Saturday, January 24, 2004

How does one get to know another person over email? Imagine that you have only met this person a few times. You have a mutual friend but neither of you know much about the other. How do you write emails in such a way so as to express who you are? Of course you would want to cover some life history. One may also want to cover likes and dislikes such as things that you are passionate about, or movies, music...etc. But you know when you hang out with someone there is a flow. You can pick up personality traits that the person usually tries to hide in normal communication. When you watch someone interact with other people, you can act as a third person observer. I tend to pick up things about that person that I wouldn't normally in conversation let alone email. But even one on one conversation has a flow. Its a give and take. One response to a question opens the door to other questions. How do you keep this kind of flow over email? There is no body language, no gives, no openness in the moment. Writing back and forth lessens the emotion of the conversation. How do you get to know that person? How do you present your true self?

It strikes me as I am typing that Paul probably understood this struggle. Though he didn't have email, he certainly had various letter correspondences with his churches. We now have some of these letters in the New Testament. Its funny to realize that he was trying to pre-empt some of their responses so as to keep a flow. And at other times he was responding to a letter that we don't have to read today. Its as if we are reading the emails that he sent his churches and don't get to read their return emails. How hard it must have been to communicate the truths of the gospel and the Christian life through the medium of letter writing. Granted, he did visit his churches and spent some time with them. So he wasn't writing out of a lack of familiarity. But somehow he articulated the gospel life so well in those letters that the community of Christians wanted to preserve them. They became recognized as scripture! How does that happen? Then 2000 years of Christian history also acknowledged his masterful letters as inspired word of God. All this through letters?

Maybe we have just lost the art of writing letters. In an age of text messaging and IM I wonder if I haven't lost the ability to craft a meaningful, clear, and emotive letter. Sure email has helped to improve our communication. Yet emails are often short. We don't have time for reading long emails. Paul's letters were pretty long at times. (Romans, the Corinthian correspondence...etc.) These letters weren't just written. They were crafted with literary art and rhetorical skill. This in a day when he had scribes to write for him and most people couldn't read. Amazing. So I guess if nothing else, this "get to know you" process via email will force me to improve my ability to express myself in written form.

Father help me. Help me to be able to express my thoughts and my very being over such a sorry medium like email. Somehow you are good at expressing infinite reality through finite forms. Somehow you showed us who you were in the sorry medium of human flesh. God would you grant me the ability to reveal myself in a way that glorifies You and is true to who I am


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