The Tuesday Letter
February 8, 2011
Some of my most meaningful relationships have been with dead writers.
I have always been in love with words. Written words, spoken words, sung words. Words in books, words on screens, words spoken by people I care about. Even words that anger me, when I can have some fun composing a scathing rebuttal (experience has taught me it usually best if I enjoy these brilliant refutations privately).
Summers in elementary school, at least once a week I walked the mile from my home on West Curtice Street to and from the Riverview Library in St. Paul, library card in hand and at least one grocery bag filled with books. Sometimes I stopped in at Jerabek’s Bakery for candy to sustain me on the long walk home, forging an unfortunate lifelong relationship between sugar and reading.
In high school, I would take the green West St. Paul bus that ran along Dodd Road downtown to the Hill Reference Library and spend hours there, settled in at one of the long tables with the green lamps, researching the debate topic for that year, recording each piece of information on a little recipe card (we called them “note cards” – we might have been nerdy debaters but we had some pride). I was standing next to the card catalog in the research room in Walter Library at the University of Minnesota the moment I learned President Kennedy had been shot.
As a teacher and preacher, in countless ways, words are my currency.
The basics of our faith have been transmitted to us in words. First, through people’s spoken recollections and then in written form, as these recollections were written down. These memories, these testimonies — these words– what we call Holy Scripture — form the history of the faith we claim as our own. Not that God doesn’t speak to us in ways other than the Bible, but it’s a pretty critical source!
A new book on communication notes this:
“Words carry immeasurable significance: The universe was created with a word; Jesus healed and cast out demons with a word; rulers have risen and fallen by their words; Christians have worshiped through words of song, confession, and preaching. Even in our technological age, politics, education, business, and relationships center on words.”
Now, however, we are a culture where the written word is at risk of being supplanted by the visual image. If you watched the commercials during the Super Bowl, it was mainly the visuals that carried the message and the visuals that we remember — the beaver with its hand over its heart, the symphony of images saluting Detroit, the guy devouring the Dorito dust. (Although my favorite commercial – the talking baby – was about words – but I can’t remember a one of them or even what the product being advertised was – only the visual image of the talking baby!)
Who knows the implications of the technology that can make our lives so interesting and easy – and what it is doing to our sensibilities long-term. (I’d like to go there but I won’t — all right, then, but, seriously, will we need real birds anymore when virtual birds are a touch away and so colorful and easy to see? I’m just saying….)
This is kind of sad, but for me the most exciting moment of the week so far was yesterday when I was thrashing through the books and notes I had been considering for weeks to try and construct the upcoming evening Lenten series when — I got it! The idea emerged right in front of me! The book to use, the approach to take, even the titles of movies I would use – it all came together and, more importantly, I liked it! The idea came, the words, came. I went home relieved and excited. (I’m afraid to think about what this being the high point of the week soo far says about my life, overall…. it may mean that I haven’t left the Kingdom of Nerd-dom where I resided in high school. I guess I knew that). Watch for word about the Lenten series in the coming Evangelist.
My favorite Bible verse is John 1:1 (always read on the Sunday after Christmas): “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”
Jesus is God’s “word” to us, God’s communication, God’s statement about what God is like and who we are. When we hear the words of Jesus, we hear the word of God.
Of course, other religions have a different “word” from the Creator than Jesus (although the moral and ethical bases of all major religions are remarkably similar). We respect this; we don’t try to insist that our translation of God’s “word” is the only one.
God is as close as the Bible on your shelf. The words are there, in all of their wonder, ambiguity, and power.
See you in church.
P.S. Last week’s note “do not reply to this email” MEANT do not send your reply to the church email address. I am always delighted to hear from you at email@example.com