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[soundcloud id=’74187691′] I sent a protest into cyber space:  “Why does email have to be so impersonal?”

A friend replied: In email we now have an expectation of relatively instantaneous, but non-interactive dialogue.  

When I read “non-interactive dialogue,” I heard the brakes in my mind screech.  These were my thoughts: “Dia” means “through” or “across,” as in diameter, “the length of a line going through or across a circle.” “Logue” comes from “logos” – “word.”  So “dialogue” is the way we cut through the distance between each other and connect through words. Aha.

It is August 7, 1974. Two days later, Richard Nixon will resign the presidency. But, August 7, 1974, belonged to Philippe Petit. Picture Philippe Petit shooting an arrow with fishing line from one Twin Tower of the World Trade Center to the other.  Soon larger and larger ropes were drawn across the space until, finally, a 450-pound, 60 meter cable was suspended 1,368 feet above the street.  And then Philippe Petit walked and danced across – again and again – eight times.  What a feat!

Picture a lively word – a word of faith spanning the gap between you and God.

Picture a lively word – a word of hope or love spanning the gap between you and another.

Now, picture the “non-interactive dialogue” of our culture – having the bow and arrow and fishing line but not using them – or only using the fishing line (like an impersonal email) when that line could grow into a cable (a personal email that treats another with respect and kindness) that could truly connect. But, non-interactive dialogue – whose idea is that?

Think about a Greek word used fourteen times in the New Testament – dialogismos.  Obviously, it is similar to our word, “dialogue” – but the “ismos” guts it – takes its power away.  Instead of bridging gaps like dialogue, dialogismos  can get stuck in itself.  Then it is translated: as doubting, reflective, being speculative – not engaged.  When dialogismos gets past itself, it becomes not dialogue but “disputing, being opinionated” – again, it is still not engaged.  James 2:4 qualifies this word with the adjective “evil.”  Paul used dialogismos when he wrote to the church in Rome (1:21):

  • King James: when they knew God, they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their imaginations (dialogismos),
  • New International, 1984: although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking (dialogismos) became futile;
  • The Message paraphrase: People knew God perfectly well, but when they didn’t treat him like God, refusing to worship him, they trivialized themselves into silliness and confusion (dialogismos).
  • Whether we translate this word as “imaginations” or as “thinking” or as “confusion, it is still disengaged.

To take place, dialogue has to have power to overcome internal obstacles like anger, fear, selfishness and apathy. There are external obstacles too – others may appear too busy, too disinterested, too prejudiced.   Where do we find such power?

I’m refreshed when I read the Bible or go to church and hear again God’s words that have the power to come to us and invigorate us.  If you have ears to hear, listen to:

His commands – like:

  • Let there be light!” (Latin – “Fiat lux!”).
  • Lazarus, come forth!”
  • “Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today.”

His questions – like:

  • “Where are you?”
  • “Do you want to be well?”
  • “Will you give me a drink?”
  • “Who do you say I am?”

His promises – like:

  • Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.”
  • “I am the living bread that comes down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever.”

His Person: Jesus is the Word (Logos) made flesh who has come to us (dia) –  DiaLogos – “Dialogue” Himself.

Aha.  Let’s chose dialogue.  God will help us.

Before Philippe Petit made his high-wire walk, the Twin Towers were regarded by many as ugly – merely utilitarian.  The landlords were having trouble renting out all of their office space.  After his walk they achieved new attention – even affection – particularly after 9/11.  Who will your dialogue transform?  Most of the time our dialogue will not connect skyscrapers.  But, we can set up hammocks where people can rest.

Whether on a large scale or a small scale, this work has new challenges. Philippe used to do street juggling to raise money. But he hasn’t done it in a while.   In a 2002 interview he said: The cities have changed, people don’t seem to have the time any more. They live in their own worlds of Walkmans, TV and the internet.  And in which direction have we gone since he made that comment?  Let’s dialogue.

When Philippe Petit was asked by a friend about his ridiculous desire to walk between the Twin Towers, he replied: It’s impossible, that’s sure. So let’s start working.   Although we live in a post-Twin Towers age, we do not live in a post gospel age.  With God’s help, what towers do you need to span?

Philippe Petit told the press after his arrest: When I see three oranges, I juggle; when I see two towers, I walk.  When we see people who are disconnected from God and each other, let’s befriend them.  Maybe we can point them to the One who will speak to their heart of hearts.

The gospel is not an imperialistic human philosophy making overrated universal claims; the gospel sounds the voice of our Husband who has proven his love for us and who calls for our undivided love in return.  The gospel reveals that, as we look into the universe, ultimate reality is not cold, dark, black space; ultimate reality is romance.  There is a God above with love in his eyes for us and infinite joy to offer us, and he has set himself upon winning our hearts for himself alone (Ray Ortlund, Jr, “God’s Unfaithful Wife” p. 173).  What Dialogue!

Sucking out (some of) the marrow-nourishment from the bone-words with you,

Steve Bostrom

PS If you’d like to read the “rest of the dialogue” about non-interactive dialogue, it is attached to this essay at the web site.

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