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09. November 2017 · Comments Off on WIRELESS RUDENESS · Categories: CHURCH, Funerals, Internet · Tags: ,

 It is not often that I quote the words of The Pope, but an article in today’s newspaper (THE STANDARD) in Kenya caught my eye. During his weekly general audience in St. Peters Square he chastised people on their use of smart phones, saying “At a certain point in the ceremony the priest says ‘lift up your hearts’.  He doesn’t say, ‘lift up your mobile phones to take photographs.”  He went on to say, “its so sad when I’m celebrating mass here or inside the basilica and I see lots of phones held up – not just by the faithful, but also by priests and bishops! Please!”

I think we all have experienced it – a special moment ruined either by the sound of a mobile phone ringing, or some person snapping a picture with their smartphone at the wrong time.  Not just in church either. Family dinner time.  Concerts.  Special celebrations like weddings, anniversaries or birthdays – even a special date with a special someone.  Really – you need to remain accessible for the rest of the world to call you – even then? I have even heard of people taking their smartphone to bed with them, so that that they might see who is texting them or emailing them throughout the night.

At one time, being available, and able to be reached anywhere and anytime was a sign of importance.  Doctors (and others) would have little beepers attached to their belt and then suddenly in the middle of something have to get up and go to the nearest telephone to call the paging company.  Then the little pager became a little more sophisticated…the number calling you would be displayed on the pager.  I remember having one of those when I was in sales during a career break.  But now we live in the age of the smartphone.  No longer just a mobile phone or “cell phone” as we used to call it.  The smartphone keeps us “wired” and in touch all the time with all the world.  We can be reachable by phone, or by social media or email, or even surf the web anywhere, anytime. And … anybody can have one.  I can remember when mobile phone was part of science fiction.  Remember the agent who talked into a fountain pen?  Then came the first mobile phones – big bulky things.  Car phones that had to be wired into your car to work.  And now? The most sophisticated devices accessible to anyone, not just those who need to be accessible.

Now I am not against those things.  I have one myself.  Nor is the pope against social media.  I am told that he has 14 million followers on his English language Twitter account alone.  He has even gone so far as to say that the internet, social media, and texting can be “a gift of God” if used wisely (though he also said that young people should exchange their smartphones for pocket Bibles.  Perhaps he doesn’t know that you can read the Bible with your smartphone.  As a pastor, when I made visits to the hospital, I always took my smartphone along because I had access to various versions, and various languages of the Bible (German or English) and I used the one that suited the patient.

Like all the other electronic tools and toys before it, the smartphone in and of itself is amoral – neither good or evil.  But the person using it can be either, or at the very least rude.  Rude? You ask me?  Well let me explain.  If you and I were having a face to face conversation, and somebody else came and began to talk to me, would you not think it rude if I suddenly ignored you and carried on a conversation with that other person?  How then, is it polite to do the same thing using a smartphone?  But I have had it done to me many many times.  “Excuse me”, says my partner “but I really need to take this call”.  Then the phone conversation goes on an on while I twiddle my thumbs.  Actually, I usually pull out my smartphone and check my email at such a point.

And then there are the thoughtless people who allow their cell phones or whatever to ring at the most inappropriate moments, such as worship services, weddings, and funerals.  In the last church that I served, we had to every Sunday put a note in the bulletin and on the overhead screen, asking worshippers to please silence their electronic gadgets.  I thought it was sad that we had actually do that.  And still I would observe people texting or whatever throughout the service, thinking the people on the platform don’t notice.  During a funeral that I was conducting in my last church, a phone rang on two occasions.  From the sound of the funky ring tone it was the same phone both times.  The first time I said nothing and just went on with the service while others around the offender glared at him.  When it happened again during a very solemn moment in the service, and it wouldn’t stop, I had enough.  I stopped what I was doing and looked over in the direction of the offender and asked him to please silence his phone.  (I later found out that he was so flustered because he couldn’t get it to stop).  I was criticized for that move because he told others after the service that I had hurt his feelings by singling him out.  I reminded the critics that this person (who did not belong to our congregation) rudely interrupted a very important service in the life of that grieving family.  Secondly the service wasn’t about him, so I didn’t care about him being offended or not.  He should have known better.  Whether you know how to operate your smart phone or not, turn it off before going to a special event.  Or if you must remain reachable, then put the thing on vibrate so it doesn’t disturb others.

One last bit of irony.  Smartphones and other electronic toys supposedly enhance communication between humans.  But sadly, with all this accessibility and availability, studies have shown that we have become less effective communicators when face to face with others.  Just watch next time you go out to dinner, or even look at your own dinner table.  How is the conversation going?  Do you actually talk to the person or persons you are with?  Do you let others horn in on that conversation with an MSN text or an email, or a phone call?  And, seriously were these interrupters and those interruptions really so important that they couldn’t wait until after dinner?  Or church?  Or the movie?  Or whatever?



