Silence, Civility, and Sanity

Silence, Civility, and Sanity August 14, 2022

My long-time friend Stephanie Bennett has released another book.

It’s called Silence, Civility, and Sanity.

In the past, I interviewed Stephanie on her excellent book Communicating Love. Readers can check out that interview here.

See also her VLOG – The Secret Place.

Recently, I caught up with Stephanie to discuss her newest book.

Enjoy!

 

The question that every reader wants to know when a new book comes out is “what’s in it for me?” They want to know what they are going to get out of it if they invest money and time to buy and read a book. So how would you answer that question: “What’s it in for the reader?”

The public sphere is rife with anger and disrespectful bullying. We are a public that is sharply divided.  We are in deep – even dire – need of healing, as a nation, as a Church, as families, and in our closest of relationships.

Christians want to know how to respond to those who degrade and bully them, both online and  in-person.  How does one disagree with another without being rude or offensive?  Is it even possible?  The answer is “yes,” and part of it is understanding the place of silence in our lives. When to speak and when to be silent.

Share the circumstances or events that provoked you to write the book.

Back 30 or so years ago the Lord began teaching me about the richness of  solitude and silence.  He began to bring me into a deeper understanding and experience of His Presence through a more contemplative type of prayer.  Since that time I’ve written and vlogged on the benefits of silence.

Lexington saw several of my articles and called me, offering to publish a book on the subject.  At first I declined because I was working on other projects, but the more I thought about it and prayed about I realized it was worth taking the time to write it.  What really pushed me over the edge was seeing how crazy our culture has become in its abuse and misuse of language.

Starting with the election of President Obama I began to see a sharp uptick in dysfunctional, abusive and ineffective communication.  The more I began seeing Christians react with the same anger and vitriol as those who are unconverted, the more burdened I became. The book is written not so much to believers, but to the general public because we are all embroiled in this current cultural insanity.

I think the title is brilliant, especially in the day in which we’re living where people are unkind to each other online – where people are quickly outraged instead of silent; uncivil instead of civil; and unreasonable instead of sane. How did you come up with the title and decided to settle on it?

The media ecologist Neil Postman[1] wrote one of his first books with the title Crazy Talk, Stupid Talk.IT always stuck with me, and was the beginning of my understanding that language shapes our sense of reality.

I thought, if he can call our speech crazy, so can I!  But seriously, there is a very strong connection between the way we speak with each other and our mental health.  Even though the book is not about mental health, per se, it explores the deep connection between how we speak and our well-being.

Silence had to be in the title because silence must inform our speech.  When it doesn’t, all that comes out is empty chatter – meaningless babble.

But when our speech is born from deep reflective silence, there is a greater chance for meaning-making. We want to “build up” each other with our words, not destroy.  There’s way too much destruction going on .

Share how you believe the coronavirus pandemic has changed the world? Both the digital world and the real one.

The suddenness of the pandemic and ongoing, relentless evolution of the virus put us all on high alert, and I think woke many of us up to the reality that death is only a breath away.

The virus spared no one and shook so many people to the core.  I think it also slowed us down – which was necessary.  One can only push forward for so long before burn out.  For many, in spite of the anxiety and discomfort there was a welcomed slowing in pace.

The digital ramifications were many, as well.  I, for one, was so thankful for the zoom software.  I reached out to folks on social media with an offer to discuss one of Thomas Merton’s books via zoom.  About 15 people participated weekly.

Every Wednesday night we got together via screen and shared (each in our own living rooms across the country).  It was wonderful fellowship.

Speaking of fellowship, I am encouraged there, as well, and here’s why:

Because traditional churches all scrambled to record their services or go with Facebook Live, folks got accustomed to staying home on Sunday.

Now, that’s not happy news for traditional churches.  They’re still scrambling to get people back into the pews, but it opened up the eyes of many that the way we Americans “do church” is not working.  So many discovered that gathering at home with three or four people allows for greater mutuality and a deeper sense of belonging to each other in Christ.

The church system is still alive and well, but there has been a major upset in it and I think that is good.  As important as it is for us to gather as the church things MUST change if Christ-followers are to regain a witness to God’s love in this world.

