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Who Needs Words

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Richard Littledale - Who Needs Words

Today we have a special guest who is going to introduce his latest book...

As a Christian I believe in a speaking God.  The sound of his voice spangled the untouched heavens with stars.  His words ruffled the taut new skin of the earth into mountain peaks and ocean troughs.  His speech breathed a million birds and butterflies into the new waving arms of the forests.  Language, the ability to form words, is one of his greatest gifts to us.  With it we can encapsulate the past, articulate the present and describe the as yet unseen future.

With such a great gift, though - how come we are so often disappointed by the results?  All of us have had the disheartening experience of our communication letting us down.  We want to fire the imagination, but instead we just trample the sprit.  We want to articulate the situation clearly in writing or speech - but we just end up making it worse.  When it comes to describing those things which might be, we end up tongue-tied and inept, like a tourist equipped only with a cheap phrase book.

My purpose in writing Who needs words was threefold.  The first was to hold this God-given gift of communication up to the light and see what it consists of.  What actually happens when we communicate with each other?  What exactly is that magical combination of words, tone and gesture which enables us to cross the space between two human beings?  Having looked at that, the book moves on to apply those principles in many different situations - from pastoral conversations to written and broadcast media, and social media too.  Finally, it looks at what to do when our communication all goes wrong.  Along the way it draws from sources as diverse as industrial relations and neuro-linguistic programming.  What can the church learn from the world - and what can the church offer the world, with its twenty-one centuries of experience in crossing every kind of divide?

I'm not a great one for 'worthy' books which overwhelm me with their gravitas from the first page.  Equally, this subject deserves an approach which takes it seriously.  The book endeavours to combine serious scholarship with warm humanity and the occasional splash of humour.  One reviewer was kind enough to describe its approach as a combination between "Noam Chomsky and Bill Bryson".  Whether or not that is true remains to be seen.  If it gets people talking about communication, even in order to disagree with what I say - then it will have done its job.

Towards the end of the book I write about one of Martin Luther's pet phrases: "peccator fortiter", meaning "sin boldly". In other words, it is better to try and occasionally fail, then not to try at all.  Let me leave you with a quote from the book's final page:

"In the college where I trained as a minister, I grew very familiar with the profile of this great Reformer. There was a stone bust of Martin Luther which used to move mysteriously around the college from room to room, on one occasion landing up on my desk in the very early hours of the morning! All this means that if Martin Luther were to come back, I would recognise him instantly. If he did, it would be my great pleasure to present him with a T-shirt, preferably in a nice loud colour, with the legend peccator fortiter on the front. I hope he would wear it. I think it would suit him.

If he wouldn't, though, I would gladly do so. I have stuck my neck out in order to provoke thought, discussion and reflection on this complex business of communication. Some of my words will intrigue, some will stimulate, and others will quite simply annoy. In writing it all, I have sought, if anything, to sin boldly."

You can purchase the book now from

St Andrew Press by clicking here

or you can buy it in kindle format from

Amazon by clicking here

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