Coming To Terms

A few years ago, in 2009, my favorite song of the year was “Show Me What I’m Looking For” by a band called Carolina Liar. The song came from an album called “Coming To Terms,” and the title track of that album, which has long appeared on my favorite Pandora station, deals with a man caught up in a variety of insecurities and concerns about a relationship, where he wishes to behave rightly by his beloved, wondering if she is too good for him and whether he is really what she needs. The questioning demonstrates to him that love is a far more complicated matter than he thought before, an insight that is useful but is certainly painful and at times very unpleasant. Being the sort of person who often considers such songs to be highly autobiographical, I wondered if that insecurity did not result from the songwriter being a somewhat sensitive man learning the craft of songwriting in Hollywood before becoming famous at all, presumably being involved with someone much more famous and probably a great deal more attractive than himself, though probably equally nervous and insecure.

Earlier today I started writing my next speech for Spokesmen’s club, and I chose a subject that I know well, by any objective measure. In choosing the subject, and sharing it with some of my blog’s most frequent only avowed readers, who would best be able to understand the larger context in which I write and who would not normally be able to hear me give my speeches in person, I wondered just how much the listening and reading audience of my speech (which will, in due time, be a blog entry to be shared to a candid world) would understand the most significant layers of meaning intended in my message. Even more so, I wonder (as is often the case) what people tend to think about the layers of meaning they can discern in my texts. I am, after all, not someone simple enough to generally mean only one thing, yet there is a wide difference between an intellectual appreciation of a layer of meaning of text and the emotional response one gets from reading a meaning that is of personal relevance, which is all the more likely when one has a complicated personal context with the author of a text.

While eating this afternoon, I took the opportunity (as is often the case) to start reading a book. The book I was reading has a simple and straightforward title, yet as its length is over 400 pages (of which I was able to read only about a quarter or so of it this afternoon), it is clearly a work of depth and breath. Since it happens to be a book I read last over a decade ago and only recently reacquired, I am reading it both for help in my next speech and also to give it a proper book review, as I was not in the habit of writing book reviews when I first read the book as an undergraduate in college reading it for fun and understanding upon the recommendation of someone at my congregation at the time. One of the chapters of the book, unsurprisingly enough, is called “Coming To Terms,” and it involves the process and difficulty by which we come to understand what an author means by what he says. Some words that an author uses have multiple meanings, and a discerning reader wishing to understand what is written, can discern those meanings through a close enough reading of the text(s) of an author or, more rarely, by directly querying the author as to what was meant.

Intriguingly, the book comments that poets are generally known for speaking in a particularly ambiguous way, and that the hallmark of good poetry is a multiplicity of possible meanings and an ambiguity in the meaning of what is said. When we fail to understand a text, it often means that an author had muddled thoughts and did not organize his (or her) statements so as to make it into a coherent whole. At times this may be due to the fact that a text may lack the proper context to be understood, and understanding that context fills in the gaps so as to make a text easier (or sometimes even possible) to understand. Yet all of this depends upon the fact that the author of a text wishes to be understood. Even the most timid and shy of authors takes the considerable time and effort of writing so that some message may be passed to someone. Whether there are many messages meant to be understood or just one, whether the intended audience is universal, wide, narrow, or a solitary person, a text is written with a desire to be read and understood (and often acted on in some fashion) by someone. That fact ought to be readily understood by any reader of a text, and is an aid to understanding when it is properly applied, especially to the extent that one understands exactly who an author is writing to, even if the effort of being properly understood is not successful in its aim.

Yet often this desire to be understood is itself an ambivalent one. Perhaps the reason so much poetry (whether that poetry is in verse [1] or prose [2] form) is so ambiguous is because poems often write with a desire to be understood to some extents but not to their whole extent, or understood by some people and not by others. We see the same phenomenon in Jesus’ parables, which were explicitly given so that some readers would understand what was meant and other readers would be confused by it and fail to grasp the meaning or depth of what was said. Perhaps, like the songwriter of “Coming To Terms,” there is a great deal of fear and insecurity on the part of some poets, as if they are afraid that to the extent that their feelings and nature are fully known, the more painful the ridicule and rejection that follows upon being understood but not appreciated, loved, or respected. And so the writer remains torn between the compulsion of sharing what is thought and felt to others and feeling embarrassed and being absolutely naked and bereft of covering for one’s vulnerable and tender heart in front of a potentially hostile crowd. It is little wonder, therefore, that coming to terms is such a difficult matter in life and reading.

[1] See, for example:

[2] See, for example:

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
This entry was posted in Bible, Christianity, Church of God, Love & Marriage, Musings and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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