Rabu, 02 November 2011

Challenges in Communicating Theology through Theological Student Perspective[1]

August Corneles Tamawiwy Karundeng[2]


This paper is based on interviews of the three students of theology in order to find the starting point of the problems experienced by students in communicating theology to others and in the process of learning and teaching. The issue of classroom conditions that are less communicative, the scope of the theological and the results of interview will be presented in a systematic point. Although it does not reach the problem-solving, but I try to give some alternatives and explain a little bit causes of this communication problems.
Key wordsstudents, theology, communication

The Story Begins..

One night, when I still lived in the dorms of Universitas Kristen Duta Wacana—my level as a big brother among freshmen in there. I ever asked for help to both of my brothers room (Aris and Tyok, brothers rate a room with me) to wake me up tomorrow morning when I was working on tasks that pile up so much and they both have to bed earlier than me. But I did not ask them directly, because they were already asleep. I put a memo on the door of our room, that contains a line of writing, "Tolong bangunkan saya jam 6 pagi[3]" with the expectation when they left the room later, before opening the door they can see the memo and wake me up too. After leaving the memo, I am feeling calm. But what happens the next day? I slept until 9 am!
                This story was inspired from a question that became the theme of the writing of this paper is, what kind of challenges faced by students of theology in communicating his theology? In my opinion, before we are continuing this story and we are led to a discussion of this question—because the source of the answer then we will see through the interview—we should know in advance what it is communication?

Communication: Anywhere and Everywhere

A word that is quite popular for researchers and communication experts certainly due to repeated use in the research literature that describes the communication in era of the 70s is “ubiquitous” which means completely exist, located anywhere and anytime as well [4]. This statement described by B. Aubrey Fisher to emphasize that each person communicates. Communication is something that completely exists when there is no other. Communicative phenomena found anywhere. Therefore, it becomes a natural consequence if we are too familiar with communication, so that each person considers himself to adept at communicating. This is deep chasm because often the view of communication influenced by the possession of knowledge that is too much but accompanied with a little understanding so it falls to the misunderstanding of communication.
According to Fisher, if communication completely exists, the communication also means double. There are quiet understandings of different definitions of communication. As well as I experienced when following classes of Theology and Communication with Pdt. Dr. Jozef M. N. Hehanussa, opinions emerged regarding the communication is very diverse. However, we can draw some specific elements of communication that seems to get the greatest emphasis in typical definitions.
                An understanding of which is affirmed by most students of this class on the meaning of communication is that communication is the process of sending and receiving information that continues over time in the realm of verbal and non verbal, intrapersonal and interpersonal using any medium. Communication comes from the Latin word “cum” that is a preposition meaning with, along with, and that is the word “unus” meaning one. From these two words, a noun formed “communio” which in English becomes communion which means togetherness, unity, fellowship, combined, relationships. According to Agus M. Hardjana, a communication needs effort and work. A verb made “communicare” which means to share something with someone, give a portion to someone, to exchange, discuss something with someone, tell something to someone, chat, exchange ideas, relate, friendship. This was used as a noun “communicatio” that in English communication, and in the Indonesian language is absorbed into “komunikasi” [5].

