Remember the movie “You’ve Got Mail” in which romance bloomed through annoying computer beeps announcing incoming e-mail? Cute movie.
The other morning, as I was deep in Morning Prayer, my collection of electronic gizmos began their serenade of beeps, whistles and chirps announcing incoming mail and the occasional text message. The odd things was that I felt almost compelled to put aside scripture and conversation with God in order to find out what it was that Staples, Land’s End and Orvis had to say. Then there was the suspense of wanting to know the latest headlines from Yahoo News, Washington Post and New York Times. Besides, who knows, someone might have sent me a real message.
My cell phone sits beside me in the car. It’s illegal to talk or text while driving. The darn thing beeps to announce a text message. Now my curiosity is working overtime. Maybe I could just sneak a quick look. Why? How important could it be? Not very!
What is it about us that entices many of us to treat every buzz or ringtone as a sign of urgency demanding our immediate response lest the universe cease to function? I remember writing about something like this a year or two ago, and wondering the same thing then. More particularly, why do we feel an urgent compulsion to respond to beeps heralding junk mail, jokes and spam when we seldom feel the same sense of urgency or compulsion to respond to God’s invitation to prayerful conversation through which the truly important is present?
Members frequently confess that, no, they don’t have a dedicated time for daily meditation in God’s presence, they just don’t have time for it, anyway they don’t know how, and besides there are things to do, and meditation in God’s presence is as close to doing nothing as possible - uncomfortably close to laziness. What if someone sees them just wasting time reading a bible and talking with an invisible God when there are chores to be done? That is a very screwed up way of looking at daily priorities, but a common one. Curious, is it not?
I have no illusions about reversing the order of things so that time with God is an urgently felt need while electronic dings and dongs are relegated to the “when I get around to it” pile. For one thing, I’m not so sure we can blame it on computers and phones. I suspect that something else took their place before they came along. But I do think that we pastors can do more to discipline our own lives in a more godly direction. I also think that we can do more to guide our flocks toward the same thing.
I’m on a committee that, a couple of years ago, messed around with developing a survey instrument that would help reveal congregational core values and desires. We came up with a dandy and tried it out in a parish we knew to be healthy, growing and imbued with a culture of generous giving. We felt we knew this place well and could easily guess the survey results. We were wrong. What was most desired, what was most lacking in congregational life was well informed, competent guidance toward a richer, deeper life of prayer and meditation.
We only used the survey instrument that once. It was too complicated and expensive to replicate. Never ask a bunch of academics and academic wannabes to do something like that. They always overdo it. Now we have much simpler, more pragmatic instrument purchased from a trusted church consultant.
Nevertheless, I think the point was made. In spite of all the excuses, there is, at least among regular church going folk, a hunger for prayerful communion with God and a desire for guidance in that direction. They may still be tempted by the siren call of “You’ve got Mail,” but they really do want to make authentic prayer a higher priority in their lives. I suppose our first step would be to ask if God has a distinctive ring tone app we can download and distribute.