May 27, 2009

What Are We Leaving Behind?

2009 1515 page24 cap WAS 7 YEARS OLD WHEN MY MOTHER LEFT JAMAICA TO CARVE OUT A better life for our family in England. The emotional devastation from feelings of abandonment was raw. When I saw the big silver bird envelop her and other passengers before disappearing into the clear blue sky, I was sure I would never see or hear from her again.
But within a few weeks an airmail letter arrived in her barely decipherable scribble. I was the happiest girl in the world. I hugged that letter, kissed it, and wouldn’t let it out of my sight until my sweaty palms obliterated most of the already pale ink and penmanship. Today, six years after her death, that deteriorated handwritten token of her existence and promise of reunion is carefully packed away among my meager earthly treasures.
Several years later, in my early teens, at a rigidly fundamentalist boarding school in my native land, I was the first girl to receive a love letter from an admiring boy. I read and reviewed every line as a collector pores over rare jewels. When a jealous dorm-mate reported it to the dean, I was willing to face suspension rather than surrender my treasure. Even though I was forbidden from speaking to that boy up until the authorities coerced his parents into removing him from our school, it didn’t matter because I had the cherished trophy.
2009 1515 page22Back then, it was “cool” to carefully ponder and preserve such letters. In fact, many families kept dozens of epistles, some of which are ensconced in museums as important artifacts of human history and biography or traded for substantial sums by eager dealers of antiquities. Imagine what 
a stir it would cause if an authentic letter, written by Jesus to a disciple or friend, were discovered in some nook or cranny in the Middle East! We would read it with breathless interest!
Gone are those days of handwritten letters. Thanks to the advent of computers and the Internet, letters sent through the post office are referred to pejoratively as “snail mail.” Now, high-speed Internet communiqués are being eclipsed by instant messaging via compact, handheld devices by a twenty-first-century generation weaned on electronic contrivances. Social networks such as Facebook, MySpace, and Twitter have already consumed more than half of our daily communications and at least 36 percent of interpersonal traffic in less than a decade of existence.
I wonder what will happen if a supporting satellite should malfunction for a season. More important, what written legacy of authentic relational interaction will be bequeathed to the next generations? Ours has become a microwave culture hooked on speed, in which microblogging and short message services convey spontaneous, often thoughtless, texts about how one feels at the moment of texting.
The gospel, on the other hand, demands a Crock-Pot mentality, in which a slow, simmering approach steeps every holy ingredient of the Word into the heart, soul, and mind before it finds expression in the body.
What if Paul had tweeted his Epistles to his “peeps” using 140 characters to remind them that Jesus is their “BFF” before urging them to “LOL”? Thank God he took the time, despite his failing eyesight, to carefully handwrite that “you yourselves are our letter, written on our hearts, known and read by everybody. You show that you are a letter from Christ, the result of our ministry, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts” (2 Cor. 3:2, 3).
Although we have and appreciate volumes of these gems penned by hand with ink now obsolete, Paul underscored an important issue for our day: Since mechanics and methods of communication change from age to age, what our world needs more than anything in these days of instant everything are letters from Jesus mediated through consistent, tender, helpful, hopeful, joyous Christlike human lives. Believers must steadfastly and authentically live out the biography of Jesus, conveying to our earthly family the more intimate and personal touches of grace that make Him real to them.
These are resurrectable! 
Hyveth Williams
is senior pastor of the Campus Hill Seventh-day Adventist Church in Loma Linda, California.