Theology and Communication of the Theologians

Through Theology and Communication class, we were invited to see the relationship between communication and conflict with theology. Based on the results of interviews and presentations in several groups in this class, the big question is whether communication affects us in doing theology? Opinions that arise were from diverse parish pastor. Someone once said that communication affects the way we (parish pastor) doing theology in the church. This is because good communication also gives us a good relationship in the church, therefore giving us a good place also in our theology in the church. This means that if the poor communication, poor relationships and of course the container in doing theology is going bad and inhibit the pastor in doing his theological teaching in their church.
Some argue from the parish pastors—as far as verbal communication means talking with the congregation—communication is not very influential for their theology. This makes me think that the pastor is certainly less to understand the meaning of communication. However, there is also the opinion that communication and theology must go hand in hand. Inside the church, the pastor often feels that only him who doing theology to his congregation. This thinking must be changed because, according to pastor of this church, when he was in the congregation, when it did he was doing theology along with the congregation.
Another opinion from lecturers of theology from Universitas Kristen Duta Wacana has spawned one big question is whether the communication in the classroom affects the way students and teachers of theology doing their theology. The opinions of lecturers more poking and tickling our ears. Often the students find the answers and fall into the conclusion that yeah, communication is very influential in the classroom for students in theology. Often the problems that arise are students were given less opportunity in describing his theology in the classroom. Nevertheless, more critical, students often felt less prepared their lectures material so that less communicative in the discussions in the classroom. Is really just that?
Challenges of Communicating Theology from Student of Theology
Bellow, I will describe three opinions of students about the challenges of communicating their theology—especially in class—to others. The first question I ask is: Is it hard for you to communicate your theology in the classroom, discussion groups or other academic activities? What are the factors that cause this? From these there correspondents whom I interviewed, came the answer yes, this is trouble. There are several factors that cause them trouble: [1] If they do not understand the subject matter that was delivered. Student explore less academic materials in the classroom and will feel more able to communicate their theology when they had managed to “dig deeper” into the academic material in the classroom; [2] Students find it difficult to communicate with their interlocutor. Interlocutor regarded as too smart or smartass and knowledgeably. Obstacles in this respect often experienced when discussing in the group of students, both in class and outside the classroom; [3] Students feel inferior to their interlocutor. They fear if the other people think that their opinion is weightless or completely wrong. So according to them, “Silent is golden”.
                If only we can know that the difficulties of the students in communicating their theology is not just because of the lack of understanding and preparing the material before attending lectures, but other factors that I think is in tune with the answer number [2] and [3] is feel inferior. I think the factor that makes students feel inferior—to others or lecturers who teaching—is information from people who were ever taught or met and get to know our listener (either professors or others; in this case the lecturer) is a senior. Initial abstractions provided by them to form assumptions about their professors who teach them. Immanuel Kant in his Critique of Pure Reason (1871) argues that theoretical reasoning begins with sense experience. Our senses intuitively provide perceptions of reality as the "raw material" for the understanding mind to form into concepts and eventually into ideas and scientific truths. The mind, however, is an active and structuring agent in this knowing process. It has a priori "categories" of thought, independent of experience, that make perception of experience possible in the first place and turn our perceptions into concepts for understanding and judgment. In other words, what we know is as much structured by the knower's mind as it is shaped by the world known[6]
                The second question I ask is: Are the methods used for teaching theology can help the interviewees to communicate their theology? Give an explanation! From the three correspondents, came the answer, there is help and there is no help. For example, there are lecturers who teach just dictates the books. It is not helpful. According to correspondents, students are not happy if lecturers just read and repeat what is in the book. This causes the students lazy listening materials provided by lecturers. Students feel motivated to learn when the teacher explains what the book in no way re-read (dictation), but explained in its own way. For example, in Pdt. Tabita Kartika Christiani’s classes. Students feel more motivated in their tasks, although according to material given boring but the professor were smart in making his students (including the correspondents) are challenged to practice what they have learned themselves—and also maybe have been explained by the lecturer—to the congregation so that the students themselves learn it more deeply through their experience. In addition, students are more interested if what they learn in the book, it turns out when in the classroom, lecturers demonstrate in a concrete theory. For example, when they learn about the divorce, the lecturers brought the couple ever divorced to give testimony relating to divorce as earlier lectures material. The correspondent felt that her method greatly helped them communicate their theology.
Ways of teaching that emphasizes dialogue between lecturers and students to make students "forced" but used (in this case, the correspondent expressed with the word "spur") to express their opinions. In addition, students do not feel inferior because professors want to receive any feedback given by students. The method is fun for them is first, professors forces us to read and understand the material. After understanding the material, into small groups and discussion (here, each student must express their opinion, whatever that is). After that a large group sharing, Pdt. Tabita Kartika Christiani is felt not only understand the material and want to present it to students, but also understand the models of personality of students so as to provide different methods for the diverse personalities of students, depending on the students themselves. However, methods that only ”explain" it is felt will not help students in communicating their theology.
Moreover, if the teachers simply repeat the lesson in reading the book when the class takes place. Very boring. Students tend to be passive. Only Hizkia, one from three correspondents who argued that all methods used by each lecturer is support him in communicating his theology, he was only just a perceived lack of understanding of lecture material. Besides that, correspondent easier to communicate their theology in writing because of they are more able to get inspirations or ideas. Writing will more developed their ideas in theology than orally. Only Wanda, one from three correspondents who argued that she found it easier to communicate verbally rather than writing her theology because if she doing in writing, she has her limitations and difficulties in arranging the words to write. She found it difficult to explain in writing her theological purpose. She found it easier to pour her emotions verbally than in writing.
