Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Two Moments In Church Time

"You become what you behold"--Marshall McLuhan.

During "the prayers of the people" part of the Anglican Liturgy, a young couple attend to their baby while looking at their brightly-lit cell phone. " The baby looks as well. "Strange and sad," I thought, "Can't they ever turn it off? Can't they focus on the sacred service going on in their midst?" Then during the Eucharist, the summit of the service, this couple takes the baby to the altar along with the well lit-cell phone.

Many are now wearing their technologies like clothing. They have no sense of when to leave them behind and when to take them, when to turn them off and when to turn them on along. And "on" is the new default mode; multitasking is the way of being. Life is impoverished thereby.

To this, I declare:

Off
is in.
On
is out.

Or:

Turn off;
tune out;
and dive in.

16 comments:

Tom said...

Here's a more benign interpretation: the well-lit cell phone attracts the baby's interest and an interested baby is typically not a crying baby. Maybe the parents had the cell phone lit to prevent you from writing a post about the distraction that crying babies cause during worship. (;

Paul D. Adams said...

I take my cell to church and leave it on because many times the sermon or music is so bad that I must refocus. So, I turn to my cell and read Scripture (having the entire Bible on it). Others who look on may think I am merely wearing technology like clothing, but instead I'm seeking to become what I behold. Hum...

Daniel said...

Paul,

Do you mind if I ask why you choose to read the Bible off of a cell phone as opposed to the book?

Paul D. Adams said...

sure, daniel. glad you asked.
that particular service did not focus on scripture and I expect to be confronted with God and his truth when going to a place of worship. The antics displayed at that service resulted in my going to God's Word instead. I happened not to bring my bible on that occassion and was happy to have my cell. After all, God's Word is inspired despite the medium, right?

Sarah Scott said...

Tom,

Lit cell phones certainly would appeal to a baby's taste for the shiny and novel, but there was a time when a crying baby was taken outside...

Doug Groothuis said...

Paul, my Friend:

I suggest that next time this happens that you simply leave the service.

Best,
DG

Tom said...

Sarah,

Ah, but the point is that the baby wasn't crying. So there's no reason to carry it out.

Do you think it is better to not light up your cell phone (with the ringer off, of course) even if it means that the baby will cry and you'll have to leave worship? Would you say the same about a small, silent toy?

Daniel said...

Paul,

Thanks for the clarification. But I agree with Dr. Groothuis on this one. To answer your question, I think M. McLuhan's "the medium is the message" rings true here. I wouldn't want myself staring at a cell phone during church instead of listening to a sermon (albeit a poor sermon) to be the message I am sending my fellow congregants.

It's also a shame that your church doesn't have pew Bibles. That would be a good investment for the next fiscal year. Just some thoughts.

Sarah Scott said...

Tom,

If one must use a distractingly bright cell phone to quiet the baby, then truly engaging in the worship service becomes difficult to impossible unless superhuman multitasking abilities are involved. (Even then, other people attempting to worship would likely be distracted by the blur of said superhuman multitasking) The reason for this likely "worship blockage" is that entertaining the infant has become the focus. Thus, leaving the service enters the realm of legitimate possibility.

In short, distracting yourself from worship so that your baby will be distracted from crying runs the risk of distracting others with your antics.

(And there is always the possibility/probability that a parental technology addiction begets infantile technophilia.)

Doug Groothuis said...

SS:

You nailed it.

There is an epidemic loss of decorum, of manners, in our culture. Rudeness is rampant. Informality meets technology means ugly.

On this, read Lynn Truss, "Speak to the Hand"--very funny and on target (in a British way). She also wrote a witty book on punctuation called, "Eats Shoots and Leaves," which I used in my class, Writing for Publication .

Tom said...

Sarah,

The bottom line is neither of us knows what was going on. Like everyone else, I've been irritated many times by rude cell phone behavior. Yet as someone who has raised three children, I know that there are small compromises that sometimes must be made, particularly when the children are very young (and, truthfully, anyone who has never raised a child and yet denies this doesn't know what he or she is talking about).

Having said that, my wife and I typically left our babies/toddlers in the nursery because we didn't want the distraction for others or for ourselves. But for a host of reasons, this isn't always possible. And if I had my tyke in church and I thought she might sit quietly if she had a lit-but-silenced cell phone to look at, I'd light it up in a heartbeat (unless the santuary was darkened).

One more thing. I don't quite get why you and Doug seem so determined to read the worst into the behavior of people you don't know. Why not cut 'em some slack? From my reading of the Gospels, I'd rather unknowingly violate cell phone etiquette from time to time than be one who regularly pronounces harsh judgment on those of whose circumstances I am ignorant.

Paul D. Adams said...

Daniel, Doug, et al.
Thanks for your suggested counsel. However, a few caveats are in order here.

1. I agree that the use of cells in church, or elevators for that matter, can be extremely annoying and discretion seems entirely lacking in our culture these days in this regard.

2. It was not "my" church. I was visiting due to an invite of a neighbor who was singing a solo and he asked if I would come to listen. I suspect that leaving would be far more offensive to my friend than to folks sitting next to me that "may/may not" have been offended by my lit cell. After all, no one said anything to me and I did not witness any sneers, so...the apparent offense is in your minds only and I've no reason to believe it offended anyone near me at that service. Had I known that it was an offense, then it was my biblical duty to turn it off.

3. A dilemma was present to me: a) Should my wife and I disrupt everyone and get up and leave making our way through crowded rows and crowded foyers causing more disruption on our way toward the door or b) merely sit there and focus my mind on God's Word (albeit in a medium apparently not approved for use in church by most on this thread)?
3. After considering a later discussion on this blog (Memory: computer and human) I do have more than 300 verses memorized as well as entire books of the Bible. Therefore, in the spirit of Rom 14ff re: gray matter, had I known that anyone near me would be offended by a lit cell, then I certainly would have reflected upon God's word hidden in my heart rather than stored on my cell.

4. Finally, please let's not exalt one medium or the use thereof (memory, hardcopy, digital, etc.) over another due to personal preferences unless it is explicitly condemned in Scripture or it is believed that it would be an offense to another brother or sister. I see some value in Tom's last para. above and will personally take it to heart. I trust all else will do likewise.

Doug Groothuis said...

There is no harsh judgment, just a concern for manners and civility, which is in short supply today. I take it to be wrong period to be playing on a cell phone in church. I don't need to know much else.

I do know Paul quite well, Tom; and I make no harsh judgments against him. In fact, his qualifications help me understand the situation better. We are exploring ideas and etiquitte here.

Technology functions as a hidden plague in our culture, and few see its effects. I am trying to wake (a few) people up.

Paul D. Adams said...

Agree that it's wrong to be flipant, indifferent, or non-chalant about worship. God is precise in giving us instructions for worship and expects us to be so too (cf., 2 Sam. 6:1-19; John 4:24; 1-2 Corinthians; pastoral epistles, etc.). However, I'm unconvinced the parents in the original post were negligent in this way. Of course, I wasn't there, so...Nevertheless, I appreciate the focus here in ensuring we're not glib, arrogant, or uncivil in our use of techonology, wherever we find ourselves.

Sarah Scott said...

Tom, Paul, and whoever else may be concerned about personal judgement,

I was not attempting to judge these parents or label them as negligent. The goal was instead to pursue potential problems which may have been lurking beneath the surface in this and similar increasingly frequent scenarios.

Just a (possibly feeble) attempt to better explain my motives for such probing.

Paul D. Adams said...

Thanks, Sarah, for your explanation. Understood that your probing was just that and nothing more. While I did/do not take offense, I'm constantly reminded of Socrates' fate when probing...;->.