excerpts from the book...

PREFACE

More than anything else, it is our ability to communicate that shapes the content of our lives and experiences: intimate or isolated, effective or incompetent, admired or ignored.

Admittedly, most of the time we give it little thought. Communicating is as natural as breathing, and as unheralded as a steady heartbeat. But when breathing is difficult or the heart spasms, we sit up and pay attention. We seek a remedy.

Communication saturates today’s world. The reach and speed of technology grows ever more astounding, flooding our lives with information and images. New means of interaction spring up daily. But for all the advances, we cannot help but wonder if we have advanced at all. Even personal conversations often feel thin and insubstantial, offering hardly more sustenance than the gruel fed to Oliver Twist.

We eat, but remain hungry; receive information, but experience little of lasting value. Although wired for every connection imaginable, there lingers over all a troubling sense of disconnectedness, even among close friends and family.

Dare we seek more from communication in a media age?

Is it worth our breath to acknowledge wishing for friendships that are fuller and more intimate … desiring to bring fresh hope to others and leave lasting impact upon our community … yearning for an authentic connection between our spiritual values and a workaday world of sales reports, oil changes, and cranky children?

We write this book because we are convinced communication can offer more—both for ourselves and for our culture. Communication is the centerpiece of our profession. Erik has filled numerous press secretary and speechwriter positions within Washington, D.C.’s “beltway,” and now runs the communications for a federal agency. Jedd’s post is 3,000 miles away, serving as a chief of staff in the legislature of the nation’s most populous state. Each day is a kaleidoscope of press conferences and speeches, editorials and articles, focus groups and polling data. Our job is to mold the message, cut through the noise, shape opinions … and hope it sticks. Amid this wearying pursuit of crisp words and vibrant delivery, we have come to a new and profound respect for the communication of Jesus of Nazareth. And the deeper we look, the more we are impressed. He invites nothing less than revolution at the very heart of communication in the modern world.

Both of us have held deep faith in Jesus for many years. Even so, it has been disturbing—and also marvelously bracing—to encounter Jesus’ masterful skill in a realm we once considered our expertise. Our lives, quite literally, will never be the same.

However, let us be clear from the beginning—in writing a book about communication, we do not intend to pose as master communicators, nor merely to convey our own skills and knowledge. Rather, we desire to unearth together the profound communication truths lived by Jesus and displayed throughout history in others whose communication became great as they responded to his lead.

These truths, no doubt, will leave some surprised, perhaps even offended. They are subversive, challenging prevailing assumptions about communication, just as Jesus scandalized the unquestioned notions of his own day. But in an age exhausted by spin, hype, and image, we are convinced Jesus’ approach to communication offers an irresistible opportunity to connect with those around us at the deepest levels, and to draw them to what is higher, fuller, and more enduring. Why would we settle for anything less?

Erik Lokkesmoe
Jedd Medefind
Washington, D.C.—Sacramento, CA
2004

INTRODUCTION

“No man ever spoke as this man does.”
—Temple guards, returning empty-handed after being sent to arrest Jesus

He was born to a teen mother in a cave on the outskirts of a backwater village. Goats and sheep and hens surrounded his makeshift crib, constructed quickly from brittle hay and an old blanket pungent with donkey sweat.

From all appearances, this baby wasn’t going to amount to much.

At an early age, his father taught him to work with his hands. Some say he was a woodworker, handy with the chisel and saw, repairing old tables and crafting new chairs. Others speculate that he built with stone, traveling three miles every morning to job sites in the Roman city of Sephoris.

Whatever the tasks, tradition recounts that his callused hands produced quality work, accepted with few questions by neighbors and friends. To them, he was simply another Nazarene, a carpenter’s son—as common as the materials with which he built.

Yet in just three tumultuous years, this Jewish tradesman turned his world upside-down and inside-out.

He dashed the status quo like pottery, leaving elitists trembling with rage. He celebrated life with rebels and dined with outcasts. His words echoed over mountainsides and desert footpaths, spreading like a prairie wildfire among illiterate townsfolk and dignitaries alike, resounding in palace halls, crowded marketplaces, and marble-walled temples. Everywhere he ventured, crowds pressed in, eager to hear anything this teller of stories had to say. They strained to touch his clothes, moved back when he did something unexpected, like etching in the sand or spitting in the mud. For days on end, multitudes stood listening to his words, transfixed. Tax cheats and call girls gave up their dubious income to be near him, and fishmongers abandoned their boats. Riots and rumors dogged his path. In his presence, the influential and best-dressed felt threatened, even terrified.

