It is often thought by those who are not in the know that there is no purpose in tautology. The statement that adorns this particular personal essay is an example of a tautology. If you know, you know. In mathematical terms, a tautology is often defined as If A, then A, or A = A. Most of the time tautologies are in fact very trivial, but their worth, when they have worth, exists outside of the world of the tautology itself. At times, people do not realize that they are engaging in tautological reasoning. A great many of the arguments for natural selection within creation themselves boil down to tautological reasoning, that something had survival value because it survived, and the people who make those arguments truly believe that they are saying something profound, and are unaware (or at least unashamed) that they are making a tautological argument. In that lack of shame there is at least some insight to be gained, if not from the statement itself than from the fact that people feel comfortable viewing such statements of obviousness as insightful. And there is similar insight in a statement like “if you know you know” even if the statement itself is not particularly insightful on its own.
Yesterday morning (as I write this) I arrived at church at 11AM for the Bible Study and was helpfully informed that I was the songleader today. This surprised me, as I had known that I was going to be the songleader in a couple of weeks but no one had bothered to tell me that I was songleading. There are normally e-mail alerts that go out to the songleader telling them to please put songs on the website for the pianist and ensemble musicians if one has not done so already. I did not receive any of those messages. I have a google docs file that shows the assignments for speaking and songleading going at least into July, and lo and behold I was not on the schedule for yesterday on that either. I did, however, check the congregational website and found that I was scheduled there for songleading, and so I wrote a list of five songs (since we had special music for the choir already) for the pianist, and then wrote those same songs on my own list that I keep for organizing the Sabbath services, after which I proceeded to the Bible study, and then to a discussion with various people to determine the order of services, which was a slightly unusual format since our pastor wanted to share photos from a recent trip he took with one of his daughters to Israel.
During the course of that, I hunted down various people to give the opening and closing prayers, as is the least pleasant task for me as a songleader, and the person who gave the opening prayer turned out to be the person who had originally been scheduled to give a sermonette, and then to lead songs. I found out from our pastor that the assignments for yesterday were changed at the Deacons and Elders meeting last Saturday night, which I am not a part of, not being ordained, but that no one had apparently thought it necessary either to inform the people who were given assignments or to change the document that we would all be reading as a way of keeping ourselves from being surprised. But even with minimal preparations everything ended up working out alright. The songs we sang included a few ones that people were not very familiar with, two of which were beautiful and old songs that no one else chooses anymore and another one being a relatively new song that I have chosen a few times to make it more familiar with our local congregation. Few people, except those I told, would have guessed the level of surprise that was involved with the songleading. It went off in a competent and professional manner and I did not even joke from the lectern about how surprised I was to show off my incompetence and lack of preparedness, as is the fashion among some songleaders. If you knew, you knew.
Given this context, therefore, there are at least two senses in which the title of this essay has a profound relevance. Unless it is your fashion to check who is speaking or songleading on a weekly basis, you would likely not have known that I was scheduled to lead songs yestserday. I certainly didn’t know, and no one thought it necessary to tell me. The various patterns of warning e-mails and shared google documents that are designed to keep people in the loop did not, for whatever reason, accomplish their task. Yet at the same time, a lifetime of dealing with unpleasant surprises and minor crises that require thinking or acting on my feet has left me with an ability to deal with the sort of tasks that I might not be expected to relish. Unless you knew that I had no prior knowledge before arriving at church about leading songs today, you would not have known from the way I handled the duty that this was the case. In an example like this, the knowledge is a result if communication. If you know refers to the fact that one would not know unless the fact had been communicated. You would know because someone told you, and if no one told you, then you would not know. So it is often in life, where knowledge requires communication, and communication does not go as it should.