Summer stage #12, Saturday, 13 August 2016–I was about to shred an old notebook, part of my quest to dramatically reduce , , , let’s call it . . . my paper stash.
The notebook dates to 1973, from the first convention I attended of the Religious Public Relations Council, held in Indianapolis, Indiana.
My cryptic notes (with the photo) put me right back into the mostly happy world of religious communication theory and practice. The communication world I encountered during my career as a writer-editor certainly has expanded, exploded even, with social media, yet message–What is our message? Who determines it? What are we about? Our vision/mission–remains the most important consideration in communication planning.
I started employment as a writer-editor in 1969 when I joined the Mennonite Board of Missions Information Services staff. Shortly after the Indy conference area communicators organized the Michiana chapter. Rubbing shoulders with colleagues and communicators from across the country and beyond upped my skills and passion, as stated in the RPRC purpose, “to establish, raise and maintain high standards of public relations and communications to the end that religious faith and life may be advanced, and to promote fellowship, counseling and exchange of ideas among its members.”
In Indy, Charles Schulz, creator of the Peanuts cartoon strip, spoke to us from his home in California via speaker phone. The cartoon Schultz created for convention attendees has Charlie telling Linus, “Communication is everything! If you don’t communicate you’re nothing.” Snoopy asks, “What does that mean?”
Schulz said his strip is autobiographical, regarding himself first and foremost a cartoonist. “The theory of Charles Schulz is that I can’t be an evangelist or preacher,” he said, though he cited a role for the prophet. He noted that Jeremiah and Isaiah were the first political cartoonists, proclaiming a disastrous message the people failed or refused to grasp.
“It annoys me to see others use my strip to support their views,” he said, adding, “It pleases me to know people can use my strip to foster discussion.” A comic strip is an entertainment medium and cannot be used in a self conscious manner, he said. “I hunch over my board and try to do what is funny. I don’t think of 60-90 million people each day. I don’t try to cater to everybody every day,” Schulz said. “I try to deal with various subjects in an authentic manner.”
The creative process means the artist listens more than talks, is receptive to other people’s thoughts, and shuts him or herself off at the drawing board (typewriter) .
Time out for a nostalgic and tasty trip to South Haven, Michigan, August 11
Is there anything new under the sun?
George Gallup, Jr., was the keynote speaker at RPRC 1973. His topic: “Is anybody listening?” I quote from an article published in the RPRC Counselor, February 1974: “Perhaps at few other times in history have the American people so craved moral and spiritual leadership as they do today. The public’s mood is pessimistic. Recent nationwide surveys show a sharp decline over the last decade in the percentage of Americans who say they are satisfied with the future facing themselves and their families.” The public, he said, is searching for honesty, heroes with character, not charisma.
The only comparison I would make to our situation in the 21st century is that we not despair, not fear the worst, not fear the least, not abandon listening more than talking, and not discount the message of the political cartoonists Jeremiah and Isaiah. How I wish my notes were more complete. Like Schultz did, we need to hunch over our own drawing boards, i.e. communication media, and listen, laugh, and talk to each other at deeper levels than we are used to. “If you don’t communicate . . . what does that mean?” Someone has said that the opposite of communication is not silence, the opposite is sin.
On Saturday we had our annual congregational leadership Visioning Day, this year at Camp Friedenswald near Cassopolis, Michigan. A good spirit stirred among the 23 of us as we prayed and listened to each other in a place of quiet and natural beauty, I especially liked the song we sang at opening worship: “Praise to the Lord, / The Almighty, the king of creation! / O my soul, praise Him, / For He is thy health and salvation!” We took away not only a new appreciation and resolve for the nitty gritty work that calls for attention in the year ahead, but deepened relationships among colleagues.
No, I did not compete in the Rio Olympics, if watching and cheering doesn’t count as competition. The closest I ever got to the Olympics was seeing the torch for the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing, China, carried past the British Museum. That torch traveled 85,000 miles (137,000 km) from March 24-August 8, 2008. The moment passed quickly, witnessed by many, for an event themed, “one world, one dream.”
Communication is everything. Keep up the pace. I’m John Bender, not Charlie, but I approve this message. And I’m keeping the notebook for a little while longer.