather than for things that separate us. In churches also this holds true. A pastor has the responsibility of finding common threads between people rather than dividing people based on superficial disagreements. A communicator would seek to bring people together in a church setting and try to include the aspirations of all.

2. Communication is a human relationship involving two or more persons who come together to share, to dialogue and to commune.
Communication seeks to make relationships. It is not an artificial act but a human act whereby we seek to create togetherness. The first act of communication was God’s creation. God reached out to human beings and got into a relationship with them. This still continues. This is what should happen during church services as well. People should not come to see and hear something and then leave. Rather they should come and be a part of the church and each other. Without relationships, we cease to become human and therefore communication becomes an integral part of our lives.

3. Communication is the process that links discontinuous parts of the living world to one another.
We are a broken world trying to live together in hope. As pastors, care givers and social activists the hope we share is the hope given to us by the resurrected Christ. Communication forms the medium of experiencing and living this hope. How many times have we heard in theological institutions and churches that “it is a problem of communication”? Any breakdown in relationships is immediately attributed to the lack of communication and miscommunication and urgent calls are made for this to be rectified. Communication should not be seen as something using the latest technology but should be seen as the importance of doing simple things. Pastors looking at and greeting people in church, listening to people and holding their hands are all simple yet effective means of communication. This makes us a community who holds hands together, knowing fully well that we are broken and imperfect and yet coming together in the hope offered to us by God. This then should be extended to all people, of all races, castes, class, colour and gender.

4. Communication occurs when an individual assigns significance or meaning to an internal or external stimulus.
There are two types of stimulus. They are internal and external. An internal stimulus gives a signal to our brain that we need something or should do something. An external stimulus will be from someone else who wants something from us. When we are hungry, a signal is passed to the brain and we are informed of the hunger of the stomach. In Indian culture, peculiar movements of the hands and feet suggest various things at various times. This then makes us react in a certain way. Pastors/priests have to read various messages from stimuli from various sources. The need is to make out the correct meaning from what we see and feel. Many people in church will be silent and will not talk about their real feelings. Pastors should read the stimulus from silence and gather the need of people.

5. Communication is a process by which senders and receivers of messages interact in given social contexts.
We are all part of one or the other context. The social context decides how we should behave and what all conventions we should follow. This differs in each context. A pastor has to first of all understand her/his context before speaking. Only this will bring about effective interaction. The early history of modern communication hinged on the propaganda wars played out by various nations during the first and second world wars. This propaganda concentrated on transportation of messages. But mere transportation without knowledge of the social context will not ensure the intended goal. Communication as a process is much closer to understanding communication as relationships.

6. Communication is the transmission of information, ideas, emotions, skills, etc by the use of symbols, words, pictures, figures, graphs, etc.
Communication makes use of several things at the same time. It is not just words, but a plethora of other things which make the message clear to the audience. Even in churches it is not enough that we use just words to preach a sermon. A sermon should make use of all means and methods to introduce and explore the message which is being preached. Still and moving images, music, pictures, figures and graphs should all be made use of to make people understand what is being said. Take for instance the feeding of the five thousand in the bible. The message can be explained much better if we use an LCD projector to show a picture of thousands of people sitting together for food, playing appropriate music in the background through the same laptop used for projecting the picture, showing official figures of poverty in India and using graphs to show a break down of food production and distribution in India over the past decade. This will give a link between the biblical story and present day reality. There has to be a visual impact along with other things. This visual impact is present in the liturgy in churches and happens especially during the breaking of bread. This same impact should then be carried forward into the sermon and other parts of the service as well.
(to be continued...)

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