Why I Still Read Email

Some days the distance between us as the church is palpable. We are getting forced apart by choices to connect at minimal levels with quick, minimal devices. We keep talking about this, as a church, because we are fully adapted to the devices and the “social networks” that dominate them, and we are wondering if they will quench the Spirit, if they haven’t already.

Some people among Circle of Hope advocate severely restricting all use of machines to interact. I am not judging them when I note, “There are Amish in every age of the church.” Newness is always suspicious. The newest form of the same old evil can be more easily seen than the old evil to which we already conformed. For instance, the fact that the Amish use old school farming practices befouls the Chesapeake Bay watershed. They might feel righteous for not adapting to new ways, but their old ways had some evil in them too.

I am usually more on the other side of the argument. I want the latest technology with which to communicate and work. I can’t get it fast enough. I want to discern what evil it carries and resist it. But I also want to use the opportunity it gives me and use that. As a church, talking about technology is an overwhelming subject. We have been talking about coming up with our “theology of technology” for a couple of years, now; we’ve been totally unable to do it. I think there are two big reasons we can’t develop some lore:

1) We’re too busy mastering the changing technology to think we have anything to say about it. That’s pretty scary since it means that the technology already runs us, we don’t run it.
2) We are too small minded to have a group project like that. We are doing very individualized stuff and don’t see group thinking as possible. Our thoughts can be as small as our screens.

A 25-yearold blogger from the East Village seems to agree with me. He writes about seven things a twentysomething can’t do. Six of his seven things have to do with building decent relationships, mostly communicating. Twentysomethings, in particular, need good ways to connect. They want to do it. The many devices we are being sold to communicate could increase our ability to connect, and in some great ways, they have. For instance, I really like texting about where I am and when we are meeting, and about what laundry detergent to buy. But, my experience is that people who fully commit to the phone screen for communicating are too small to really do it.

The powers are determined to make us all rats in their cages. They dominate the devices and conform them to proper rat-usage. SO, I think we should sit down and read our email.

I admit, I don’t seem to know how to have this discussion yet. The last time the Coordinators talked about it, they had what, for them, amounts to a spat. I said that I need to read my email on a big screen, which gives more honor to the writer and their art. I don’t think we should do major communicating as the body while we have ten seconds at a stoplight to scan an email or blog post. (Maybe the devices would say, “You are so 29 seconds ago.”)

Being behind would not be surprising. Nevertheless, right now, part of my discipline of communicating is to read my properly filtered email, daily. As you know, I send quite a bit of it, as well. Circle of Hope is a major inbox loader. Some people unsubscribe from the Dialogue List because they count it as clutter. Some of the cell leaders don’t even read their weekly info email from their pastor each week, or all the way through. Some of the Leadership Team don’t even take time to read the working agenda email they are using to lead the church with some integrity and vision. It is a challenge to be that disciplined and committed, but it makes a difference as to whether we are knit together meaningfully.

These are four reasons I still read email and don’t  encourage people to use my cell phone for texting, even when I give them the number, unless it is a texting subject (like “tacos or pho?”).

1) I’m trying to communicate.

To me, communicating is about relating, not just data. I want to say something I actually thought about and receive a thoughtful reply. That seems like love is growing in the world. I don’t want to merely pass out info and have data hogs sniff around to see if it is something they want to consume. Dialogue creates deeper community. When we can’t be face to face, heartfelt writing can be a decent replacement.

2) I want to hear more.

It is hard to keep up with my email. I would rather talk face to face or in a meeting or even over the phone (although I’m not always that great over the phone). But those ways of communicating are hard to keep up with too. Communicating is hard. But I still want to hear more and connect more with more people. To be the church, we need to listen to one another and listen to Spirit in one another. That takes quite a bit of listening in quite a few ways.

[The opposite is also true, of course. If you are addicted to checking email because you think some life-altering message is in you inbox, that’s not good. More is usually the enemy of something. Checking email more does not necessarily mean you are listening more. Here’s a link for the addicts.]

3) It is good to slow down and connect.

It sounds kind of strange, I guess, coming from a person who was there for the original email to be sent back in the 70’s. It was so amazingly fast then! Now, sitting down in front of a screen and composing something thoughtful and loving seems like it is kind of old fashioned. Maybe this is my nod to the “Amish” types. The new Amish-types are often people who still know how to write in a language other than textese.

Being alone, concentrating, and writing, are all good, meditative ways to be who we are in Christ and live a life of love. I am writing this with love, too. It takes time. Even as I write, I am facing the cost of acting this way, there seems to be so much to do. But the writing is helping me to be. The way you pause to read and respond is helping you to be, as well, I hope.

4) I am committed to good infrastructure that extends the kingdom.

At this point, email has been a great way to connect the disparate elements of Circle of Hope. Every year, as we grow larger and add more congregations, we have a big challenge to be one church. We are always pushed to be smaller units, if not just random individuals. Holding together by speaking the truth in love is a major counterattack on the powers that want to dominate us. Our cells and PMs are the major ways we express our commitment to being an incarnation of Jesus. But by the time they are over they are “so 29 seconds ago.” We need a daily means of togetherness. Our computers and email help us.

Hey, if you got this far in this blog post, I feel loved. Thanks. You honor me, like I have tried to honor you with my time and thinking. That is splendidly weird and Jesus-like, and it won’t be done for nothing.

3 thoughts on “Why I Still Read Email

  1. Thanks for these good words Rod and Eric. I’m grateful to have been the recipient of such careful, thoughtful attentiveness to purposeful written communication in some of my relationships over the years. It’s a rare gift. I feel blessed and nourished to give and to receive the type of meaningful written connections you are promoting above. May we all develop eyes to read and ears to hear.

    I’m also grateful to have not yet joined the “data at your fingertips” revolution. I affectionately call my only mobile device a “stupid” phone, as its talents are quite limited and I use it almost exclusively for calling, with occasional “pick up at 4” texts from my kids. Not having immediate access to the internet frees up space in my mind and opens my soul to the “real” world. Sitting down to read email (including blogs like yours) helps me slow down and ponder the messages I choose to engage.

    Last week I read a farcical blurb on Lark News called, “Small group meets but fails to notice each other.” Much to my dismay, I later saw the actual dynamic being played out before my very eyes in a local restaurant. While waiting to be seated I watched a group of five or six 20-somethings in one corner, and a father and son in another corner, spend 30 minutes “together” glued to their individual electronic devices. Rather telling commentary on our times . . .


  2. This is a pretty good place to start with forming a “Theology of Technology”, Rod. I really love this post and I read the whole thing. One thing I would add is the idea of “junk food” communication. I have been thinking lately that we all have a limited amount of daily communication or relating available to us. When we constantly consume “junk food” (facebook, twitter, chat, text, etc) without any limits or discipline, we quickly fill up and have no space left for the kind of purposeful communicating you are describing. How often do we show up to a meeting or start to reply to an important email or start to call someone and feel like we are all worn out and our mind is elsewhere. I think understanding technology and even more so understanding how we are affected by it is critical if we don’t want to be run by that technology.

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