Saturday, April 21, 2012

Talking Technology

     From the beginning (of their Twitter existence), I loved Unvirtuous Abbey. A friend told me about these “monks” when they had just started tweeting, nearly two years ago, and I was immediately hooked. Their tweets often come from the intersection of pop culture and theology, which is where I spend a lot of my psychic time. Sometimes their brief
prayers, or popular quotes reborn as words of Jesus, make me laugh. Others make me think. Some do both. 
      Here are a few samples: “Jesus said, ‘Don’t stop believin’. Hold on to that feeling.’” “For people who think it’s gullible to believe in God, yet retweet messages so they can win a free iPad, Lord, hear our prayer.” “Lord, you who told Lazarus to ‘Come out!’, we pray for religious leaders who tell people it’s wrong to do that.” “Jesus said, ‘I am the app of life.’” “For people who say, ‘God has a plan for your life!’ as people die of disease, hunger, and war each day, we pray to the Lord.” “Jesus said, ‘I see your true colors shining through . . . and that’s why I love you. So don’t be afraid to let them show.”
     One recent tweet, the one in the screen shot above, hit me especially hard. When my old phone had broken that morning, my sadness was brief. Here was as good an excuse as any to upgrade to the iPhone 4S. I made my pilgrimage to the store, and listened with rapt attention as the salesman explained all its marvelous attributes. Wanting to ensure the safety of something so precious, I also bought the most protective case available, the one that was shock-proof, would keep out even the tiniest grains of sand, and had to be submerged in liquid for a few hours before I put the phone in it to verify that the seals were watertight. Nothing bad was going to happen to my iPhone if I could help it! After I brought it home, I spent hours exploring all its capabilities, trying out the camera, setting up iCloud, and getting to know Siri. I transferred all my apps from the old phone to the new one through my computer, then checked Twitter.
     That’s when I saw Unvirtuous Abbey’s tweet: “Jesus said, ‘The second greatest commandment is this: ‘Love your neighbor as your iPhone.’” Ouch! This hit way too close to home, as I read it on my shiny new iPhone screen. Do I love people like that? Would I spend hours learning about their unique talents, and spread the good word about them to all my friends? Would I do everything in my power to ensure they were protected against the inevitable dangers of life? Would I patiently take the time to try and understand them, even if their ways of doing things were very unfamiliar to me? 
     If I’m honest, I would have to say the answer is no. I may love some of my neighbors like that – the nice ones, the attractive ones, the ones whose approval I seek, the ones who like me, and the ones who are most like me. But the others – the people outside my circle of friendship and familiarity, the ones at the fringes of society, the ones with whom Jesus spent so much of his time – I have not done such a great job loving them. An occasional contribution to charity eases my conscience, or I tell myself that I meet a lot of those people through my work as a hospital chaplain.
     I know it’s not enough. This was a sobering reminder, a much-needed kick in the pants. Loving my neighbor as myself is one thing (I can be a lot less than nice to
myself at times), but to love my neighbor as my iPhone? That’s just not playing fair, Unvirtuous Abbey! Such an unexpected turn of phrase, such a reversal of expectations, is disorienting. It’s shocking. It’s too much like what Jesus did in his parables. It’s quite a sermon to preach in less than 140 characters, and it has infiltrated my heart in
a way few other sermons have done.

     I’m going to miss the “walking conversations.”  For the past seven years, I’ve received phone calls from one daughter or the other as they walked to class at Furman.  If no one more interesting was around to talk with, the girls would call me (or their dad) on their cell phone and chat for the few minutes it took them to walk from their dorm or apartment to class on the Furman campus. First, Alison, then Savannah, and one year, both!  
     So different from my lengthy scheduled Sunday phone calls from college with my parents, the walking call from my daughters was always a short conversation that offered a  snapshot of how the day was going - some days crazy busy with too many papers to write, others more relaxed with gossip about campus drama.   I could usually predict the time of the phone call based on their class schedule.  Savannah has been known to talk to the answering machine for the duration of the walk if no one answered any of the four numbers that should contact her with one of her parents. 
     Savannah graduates in two weeks and the walking conversations will cease. However, the connectivity will not. This generation will remain instantly connected with everyone. Alison does a google hangout on Saturday mornings with her school friends, from their various locations in DC, NY, MO, and CN.  Savannah and her roommate are already planning how to keep in touch.
     And I must say, I appreciated the connectedness.  With one daughter in St. Louis (but moving to Nashville) and the other considering graduate school everywhere from Los Angeles to New Orleans, Skype is my best friend.  I love seeing the pictures they share on Facebook,  looking at the craft ideas, home decor and humor they’ve tagged for me on PInterest, and even reading the never-ending tweets about British football from my son-in-law on Twitter.  I may not be a digital native, but I'm learning fast to stay connected in this new world.


     While walking on Edisto Beach, we ran into this character, aptly named Eddy Stow. She, or as I would find out later, he is decked out in a fancy lei, long dangling earrings and a ripped six pack, hard as wood.
     Eddy even is on FaceBook. A sign on his side says so. Even worse, he has more friends than I do.
     Now I know it’s not a competition. There are some people such as George Takei, “Sulu” of Star Trek fame, who has 1.5 million followers and hilarious posts. Then there are such extroverts as my minister, Don Flowers, who knows most everyone in town and boasts almost 900 friends. I haven’t quite hit the 200 mark, but it’s OK. I’m more of a private person, and don’t post much. I just spill my guts in a blog.
     Plus, FaceBook seems a bit narcissitic, as a writer with The Atlantic Magazine points out in an article titled,  Is Facebook Making Us Lonely?
     How many virtual friends do we need? I have a hard enough time keeping up with my in-person friends. 
     But, still, Eddy has 220 friends. Really? What can he have to say?
     Now I’m recruiting. Won’t you be my friend?


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