To my Dear Friends in Christ at T4G.org;
|I waited and waited, but|
nobody would join me for coffee
Just kidding -- mine is obviously the Open Letter. I have taken a lot of flack from all sorts of people over the years for having the audacity to use a blog like this to write letters like that. It has even made some wonder whether or not the Open Letter is a dead medium, a dead form. Personally I love to write them because it gives both me and the readers of this blog the sense that we are actually speaking to certain people and not merely about them. Moreover, I think I have a long record of using both gentleness and reverence in them (with a handful of exceptions that, frankly, prove the rule), so I am taking a break from my hiatus to write one to you. I hope it finds you well, and in good spirits.
We're closing in on the early bird registration deadline (well: it's a month off), and it has caused my friends and I to have off-line chats about whether we are going. I'm sure that's a common discussion happening right now as everyone tries to decide whether or not they have $1000 (registration, room & board, travel) to spend a week with 5000 (7500? How many?) brothers and sisters in Christ. I have gone in the past, so for the record I'm not casting any shade on those who will chose to do so this year. (For those reading: if you choose to go this year, God bless you; may it bless you greatly; may it make you better disciples and better body parts in your local church [whichever part you may be]). But, I'm not going this year.
Maybe what those asking me that question were really asking me is this: since T4G is now a decade old, is it time for you to freshen up the mix? For example, when we listen to the recording of Band of Bloggers last time, how fresh was that? Was it really worth the price of admission -- even factoring in the Chick-fil-A and the free books? Once we get past aggregating other people's work, and being famous for assisting better writers with getting their works into print, what are we seeing at BoB -- and why? Would it help to include someone from outside the echo chamber those fellows represent to see what else could be helpful?
Personally, and to be as clear as possible, I have nothing to add that would freshen up that mix. My currently-jaded perspective on how Christian celebrity works, and whether or not it's legitimate to cultivate such a thing, would not make that hour of discussion more helpful -- because I am self-aware enough to know that I am, currently, very jaded on that subject. I am very weary and squint-eyed from disappointment in the public face of our faith. I'm not yet 50 (but almost), and I would sound like a one-eyed centenarian misanthrope if you put me next to Colin Hansen and asked me anything about which both he and I could comment. That would not be worth bringing me there to perform, or be worth anybody's money to pay and see.
But that question is still worth considering: what could refresh T4G and it's ancillary services? What would revive, in the intellectual, catechetical or phenomenological senses, the vibe at T4G? Maybe if you brought in that fabled faithful pastor who has been at the same church for 4 or 5 decades ...?
I can remember the first time I went, which was the second time it ran. We were not filling the YUM Center yet but were still in the big room at the Convention Center in Louisville (I think it might have been the room the bookstore is in now, but that may be a faulty memory of it). You could hear the other men singing (and yes ladies: sorry, it was something like 99.9% men) in a way that (if you will forgive me for saying it) sounded like church. It sounded like we were there together, and not merely there in attendance. I actually accidentally one morning walked into the conference center next to CJ -- though I am sure he didn't know me from Adam, and I didn't realize it was him until we reached the end of the skyway. It still had the sense, as you still propose it to be, of being a conversation among friends.
It's not really that anymore, is it?
Maybe it is. Maybe that's what actually causes some of the comments like the ones sent to me about who gets invited and who doesn't: real friendly relationships can cause those on the outside of them to feel somehow left out. People feel like maybe they have something that belongs with such a thing as T4G, and when T4G ignores it (intentionally or accidentally; and sometimes "intentionally" can even mean "because there's no more room for stuff here" rather than something more tawdry like "not invented here") it seems like a sleight because other people and other "stuff" get included when others did not. But that's what happens when people or things get famous: fans mistake fandom for friendship, and when it turns out that Mark Dever really has no idea who I am or whatever, it seems like a slight when it's not anything like that.
Yet when we think about it that way, the riddle of what T4G has become still doesn't get puzzled out. It actually gets harder to unpack because we're really not talking about church here anymore, are we? We're not talking about real human relationships but the experience. We're talking about something that looks and acts more like the other events that fill the YUM Center. I mean: it costs $1000 to go to T4G if you live right. It could cost one $2500 easily by simply picking different meal options and hotels. To the average pastor, $1000 is more than a week's salary -- in some cases, it's more than two. It stops being a conversation between friends when the first checkpoint of self-selection into the conversation is which quintile of income can afford to join in, doesn't it?
Now, look: this is not an attempt to heap scorn on you fellows for price or venue or any of that. I think that the audio files from T4G are worth the price of a decent double album (note: I just dated all of us since most of the young fellers reading this have never seen the glory of Pink Floyd's The Wall in real vinyl in real dust jackets), and I have honestly been edified by every T4G since its inception. The words of the message are clear every time. I am worried that maybe there is something else being said by the medium which needs to be worked out more completely than by a sidebar panel discussion. One speaker self-exonerating himself and the panel by saying his wife keeps him honest and there are no superstars in his household is not a solution to this conundrum.
So as people think about attending your event, and follow it on Twitter, and look forward to the able-bodied messages and the impressive line-up of powerful speakers both new and time-tested, I'm asking you to consider what you have become -- which is somehow both more and less than a conversation among friends. You have become influential across denominational lines, and somehow have also lost the physical appearance of a local church. And in doing these things, you are shaping others in ways that are probably unintended -- and as with all unintended consequences, it is the father of all manner of children.
Please be good fathers to the children you have made here. Be good servants of Christ, because I know your faith in Him is both real and good, and your hope for His final victory is the same as mine, and the only real reason we should care about what we are doing personally, both privately and publicly. He's our savior, our king, and also our judge. Let's all be judged worthy by Him when we at last see his face.
In His name, and for His sake, I thank you for your time and attention.