Thursday, August 26, 2010

Reading Road Signs

For a generation of children (and parents) used to a steady stream of images, captions, subtitles, and sound bytes, one of the most intimidating sights--as the satiric newspaper The Onion recently pointed out--can be a large, unbroken block of text.

In that panic, it's easy to overlook the written clues that help you navigate a document.

Take a look at these excerpts from the opening of George Whitefield's sermon, "The Method of Grace."

We are all desirous of peace; peace is an unspeakable blessing; how can we live without peace? And, therefore, people from time to time must be taught how far they must go, and what must be wrought in them, before they can speak peace to their hearts. This is what I design at present, that I may deliver my soul, that I may be free from the blood of those to whom I preach -- that I may not fail to declare the whole counsel of God. I shall, from the words of the text, endeavor to show you what you must undergo, and what must be wrought in you before you can speak peace to your hearts.

But before I come directly to this, give me leave to premise a caution or two. And the first is, that I take it for granted you believe religion to be an inward thing; you believe it to be a work in the heart, a work wrought in the soul by the power of the Spirit of God. If you do not believe this, you do not believe your Bibles. If you do not believe this, though you have got your Bibles in your hand, you hate the Lord Jesus Christ in your heart; for religion is everywhere represented in Scripture as the work of God in the heart. "The kingdom of God is within us," says our Lord; and, "He is not a Christian who is one outwardly; but he is a Christian who is one inwardly." If any of you place religion in outward things, I shall not perhaps please you this morning; you will understand me no more when I speak of the work of God upon a poor sinner"s heart, than if I were talking in an unknown tongue. I would further premise a caution, that I would by no means confine God to one way of acting. I would by no means say, that all persons, before they come to have a settled peace in their hearts, are obliged to undergo the same degrees of conviction. No; God has various ways of bringing his children home; his sacred Spirit bloweth when, and where, and how it listeth. But, however, I will venture to affirm this, that before ever you can speak peace to your heart, whether by shorter or longer continuance of your convictions, whether in a more pungent or in a more gentle way, you must undergo what I shall hereafter lay down in the following discourse.

Whew! Imagine reading that in one breath!

But look again. First, subjects and verbs:

We are all desirous of peace; peace is an unspeakable blessing; how can we live without peace? And, therefore, people from time to time must be taught how far they must go, and what must be wrought in them, before they can speak peace to their hearts. This is what I design at present, that I may deliver my soul, that I may be free from the blood of those to whom I preach -- that I may not fail to declare the whole counsel of God. I shall, from the words of the text, endeavor to show you what you must undergo, and what must be wrought in you before you can speak peace to your hearts.

Now look again. See how Whitefield uses conjunctions as transition words? They tell you about the relationship between what he's just finished saying and what he's about to say. For example, the first sentence of the second paragraph says,

But before I come directly to this, give me leave to premise a caution or two. And the first is...

That opening phrase tells you, "he's getting ready to take a side trip, so keep in mind that he's moving away from his main argument."

Next you notice the numbers: he's going to give you a list of "a caution or two." When you see an ordinal (indicating position) number like "first" you can mentally start creating a list:

1) ...that I take it for granted you believe religion to be an inward thing."

Words like "further," "next," and "second" help you continue making your list. See?

I would further premise a caution, that I would by no means confine God to one way of acting.

Remember, this is a side point he's making. Look for the key words that tell you he's going back to the big idea.

But, however, I will venture to affirm this...you must undergo what I shall hereafter lay down in the following discourse.

This tells you that a big idea is coming up, and he's about to change direction. Get ready!

Now it's your turn. What other verbal clues help you navigate this kind of text?

3 comments:

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MarysMom said...

I would love to hear a 1smartmama blog radio program on how to teach our children about current events. What resources do you use? How do you filter out disturbing images? How do you find background information and even if there is a spin or opinionated information gathering?

I want my kids to know what is going on in the world but there is a lot of discouraging things that frustrate me that I am not at a place of faith to share with my kids.

Thank you again for all your work that inspires me to think deeper.

1 Smart Mama said...

Hi MarysMom,

You ask a great question, and I can understand your frustration. It's a challenge to introduce our children to the ideas that shape the world and to think critically through those ideas as a family.

Although we're not recording BlogTalkRadio shows right now, I'll work on a blog post with some tips for studying current events. I'll try to have it up later this week or early next.

I hope you'll write back and let me know if those ideas are helpful, and share your own strategies as well!

That's the great thing about community: each of us has something to offer as we sharpen and support one another. You can do it!