The last question I ask is: What is a challenge for correspondent when they are communicating their theology to others, outside the scope of the theologians (both for theologians and for students of theology)? For Ywardhana Septiani Bulo (Wanda), the challenge is that there are various models of different understanding. For example, when she has returned to her native village in Toraja and met with her faith community that influenced by a charismatic understanding (because most of the young people grow in their understanding of the Pentecostal church even though they are genuine ecumenical mainstream church. The reason is the servant who became a teacher for study the Bible are not their parish pastor of the Church of Toraja, but the servants of the Pentecostal church). Often, if the servant of the Church of Toraja is not there, a young man who had acquaintances from the Pentecostal church asked the servants of the Pentecostal church to teach them. Even if there were no servants at all, these young people pray and interpreting biblical verses themselves freely. If the interpretation is received together, they believe that this interpretation is correct and definitely coming from the Holy Spirit! It is a challenge for Wanda because the youths in her church cannot accept a new understanding that has given by her for them. Even more interesting, these youths pray for her—because of disappointment with her understanding of theology—so she will have better understanding and it based from the Holy Spirit only. To fix this, she is trying to understand their understanding and the situation of these young men and not with a frontal trying to change all of their understanding, but try to accept some of their good understanding and try to change their understanding that less really good.
For Hizkia Haryo Pidekso (Hizkia), to communicate verbally his theology is the challenge. Because according to him, his theology will perceives more impact when he can communicate his theology, especially if communicated orally in two directions (dialogue). The second challenge for him is not many people like him who studied theology and therefore will be harder for him to communicate the acquired academic theology to others (public). However, this is not an obstacle to him, but a challenge so he should be able to communicate his theology verbally. For Mike Makahenggang (Mike), the challenge that emerged is that people outside of theology tend only to receive the opinion of the theologians. Theologians—including theological students—considered "know-everything" so that others tend to be passive and accept each of our opinion.
Robby I Chandra in his book says:
Tidak perlu dijelaskan lagi bahwa dalam hidup seringkali seseorang memiliki konsep diri yang jauh dari kenyataan objektifnya. Bila seseorang merasa dirinya pintar luar biasa sedangkan orang lain menilainya sebagai orang yang memiliki kelebihan sedikit di atas rata-rata tentu akan terjadi kesenjangan di dalam pergaulannya.[7]
Maybe I can change his sentence like this: if student feels others incredible clever, while others have judged themself as ordinary people, so would be a gap in their communication. Good communication based on the good perception of communication also between the two subjects. The complexity of self and the outside world makes us tend to seek simplicity and consistency, although the accuracy of interpretation and perception of others sacrificed. Robby I. Chandra suspect that often, the imprecision of our perceptions are influenced by the trend in attention to negative impressions than positive impression and greatly influenced by the ease of our first impression (usually a negative earlier). Is this what makes the students become inferior?
Silent: True Form of Communication?
Recorded in the Old Testament narratives about God's encounter with Elijah (1 Kgs. 19:11-18). Devastating natural phenomena such as strong winds (Hebrew: ruakh), earthquake (Hebrew: ra'ash) in verses 11 and fire (Hebrews: esh) in verse 12 (Biblia Hebraica Stuttgartensia) that the Bible is recorded as a manifestation of the appearance of God. However, that there is no God in that terrible nature. God appears in the depiction of breeze base (Hebrew: demama) in verses 12-13. God wants to communicate with the tender. In the literal sense, demama means silent, still (e.g. Job 4:16; Psalm 107:29). This is very interesting because God himself invited to communicate in gentle Himself to Elijah. I remembered the words of Pdt. Prof. E. Gerrit Singgih, when explaining about “the mission style servant of the Lord in Isaiah 42". He explained that how the servant of God (regardless of who he is, individually or collectively) is not bombastic and demonstrative when communicating. This is a new model of communication[8].
Often when I heard lectures on campus and discuss with students, which I find is the depiction of God is anthropomorphism. God perceived as such, makes a very limited perception about God. I do not disapprove of such depictions of God. Nevertheless, it seems to fall to see the infinity of God's limitations by using a physical depiction of human emotions, which certainly limited. Bonhoeffer was a German theologian hinting if we want to talk about God, then it must begin with the residence or the silence or absence of the word. Why? In my opinion, every word will came to bear perception. Therefore, on Faculty of Theology of Universitas Kristen Duta Wacana, talking about God and doing theology must always begin with recognition of the limitations of human words and language to accommodate the depth, breadth, height and breadth of God.
Why would God use a breeze (read: silent) and not use a powerful natural appearance that before? It seems that God is trying to find “the right channel” to communicate with Elijah. In addition, there is a human limitation in trying to understand about God. The emphasis here is extraordinary God means that God is gentle and touching the human feelings. God seems to have known the condition of Elijah who was being hunted by Israel because of Israel have forsaken God's covenant (TB-LAI, verse 14). However, God asks with a gentle breeze (read: silent), "What are you doing here, Elijah?" (TB-LAI, verse 13b). Is this a good communication process?
                Understanding the other person context is something quite important for every person who doing the communication. The level of knowledge can not simply fall to the generalization. Things like this are an obstacle to communication.  In the context of students, teachers expected to understand the context of personality belongs to their disciples so that methods in the classroom can be better and reach the condition of the process of learning and teaching communicatively. Students also expected to study and prepare the material provided by the lecturer before participating in the process of learning and teaching.
                Both of these alternatives can not walk alone. I remember the teachers who touched on this issue in the classroom. They tried to realize the process of learning and teaching communicatively in a way allowing the students to give an opinion but no one has the opinion that appears. In this case, by analyzing the answers from the interview above, I suspect that the methods given by these teachers can contribute to learning and teaching communicatively, but students who are in inferior conditions make this process destroyed. There are also teachers who are more familiar with the context of student knowledge, but they did not allow a time for students to express their opinion. This makes these two alternatives can no longer be seen as dichotomist.
                In addition to favorable conditions, it takes also a personality that is friendly with each other. Domination is a gap that needs a bridge of the friendship between students and teachers, as well as in the context of communicating with others. How could communicate the theology of God's great if a way of communicating to others does not show the personality of God. God was communicating when He create His creation, begins and ends with communication. Good communication expected to occur not only between people and God, but also between people, especially in the process of learning and teaching.