We have to begin walking in greater fullness of the Lord – the aliveness, if you will, of God –and the weekly ritual of church-going , institutional Christianity just isn’t cutting it.

Even before the pandemic, the “Dones” and “Nones”were increasing in exponential numbers.

(Oh, but that’s another subject entirely, isn’t it? 🙂

Please unpack the word “silence,” which is a major theme running through the book. What do you mean by “silence,” what are the different types of silence, and how can Christians benefit from having a deeper understanding – and practice – of silence?

Ah, Frank. . . now you’ve asked the question of the hour.  Silence is my sweet spot!  Perhaps because I have been an extrovert most of my life, I value silence and solitude deeply to keep me in balance.Without enough of it, I just keep going and going and going, filling my life with busyness that doesn’t end.

Without regular doses of silence, I too easily feel scattered and not at rest.  I believe many Christians – and people in general – can relate to that.  Practicing silence is a spiritual discipline that helps us slow down.

It creates a way for us to have greater agency and control of our days instead of letting the pressures of the day control us.  Although it may feel uncomfortable at first, it is an important part of our spiritual formation in Christ, one that gets neglected all the time.

In the book I deal with 8 different types and uses of silence, but the one that spurred my interest in it 30 years ago is contemplative silence.  Learning how to move beyond prayers of supplication, prayers of praise, petition, or formal, traditional prayers like the one Jesus taught his disciples to pray is an important aspect of our prayer life.

Of course, we never let go of those earlier types of prayer, but with contemplative silence we can move into closer communion with our Lord.

Twenty years ago,I did my doctoral dissertation on the relationship between speech and silence, researching the connection between advancing technologies like smart phones and social media – and other, older technologies like writing, radio, and television.

These technologies mediate the space between us and keep us connected to each other but encroach upon (or even eliminate) the necessary silence and quiet space needed for reflection.

In that research I looked deeply into the disappearance of silence in the marketplace, in business, in education, nature, in the church, in our inner dialogue, etc., and explored what these distractions mean to our social relationships and personal identity.

When our minds are busy filtering all the extraneous information that comes our way via these technologies we become distracted and reactive rather than thoughtful and responsive.  Incivility can easily become our default way of being in the world.  I think that is what is happening in the digital economy

Give us one or two examples where people (without their actual names, of course) were being uncivil to each other on social media. Then explain how the message of your book – if they took your advice – would help them have a completely different conversation.

I am purposely avoiding being involved in Twitter, but all one has to do is go into the Twitterverse and see that those who are tweeting go far beyond the witty, intelligent banter it allows, and lapse into mocking, snarky, belligerent remarks that keep people trying to conquer each other rather than communicate.

On Facebook and YouTube, the blunt, unkind, and mean comments are an indication that people viewing these videos and reels treat each other as objects – things – instead of actual persons.

Rudeness and disrespect are common. Most people wouldn’t dream of speaking to another person with such disrespect, but the relative anonymity of internet connections opens the door wide for people to treat each other poorly, and that treatment usually involves a personal attack.

For example, I saw a woman on YouTube sharing her banana bread recipe.  She was a delightful and positive woman who was also overweight.  Some of the comments below were hateful.  One simply wrote: “Hey – how many donuts do you eat a day?”

In chapter 2, you give a fascinating treatment of St. Francis and George Fox (along with some others). Share some of the insights you received from both Francis and Fox and how they can help Christians today.

George Fox is a fascinating figure, indeed.  His work in the mid-17th century launched the Quaker movement, which many simply think of as the people who worship in silence.

But Fox was keen on hearing the inward voice of the Spirit instead of speaking or moving with one’s own “fleshly” desires.  He taught that Christians should be moved by the Spirit to speak in meeting for fellowship, hence, the name “Quakers.”

Most people associate silent worship with them, but what is little known about the Quakers is that they were leaders in all matters of social justice.  They labored endlessly to eradicate slavery in antebellum America.  Once that was accomplished, their attention turned to helping the poor and working toward prison reform and nonviolence. We can learn much from Fox and his practice of silence.

Silence provides space for God to speak.  Solitude and stillness are disciplines, working into the formation of the Christ-centered life like yeast in bread.  The gift of silence teaches us to listen for the still small voice of God.  It helps us our ability to discern truth from error.