The masses adored him. Who was this nobody turned notable?

They called him Jesus. He’s a divisive figure, no question. Much good and much evil has been done in his name. He claimed to be the Son of God, the Savior, a Shepherd to the lost and blind. Witnesses attest that he performed miracles, even raised the dead. He described himself as the way, the truth, and the life. Even skeptics find him enthralling. It is no exaggeration to say that he is the most studied, debated, and examined figure in all of history.

Napoleon Bonaparte, hardly known for being impressed with anyone but himself, voiced the thoughts of countless others in stating, “Everything in Christ astonishes me. His spirit overawes me, and his will confounds me. Between him and whoever else in the world, there is no possible term of comparison.”

Without question, Jesus’ impact upon history flowed from who he was and what he said—much more than from his communication methods alone.

Even so, we must recognize the means by which these deeper realities were encountered. People experienced Jesus’ person and message through his communication—in the words, questions, tools, and methods he chose to employ. To those who encountered Jesus, the medium was inseparable from the message. The way he communicated was itself a critical part of what he sought to convey.

And the results were astounding. Consider this: a tradesman with little formal education, never traveling more than a hundred miles from his place of birth, set in motion a movement that would continue for two thousand years in virtually every nation, every culture, and every language on earth.

A message first shared with a band of laborers and misfits, now reaches millions of people every year. The same stories are told over and over and over again, despite wars and famines and hurricanes and 24-hour cable news and all the distractions that tend to leave reports out-dated even before they reach an audience.

And it all started without satellite dishes. Without the Internet. Without slick mailings or media campaigns. Without a college degree. Without talking points and teleprompters. Without press secretaries or the Gutenberg press. Without newspapers and newsletters. Without Tom Brokaw or MTV.

You see, the potency and effectiveness that marked Jesus’ communication does not hinge upon money, position, or market-shares. It is not dependent on choreographed technique or cutting-edge technologies. Jesus had none of these things going for him. To discover the subtle secrets of Jesus’ approach to communication, we must look elsewhere.

At its heart, Jesus’ communication was not merely a set of honed skills or proficiencies. Rather, it drew its impact from deeper attributes of character and being. It is no different today. Effective communication is a way of living.

Of course, our world differs greatly from the one Jesus faced. Science and innovation have profoundly altered everyday life. Today’s children routinely use media that would have left previous generations—not to mention the people of Jesus’ day—gaping in wonder. Dizzying combinations of sounds and images invade nearly every waking moment, from cradles to coffins, pursuing us and wooing us toward new products, ideas, and experiences. As one of California’s top political consultants observed, lamenting the difficulty of breaking through this static with even the most carefully-crafted advertising, “Our society is diseased with messages.”

Yet despite all the technology and change, speed and noise, the fundamental truths at the heart of powerful communication—the ones Jesus lived out in every communication act—have not changed at all.

To harness Jesus’ communication truths does not require towering intellect or imposing stature. An Ivy League degree or lengthy resumé are not prerequisites. Broad shoulders and booming voices are not required. These communication truths equip and enrich all who choose to employ them—as parents, spouses and friends, as a journalist, journeyman, public official, or first grade teacher.

“I do not invent,” observed Auguste Rodin, sculptor of The Thinker and other stunning pieces, “I only rediscover.” That is our quest as well. And it starts as we begin peeling back presumptions of a media age to find again the radical communication modeled by Jesus.

He practiced deep attentiveness (Chapter 1).

He met people on their turf and in their terms (Chapter 2).

He asked questions (Chapter 3).

He offered himself with transparency (Chapter 4).

He told stories (Chapter 5).

He took time away from the crowd (Chapter 6).

He set his course by defining true communication success (Chapter 7).

The goal is as straightforward as it is formidable. Like young painters in the workshop of Da Vinci, we desire to become apprentices to this master communicator in an art of utmost importance to our daily lives: the way we communicate.

Jesus’ approach was simple and uncomplicated. But don’t mistake simple for unsophisticated. Living these communication truths, Jesus split history in two. And they remain as compelling today as ever. Ultimately, they have the power to subvert a culture of sound-bites and bull-horns, replacing it with a communication that goes further, deeper, longer, and wider than we can possibly imagine.

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