The Story Continues..
When I woke up, I felt very upset with them and ask, "mengapa kalian tidak membangunkan saya?[9]". Casually, after they came home from college that morning they replied, "kami sudah bangunkan kakak, tapi sayang kakak tidak bangun-bangun[10]", I thought "perasaan tidak ada yang membangunkanku?[11]" "itu lihat saja di memo, Kak[12]" they added. When I refer to the memo, there is something different from my writing. The article increased from one line into two lines with the words that make me had mixed feelings, "kak, bangun.. sudah jam 6 loh..[13]

For Ywardhana S. Bulo and all of my lovely family in Jakarta..
“Peace of heart, joy, simplicity and mercy” (Taize)

Chandra, Robby. I., Teologi dan Komunikasi. Yogyakarta: Duta Wacana University Press, 1996
Groome, Thomas. H,. Sharing Faith: A Comprehensive Approach to Religious Education and Pastoral Ministry. Eugene: Wipf and Stock Publisher, 1998
Hardjana, Agus, M., Komunikasi Intrapersonal dan Interpersonal. Yogyakarta: Kanisius, 2003
Fisher, B. Aubrey,. Teori-teori Komunikasi terj. Soejono Trimo. Bandung: CV Remadja Karya, 1986

[1] This paper is a midterm paper of Theology and Communication class which is led by Dr. Jozef M. N. Hehanussa, M.Th
[2] August Corneles Tamawiwy Karundeng is undergraduate student at the Faculty of Theology Universitas Kristen Duta Wacana.
[3] Please wake me up at 6 am.
[4] Fisher, B. Aubrey,. Teori-teori Komunikasi terj. Soejono Trimo (Bandung: CV Remadja Karya, 1986), pg. 8
[5] Hardjana, Agus, M., Komunikasi Intrapersonal dan Interpersonal (Yogyakarta: Kanisius, 2003), pg. 10.
[6] Groome, Thomas. H,. Sharing Faith: A Comprehensive Approach to Religious Education and Pastoral Ministry (Eugene: Wipf and Stock Publisher, 1998), pg. 67
[7] Chandra, Robby. I., Teologi dan Komunikasi (Yogyakarta: Duta Wacana University Press, 1996), pg. 117.
[8] Lectures on Friday, October 7th, 2011 about Isaiah 42:2-4
[9] Why do not you wake me up?
[10] We have been trying to wake you, but unfortunately, you do not wake up.
[11] For me, it seems no one wake me earlier morning?
[12] It just looks at the memo, Bro!
[13] Bro! Wake up.. Already at 6 am..

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