IVP - Strangely Dim - Neither I Nor You Are Its: #letters2afuturechurch from Dave

April 9, 2012

Neither I Nor You Are Its: #letters2afuturechurch from Dave

We've decided to celebrate April Fool's Month by trying our hand at writing Scripture, in the spirit of John's letters to seven churches in the book of Revelation and the recently released Letters to a Future Church. Feel free to respond and retweet (use the hashtag #letters2afuturechurch).

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Thumbnail image for 9780830836383.jpgDear Future Church:

Hi! How are you? I am fine . . .

That's the essence of every letter I wrote as a child. I never really mastered the craft, quite honestly. I felt challenged by the task on two fronts:

  • Front number one: The task was too great. To put together a proxy, something that could represent me to people I loved or respected or otherwise needed to be heard by, something that came close to being me in paper and ink, intimidated me to the point of wordlessness--even thoughtlessness. I would sit down to write and come up with nothing.
  • Front number two: The task was too mundane. To write a letter is to communicate without a feedback loop, to do all the work of a conversation with none of the help. Writing a letter was like mowing the lawn or eating your brussels sprouts--except that at least with those chores you were getting some fresh air or some vitamins.

So, yeah, I wrote bad letters, if I wrote them at all. In case you got a letter from me (or in case I owed you a letter and never sent one), I feel bad about it, for whatever that's worth.

Getting a letter, that's a whole different thing. I loved getting letters, or cards, or even junk mail. There's an implicit affirmation of your existence in every letter sent to you: someone somewhere had you in mind for a message, or saw you as part of a larger community worth contacting. Letters let us know that we're not alone, that we're worth corresponding with.

Correspondence is a good thing. It implies connection and, well, correspondence. We are like one another--at least enough like one another to merit a conversation, no matter how remote. Letters may be filled with pain and vitriol, they may be soaked in sap or drenched in pandering. They may be saddled with misunderstanding; they may even conceal an attempt at manipulation. But at their essence they're an acknowledgment: you and I have something in common. More primally, they acknowledge (sometimes begrudgingly) that neither I nor you are its.

That statement--the acknowledgment of our mutual non-it-ness--might seem on the surface to be not worth the paper it's written on. Of course we're not its, you may be thinking. I don't need a letter to tell me that! I would suggest, however, that each of us needs exactly that--and not just once but over and over and over again.

We occupy a world where objectification is increasingly common--where people are regularly reduced to caricatures (the better to dismiss or demonize or proselytize you with). Corporations are counted as people even as human beings are referenced more often by number than by name. People are bundled together as aggregates, and their deepest concerns and desires are measured by statistics. In such a cold, calculating world, a simple letter affirming a person's non-it-ness is an act of Spirit-led defiance, an act of Spirit-prompted mercy and love.

Beyond that, in a world increasingly detached from itself--where people's understanding of history is limited to their own time and space, where generational injustice and chronological snobbery are real things, where we regularly doom ourselves to repeat history--letters are a countercultural act of faith. Letters are concrete and permanent; they reject abstraction and ephemera. They anchor ideas and intuitions to history by way of paper and ink. Our letters to one another appeal to our common apprehension of things--our language, our culture, the things surrounding us. Both explicitly (by what we write) and implicitly (by the act of writing) our letters declare that something (more primally, Someone) binds us to one another.

Christians have always understood ourselves to be, under the headship of Christ, one body with many members. We each are connected intimately to a great cloud of witnesses who came before us; we are connected by the Word and the Spirit and the Father to all the children of God across time and space. This conviction of connection has helped Christians, indidually and collectively, to endure martyrdom, even to fight it from afar. It has helped us hold fast to eternal truth even as the winds and whims of the world around us threaten to set us adrift. We have been graced by our mutuality with the ability to confess the sins of our forebears as our own sins, and to achieve reconciliation that eludes people not so connected. Once, Peter tells us in a letter, we were not a people, only mere atomized individuals; but by faith we confidently declare ourselves by the grace of God to be not its but a We--the people of God.

I hope that you will continue to acknowledge your We-ness, dear future church. I hope you retain those connections not only to my present church and the church that came before me, but to the church that will come after you into remotest futurity. And not only this church of the past and the future, but also the church that extends from where you find yourself as you read this letter to the ends of the earth. We are none of us its, after all; we have letters from apostles and prophets and from the author and finisher of our faith who tell us as much. We have never been its; we are--though many throughout the earth and throughout the ages--one body in this one Lord.

Posted by Dave Zimmerman at April 9, 2012 7:22 AM Bookmark and Share

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Behind the Strangeness

Lisa Rieck is a reader and writer who likes to discuss good ideas over hot drinks and gets inspired by the sky. She takes in all kinds of good ideas as a proofreader for InterVarsity Press.

David A. Zimmerman is an editor for Likewise Books and a columnist for Burnside Writers Collective. He's written three books, most recently The Parable of the Unexpected Guest. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/unexpguest. Find his personal blog at loud-time.com.

Suanne Camfield is a publicist for InterVarsity Press and a freelance writer. She floats ungracefully between work, parenting and writing, and (much to her dismay) finds it impossible to read on a treadmill. She is a member of the Redbud Writers Guild and blogs at The Rough Cut.

Likewise Books from InterVarsity Press explore a thoughtful, active faith lived out in real time in the midst of an emerging culture.

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