Sometimes the context of a given day or a given interaction matters more about what isn’t said rather than what is. For example, one is faced with the question of whether one should give encouragement or a push to someone who seems to be falling down on a particular responsibility, but decides not to do it because one feels it would be particularly unproductive even if it would be good for someone to do it. Or, one wonders if one should ask about something only to realize that the request ended up irrelevant. It can also happen when one is listening to something and expects or wants to hear something but instead of noticing what is said, what isn’t said becomes the most obvious thing. As someone who has spent a lifetime not hearing things, and sometimes even not saying what other people would expect to hear, this sort of concern with a failure to communicate or come to terms is perhaps all to be expected. Nevertheless, as yesterday was a day in which the context of what was not said is all too obvious, it is worthwhile to discuss this subject of miscommunication  from a different angle than usual.
In listening to the sermon today, given by a man who I find to be somewhat abrasive but also generally good company, I was struck most powerfully by what was not said. It was a review message, of the sort to remind people of what they may already know but perhaps do not often bring to mind concerning the Sabbath and Holy Days. In listening to the message there were two aspects of it that stuck out powerfully to me as being something not said. The first occurred when the speaker skipped a passage in Leviticus 23 that discussed the festival of the firstfruits, which would have led to an awkward and perhaps uncomfortable conversation about why this celebration is largely (but not completely) ignored within the Church of God . The second occurred when the speaker failed to mention Jesus keeping the festival of Hanukkah, which would have cut against his intent to relegate this historical festival to a minor and trivial and unimportant one and would again have cut against his claim that we completely follow the example of Jesus Christ in our own observances . In both of these cases, it was not that something was said that was wrong, but rather that something was omitted, and likely intentionally so, either because it was not known to the speaker or because the speaker knew that it would create awkward and uncomfortable questions that are better left unsaid, and so they were omitted. This sort of miscommunication by silence and misdirection is all too common. When we listen to someone or read what they write, we not only have to pay attention to what they are saying but also pay attention to what they omit to mention, either because they do not know it or because they do not wish to acknowledge it.
This feeling of omission carried on into the Speaker’s club that I arrived a bit late too after rushing by some people who were standing around the most direct interest between where I was coming from the snack table to where my Bible and notes were located. What was most notable in listening to the various sermonette messages and outlines was what was not mentioned. Of course, it is easy during the course of a short sermonette message to notice what is not there. A sermonette message, after all, lasts between 12 and 15 minutes, sometimes even less (and only rarely, and usually unhappily, more), and there is a lot that simply cannot be covered in that brief time. The key is to start with a very narrow verse that one wants to explain, sometimes even a single word, and then to expand from there to the time allotted. At any rate, I heard some messages in the class that had a lot of potential, but that failed to meet expectations. Of course, in all fairness, the expectations may not have been made plain. When I got the scriptural outline for the “problem” verse I was to handle, I knew pretty readily what was wanted and expected, namely a doctrinally balanced and somewhat serious look at a verse that, when looked at superficially, might present some problems or questions. I’m the sort of person who likes addressing problems, drawing attention to them and dealing with them and, God willing, overcoming them. Maybe others don’t agree with that or find it too difficult.
As a writer I am often concerned about what is not said and the reasons why. Why am I silent about certain topics? Is it respectful to write about people and to use circumlocutions that they (and a few others) would know about but that many others would not? Is it alright to omit certain activities from discussion because of concerns about confidentiality, or is it alright to avoid talking about certain matters in order to avoid creating some sort of scene or causing trouble for oneself or others, even if one is not doing anything wrong? As someone who seeks to cultivate a well-deserved reputation for candor, one wonders about the need for discretion and whether it is a noble restraint or an excuse for cowardice. After all, I am someone who wonders whether other people omit discussing certain matters because they are cowards or simply because they are discreet or even perhaps shy? Who can know the hearts of others and the reason for our silences and omissions? Who among us truly knows ourselves well enough to be just to our own natures and the context in which we live and act?
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