Wednesday, July 22, 2015

To read him is to hear him. . .

+ William Owen Chadwick, historian and priest, born 20 May 1916; died 17 July 2015 + 

It would be hard to call yourself well read or even poorly read in the area of church history without encountering the name of Owen Chadwick or his brother Henry.  They were men whose written contributions will long stand as testament to their interest, scholarship, passion, and erudition.  I will admit to being partial to them both and very indebted to their monumental task in the History of Christian Church series.  It is always important to remember those who have served us with a witness of words and I take the time to remember before the Lord His servant William Owen Chadwick.

It is said of him that he was not a particularly good teacher but a great fellow.  I would not think poorly of him if that were true.  But what I recall of his writing style is the crisp style of his prose that read like a conversation.  Long ago when I was ordained and began the priestly task of preaching the Word of the Lord to His people, I found myself drawn to writing manuscripts that read like they were preached (as opposed to sermons that preach like they were manuscripts).  It is not a bad thing when preachers write and preach with the same immediate and vivid character and with an economy of words that fully maximizes their weight instead of minimizing their number.  That is my goal.

I was once accused of being a wordsmith.  I protest vehemently the charge.  I love words not for the words but for the way they speak.  When I write I am conscious of the way the words sound when they are read out loud.  Perhaps reading such authors as Owen Chadwick has encouraged me in this regard but I refuse to blame anyone for my own particularity.  Yet I cannot but wonder if such is not missing in today's writing and preaching.  Have we lost our sense of how things sound as well as how they read and what they say?

People call Ronald Reagan the great communicator.  He was a good reader and delivered a great speech but I am not at all sure how many of the words were his own (he is certainly not alone in this).  Some say that Barak Obama is a great speaker.  I must confess that I find it hard to listen to him (and not because I disagree with his ideas).  JFK, RFK, and Teddy Kennedy all enjoyed a gift of words (both in their writing and in their delivery).  I remain transfixed by some of their lines both crafted and spoken.  Perhaps they, too, benefited from a good ghost writer and editor.  I cannot say.  But I fear we have lost something in the character of both the written and spoken word.  Sure, there are shining stars still but they are fewer and they tend to stand out less than our penchant for bare vocabulary of texting and twitter.  And that is sad.  No, it is worse.  It is a plague upon us and our most important task of understanding and being understood, of inspiring and being inspired.

Here is my nod to Owen Chadwick and those who with him wrote clearly and yet poignantly, with an economy of well chosen words, that read like the voice speaks.  I wish I were one of them and still aspire in that direction.  Time will tell if I have come close.

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