Sunday, January 23, 2011

The Tyrrany of the Cell Phone

You'd think.  A gathering of some 600 Lutheran Pastors and lay folks, a smattering of seminarians, and some scattered Seminary professors might be sensitive to the sound of a cell phone ringing during a scholarly presentation.  You'd think that was the case.  But you might be wrong.

As much as I loved the Symposia at Concordia Theological Seminary, I did not love the folks sitting in Sihler Auditorium who believed that they were so important they had to keep their cell phones on AND the ringer set on loud and obnoxious.  You might think that Pastors who had been victims of the cell phones of parishioners might be a bit more circumspect about their own cell phone habits.  You'd think that might be the case but... you might be wrong.

Yesterday my cell phone died.  Well, that is not exactly accurate.  I went to make a call and found the phone worked beautifully except that the cracked screen made it impossible to know who I was dialing, texting, taking a picture of, etc...   There for a time I had a couple of options rolling around in my head -- one of which was to get rid of the damn thing.  The other was to use my old cell which basically only makes and receives calls (you can do more but it ain't pretty how you do it).  Then my wife and my son told me to buck up, shut up, and get to the store and replace the phone.  Humbled by their logic and broken by their refusal to commiserate with me, that is exactly what I eventually did.  But, part of me thinks I wimped out.  I should have gone without a cell phone.  Maybe that is the Luddite (old Adam) in me... or, perhaps, the need for the cell phone is the old Adam... I am still working through that one...

My point is that cell phones, like many of our electronic gadgets, have taught us that we are more important than we are.  We carry them around like the world might come to an end if somebody could not call us and ask us "What are you doing?" or "Where are you at?"  We assume a self-importance that belies the truth.  We are all dispensable.  I was actually gone for a week, had minimal contact with the office, and, guess what, the Church was still there when I got back.  Amazing that my staff and parishioners actually got by without me -- the Grand Poobah of Important Clergy!!  Oh, dear, what a blow to my ego.

We carry around our cell phones (and Blackberrys and I-phones and netbooks and notebooks and laptops) because we cannot afford to focus on something besides ourselves.  Sure, and I will admit this because some of you are business folk who must be in contact with your job, some of us need to be connected.  But most of us don't.  We have been fooled by our own sinful flesh and the sinful world around us, whispering in our ears, that we are so darned important that we must be in touch with everyone on our friends list all the time.  Talk about curvatus in se!  (In case you do not read Latin, google it on your phone, net book, notebook, or laptop.)

Part of the regenerate life is being able to shut off the cell phone and its false sense of importance and I vote you begin in Church on Sunday morning.  Just say "no!"  Shut it off.  Let it go, Luke, let it go.  The force will be with you.  You can do it... If for no other reason that God deserves our full attention and if for no other discipline than allowing that just maybe we are not as important as we think, shut it off.  I realize that this is difficult so I will compromise.  Turn off the ringer and put it on silent.  That way your self-importance will not disturb prayerful attention of the folks sitting around you.

Ahhhhhhh... rant for the day over.  Cross that one off the to do list (conveniently carried around with me on my cell phone).


Pastor Jim Wagner said...

Although my wife has a cell phone, I do not. As a pastor I can think of only a couple of times in the past several years when having a cell phone would have made much difference in my schedule or life - and that was convenience, not necessity.

At a retreat last fall I was amazed and amused by how many pastors filled each break on their phones. They could hardly wait to get out the door to take or make a call. Some retreat!

Although it is impossible to judge any individual, in the main, cell phones seem to have more to do with narcisism than necessity.
I say, "Do not submit again to a yoke of slavery."

On a lighter level, I usually tell my friends that "I could buy a lot of whisky for that kind of money!"

Unknown said...

Well, while I too have a love / hate relationship with my cell phone, it has for better or worse become part of the daily equipment like a watch or wallet. While it makes it easier for people to get in touch with me, the real attraction is the convenience for me. I am constantly running all over the place with a seven year old son and a parish that is spread out, especially when they get sick. It is not unusual to have parishioners in hospitals from Rockford to Madison, Freeport, Monroe and even Chicago. I have it set up as my GPS, address book and even my word processor. I also have it set up with my NRSV Bible and some of the basic liturgies and prayers for visitation when I forget my Occasional Services book. It has definitely been a useful tool for my situation; however, it is just a tool.

I must admit though that it can be an obtrusive tool that sometimes I forget to put away. During a funeral service, I realized that my phone was in my pocket and it was starting to vibrate, which means a call was coming and it would soon ring with my Alma Mater's fight song, "Bear Down, Arizona!" if I did not address it. The problem was that I was right in the middle of the prayers of the church. As I am saying the words, my hand was under my alb in my pocket trying to flick out the battery on the phone, which I did. The phone now stays on my desk during worship.

Pastor Jim Wagner said...

One more thought. Do most congregations pay for their pastor's cell phone? I know my wife's congregation pays for her's. It would seem that if this is a ministerial necessity the congregation should pay.

I remember an old pastor emeritus who told me that during the depression his council told him they could no longer afford to pay for a telephone, so he would have to pay for it himself. When he went home that night his wife said, "Alvin, you just march right back over there and tell them that "we" don't need a phone."

Anonymous said...

The worse cell phone sin is to use
it while driving a car. This has
caused tragic accidents. Maybe the
high tech world has put man at the
center of the universe, but he fails
when it comes to common sense.

Colleen Oakes said...

I would like to make a public service announcement to all church members: Putting your phone on vibrate does NOT make it okay to have your cell phone on in church. Sheesh!

Steve said...

A great thing happened this morning. We went to church and with all the ice scraping and car stuff (it was 11 degrees when we left) I completely forgot my phones; guess what happened??? Nothing at all. Its a tribute to your post.

I will admit I always put them on vibrate or leave them in the narthex. I think most of my soldiers know exactly where I am on a Sunday morning.


Anonymous said...

Don't bring cell phones into churches, auditoriums, chapels, and concert halls. If they are on, they interfere with wireless sound systems as the smartphones are constantly communicating, even if muted or silenced. They need to be turned off. These pastors should be reprimanded, as it is very rude and annoying to others. Please, show respect and leave the phone in the car or at home, to honor the worship of God and the speakers who teach us.