The Love of Letters
Let me introduce you to my friend and House United-ish colleague, Jennifer Richmond. Jennifer has launched a letter-writing campaign, but not the kind you would imagine. She’s not asking people to write their congressperson or a corporation. Rather, she’s asking us to write to one another. Jennifer uses the latest social media – in her case, a blog called “Truth in Between” and an online journal called Medium – to invite letters that help us know one another and build relationships across difference. Her people write about their politics, race, class, and a whole lot of other dividers. Then she matches them up with others who differ, to read and respond. It’s working! Here’s why…
Speed kills. A major culprit in our current communication malaise is the sheer pace of our exchanges. E-mails, texts, Facebook posts, Tweets, etc. are brief and often impulsive. We usually toss back our reactionary responses (whether positive or negative) before we’ve even considered what we’ve read or heard. Speed kills thought. Speed often kills thoughtfulness.
In mid-September, courageous conversationalists at Pinnacle Presbyterian Church took up the hot topic of social media. We learned then that the letter was the sole social medium for a couple millennia – monopolist of the enterprise until the last 200 years. Ancients invented letter-writing when they found themselves at a distance from vital communication partners, whether in business, family, friendships, romance, or battle. They wrote on metal, tree bark, animal skin, wax tablets, pottery shards – even apples, if the ancient Roman poet Ovid is to be trusted – always in the name of transporting themselves into one another’s presence from a distance.
The early Christians loved their letters. Paul, Peter, John the apostle, John the prophet, and James all get credit for missives that made it into our scriptures. We have these gems, because they wrote:
“Love is patient, love is kind…” (1 Corinthians)
“Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” (Hebrews)
“God is love.” (1 John)
“Behold I stand at the door and knock…” (Revelation)
Think how much we would not know about God, ourselves, and following Jesus if not for their ancient need to put themselves on paper for one another.
Some futurists imagine that the letter will die out of our culture within this century. I sure hope not. I hope the letter outlasts all the rest, because writing and reading letters prompts something in us that the other media does not: they slow us down. And with that extra time, we listen to one another, we respond thoughtfully, we build relationships.
I’m glad Jennifer’s asking us to write, aren’t you? Doesn’t it make you want to get out a good pen and write or a good letter opener and read? Long live the letter!