I recently spoke for what will probably be “the last time” in chapel this quarter. If the timing goes well, it could be my last time for the year. We’ll see. Either way, in my head I had planned on it being something like a finale.
The theme for the quarter is “twice-told tales,” a take-off on a collection of short stories by Nathaniel Hawthorne. The plan is for teachers to retell stories of encounter between God and people as found in the Bible. I spoke about Jacob’s encounter with God followed by his encounter with Esau upon his return home.
It was the first time in my 2+ years of chapel that I used a full manuscript. I did that because I wanted the words to matter: word order, word choice, repetition and flow and a sense of things going somewhere beyond just the conversational tone that I always use. I suppose it worked okay. I definitely enjoyed writing the talk. I feel like I held most of their attention through the first half. The second half was less story and more reflection. I was willing to take that risk.
What I realized/remembered upon being done with chapel was that awkward feeling where you want feedback but not criticism. And that’s not a way of giving myself permission to dodge what worked or didn’t work. I think I see things like speaking, be it in the classroom or from a “pulpit,” as the (hopeful) beginning of a conversation. But beyond writing reflections for homerooms later in the week, there’s no real way to continue the discussion that doesn’t look like praise or criticism. That’s particularly true amongst peers, I think. It’s partly how we are trained and partly the consequence of there being so much information/data to process that most of it ends as “garbage in/garbage out.”
It does leave you wondering how to make words matter. At the end of last summer, the three things I wanted to debrief and decompress on were at the intersection of community, meaning, and communication. That hasn’t changed. And while I still haven’t really found a place to have the debrief, I still think it’s an important knot to untie.