Thursday, September 1, 2011

The Typeface of Discipleship

A few weeks ago I watched a documentary entitled, simply enough, Helvetica. The subject of the film was a typeface. Unfortunately, Blogger doesn't have Helvetica as a typeface choice, but I chose the closest one I could find for this post, Arial. Helvetica was developed in 1957 and quickly rose to be one of the most used typefaces in design.
In a sense it became the "poster child" for modern design. You've seen it, probably without even knowing it. Helvetica is the typeface of the American Airlines logo, the New York City subway signs, Target, Panasonic, and 3M. It is even the typeface used on federal income tax forms and formerly on the side of space shuttle orbiters. One of the intentions of the design was to create a typeface that said so little that it could be used anywhere. The goal of the design was to get out of the way and let the message speak for itself.

In the documentary, modern designers and post-modern designers ended up in a mostly respectful debate over that exact goal. In the post-modern era, the time in which we now live, many designers see the typeface as important as the words they carry. The typeface is not just a vehicle to carry a message, but is instead part of the message itself.

I started to think about this dichotomy in relationship to our lives of faith. The first one sounds like someone who says all the "right" things, agrees to all the "right" things, believes all the "right" things, but who doesn't seem to understand that a relationship with God is about more than what we believe in our heads or even speak with our lips. I know people like that. Sometimes I probably am "people like that."

There are times, many more times than I'd like to admit, when my life gets a little sloppy. My spiritual practices of prayer, service, and stewardship start to slip. The way I treat people isn't Christ-like. I'm snippy, rude, and unempathetic. My needs come first and there's no way I want to "lay down [my] life for [my] friends." My beliefs haven't changed. The message I would speak isn't any different, but the vessel carrying it doesn't match. The typeface isn't delivering the same message as my words.

Like it or not, the typeface can't just get out of the way. Even in its original day Helvetica had a message. The message was one of modernity, style, and forward progression. The message today seems to be more corporate, but still the product or service of "everyman."
Similarly, our lives can't just get out of the way. What we say with our words and believe in our heads, like it or not, aren't the only message's we deliver. The way we live our lives delivers a message, too, and a very important one at that. The way we treat other people, the activities that fill our time, the way we spend our money -- all of these are just as much a part of our spirituality and our relationship with God as the words we say and the thoughts that we think. They deliver a message to God and to others about what we believe and who worship.

Are you delivering a consistent message? As we begin a new ministry year, I plan to take some time to make sure my typeface matches the Word I want to proclaim. Won't you join me, too?

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