This speaks to one of the most problematic things in the contemporary Church as well as in mainstream culture, and that’s the inability to really listen and to discern.  We either don’t listen for the Lord because we think all that needs to be said is in the Bible, or we only want to hear personally from God and we don’t listen to each other.

But learning to listen to each other is integral to our proper formation.  Imagine how relationships would flourish if men listened to women and women listened to men, and we all listened to each other?  Silence clears the space for us to listen.

As for Francis, how much time do you have? 🙂 I love Francis, and visited Assisi in my research.  He is known as “God’s Fool,” and that’s because he was determined to keep the Gospel pure and potent in its simplicity.

Francis never wanted followers, nor did he set up a rule of life, but those who walked with him formalized his teaching and to this day they made love the central focus of the Gospel.  Love of God, love of the brethren.

The book is well documented and sourced. What were some of the “aha” moments for you personally as you were researching and writing it?

Thank you, Frank.  I spent a lot of time on this project. It wasn’t a book that came out of nowhere.  I’ve been researching these subjects for the better part of 25 years, and experiencing the discipline and beauty of silence in my personal life since 1990. Still working on it. 🙂

There are at least two main areas of personal enrichment that came out of writing this book.  One, I realized in a much keener way how much truth is truth.  Yes, I’d like to see Christians stand up and be the leaders in listening skills and adopting silence practices, but I wrote this book to the mainstream public because we are all the same.  We are all human.

We are all made in God’s image.  We all can help create a stronger, healthier public sphere.  Being a Christian doesn’t automatically make us better as apprehending silence or benefiting from the practice. Silent, contemplative practices are not just for monks; silence can and will help any and everyone live more stable, restful, thoughtful lives.

Secondly, I realized that the Church at large really must begin teaching about contemplative prayer and the practice of silence.  I’ve held off teaching about this for a very long time – probably too long.  What I see is a growing emphasis in the mainstream on mindfulness and eastern spirituality and I can’t help but wonder why are we bringing it forth making sure to find its center in Christ?

Mindfulness, for example is expanding in leaps and bounds in the school systems and that’s because we all need to be more fully present to each other along with being aware of our own preconceptions,the words we use, how we come off to others, how we present the beauty of the Gospel.  Also, quite simply, there is a mental health crisis in America.

We need silence practices to maintain emotional balance and well-being.  We need it for the health of our relationships.  We need it for purposeful, prayerful communion with God.  Why aren’t we leading the pack?

Why are we letting the mainstream culture bring these practices to the public schools while we watch? In the same way that the ability to speak is a gift God has given to everyone regardless of belief in Him or not, so silence is a gift.  It’s up to us to lay hold of it.

Where else can people learn about you and your work?

Here are a couple of links, one to my work website and the other with a bit more information and resources:

drstephaniebennett.com

www.pba.edu/directory/bennett-stephanie.html

I’d also love folks to visit my VLOG.

It’s based on Psalm 91 – The Secret Place of the Most High God.

What is this place? It is the place where the life-giving Spirit of the Lord ministers deeply within each soul who seeks Him.  Hosted by the Christianity and Communication Studies Network (CCSN), the VLOG is simply titled:  The Secret Place with Stephanie Bennett.

There I discuss faith, communication, and culture regularly since 2017 and always enjoy dialogue in the comment section.

Go here to check it out.

My current project is a new book about communicating love effectively in this crazy culture of meaningless jargon and propaganda.  My aim is to help people who love each other, stay together.

Whether that’s families, friends, marriage partners, or a starkly divided public, communication is a key to maintaining healthy relationships.

It will be an updated, expanded version of the 2010 publication of my first book, Communicating Love:  Staying Close in a 24/7 Media Saturated Society.

Tell us how people can get a copy of the book.

It’s available on Amazon in hardcover and as an ebook as well as on Barnes and Noble.

But the best deal is from the publisher.

They are running a special 30% Discount Offer. To get discount, use code LXFANDF30 when ordering.

Just go Here then apply the code.

Or order by phone by calling 1-800-462-6420

Since it’s an academic book, it’s priced higher than most books, but the discount will definitely help.

[1]Remember Postman’s Amusing Ourselves to Death?


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