I have read any number of comments and blog posts about the decline of civility and the nastiness that seems to pervade discourse in the public sphere. I have to admit that sometimes I wonder about this. Read some of the vitriolic argumentation of past debates on matters political and religious and maybe it is not so bad. Still, our manners have slipped precipitously and the whole nature of our public life has been degraded.
We have all heard the cell phones go off at just the most inopportune moments. Even worse are the people who answer those cell phones (in my case in the front pew of the Church during the sermon... "Hey I am in Church... what do you want?" for all the congregation to hear... I for one get tired of hearing people talk to me in supermarkets or on the street only to find out when they turn their heads that they are talking on blue tooth. At the symphony once I heard a woman humming loudly (and poorly) the music being played on stage -- it was as if she could not merely listen. Maybe that is part of our affliction.
In the service I note people whispering in not so muted tones and too often the subject of their conversation has little to do with what is happening there. People seem to have to use the toilet more often than ever before and think nothing of interrupting the reading of the Word of God or prayers with their scurry to the rest room. So often the people whom I know to have problems with a bladder or chronic pain sit and wait for a moment when their movement will not be noticed while everyone else runs around as if their personal needs were the only concern.
I cannot speak to the reasons for all of this but certainly the casual attitude toward worship is something our current age is highly in favor of -- a casual attitude toward the worship of God's House which often betrays a casual attitude toward God Himself and the gifts of God that He gives to us in the Divine Service.
It reminds me how hard it is for us to turn our attention away from ourselves -- even for a moment. Could it be that the real work of worship is just that -- focusing away from ourselves for a few moments? It is not simply that our attention spans are shorter -- as some have offered -- because we seem to lack nothing when it comes to focusing our attention on how we feel, what we want, what is wrong, or what we have to say.
Manners and decorum are not high priorities in our teaching. But these are not simply things indifferent. The things we treat casually betray a casual attitude toward them and the priority we attach to other things. I hope that these are not signs of the times or previews of even greater casualness. There is a point when casualness becomes downright rude.