03. February 2015 · Comments Off on WOULD JESUS HAVE A SMART PHONE? · Categories: Internet, JESUS · Tags: , ,

imagesM3W0KHLTOne of my favourite professional magazines throughout my career has been LEADERSHIP, The current  edition has an article with the provocative title of If Jesus Had A Smartphone.

Before I get into that, let’s talk about how many Smartphones there are and who uses them.  Of course we need to distinguish between the mobile (cell) phone and the smartphone. Of the estimated 5 billion mobile phones in the world, only 1.08 billion are smartphones. The difference between the two is profound.  The first cellular phone that I owned was really a car phone. It was wired into my ignition, and turned on as soon as I started the engine.  It was hands-free speaker phone, but it needed an antenna on the rear window. It couldn’t do anything else other than receive or make calls, and yet having that convenience in the car was amazing.  It was also expensive compared to today’s cell phones.

When I worked in business (funerals and cemetery sales) for 2 years when I was on a break from ministry, a mobile phone was not a luxury, it was a necessity that kept you in touch with clients around the clock.  But it was still just a cell phone. Portable, but still made a bulge in my suit jacket.

Today’s smartphones of course are more than just telephones.  They are cameras, calculators, can access email, the web, and that is just the beginning. Like nothing before it, we can use it to be plugged into the world anywhere. Is that a good thing? Depends.  The one time that you have it turned off, someone is trying to get in touch with you.  I remember the time I went to the cottage to get some work done, I took the cell phone with me and left it on, because I was on duty.  Alas I had forgotten to take a charge cord with me, and I rationed my use as the battery went lower and lower.  And seriously, that was when I got a call about a bereavement in the church, and in the middle of the call the battery died.  I had a landline phone to fall back on, but I couldn’t reach the party that had called because I didn’t check the incoming number on the smartphone and now it was dead. Technology is great when it works (with a full battery). But it is no guarantee against human error (no charge cable).

So back to the question…would Jesus have and use a smartphone?  And if he wouldn’t why should I?  Assuming that if Jesus were incarnate in the 21st century rather than the first,  I think he would embrace the culture of this century much the same way He did the first century. He would make Himself available to his family, his friends for sure, and perhaps He would communicate with others via text or even email.  If this sound blasphemous, remember that as Christians we believe that Jesus was God become flesh, and dwelt fully among us with all that being human means.  He wouldn’t need a smartphone to communicate with us of course, but would He use them?  Would He have a Twitter feed, or be on Facebook?. Of course, I have no proof that He would, and you have no proof that He wouldn’t.

Our electronic toys, or make that tools (!) keep the information world at our finger tips. Is that good? Well consider these statistics cited by Leadership Magazine: About 34% of people say they get anxious when their battery dies, and nearly half (46%) would struggle to go without the internet for longer than a day.  Almost half of those under 40 admit that their personal electronics sometimes separate the  from other people. Still three in 10 millennials (or 30%) say they “love” their phone. Talk about intimacy – but not with people it seems.

Leadership asks the question, “How does the hyperlinked life jibe with the abundant life that Jesus promised? We certainly have lives full of information, but our daily lives—our time, our intimacy with God and others, our time to just think and be—seem depleted.”

Sounds like bad news, so they suggest that we re-think our definition of stewardship. To the traditional stewarding of Time, Talent, and Treasure, we need to add a fourth T – Technology.  Like every other form of technology that is a part of our lives, our smart phones, ipads computers etc. need to be our servants and not the other way around. The abundant life that Jesus promised consists of not being enslaved to any  one or anything – no person, no substance, and no technology. Now Jesus could pull that off, and He can help us do it too.

19. August 2014 · Comments Off on THE INTERNET NO EXCUSE FOR BAD MANNERS · Categories: Internet · Tags: , , ,

The internet is here to stay, and so are the various forms of social media like Facebook, Twitter etc. which all are accessed by the internet. In the year 2000, only 40.3% of Canadian households were connected to the internet.  By 2012, that figure had jumped to 83%. Most of the Generation Z (the people born after the “Millennials”)  have not experienced a world without the internet. The majority of them access the internet before they see the first day of school.  As for church and ministry: I have been at this long enough to remember the days when the IBM “Selectric” typewriter was considered “high tech”. I remember getting my first computer in 1989, and when the church considered buying one, some voted against it, because they saw computers as part of the anti-Christ conspiracy, and were afraid that any church records about members might fall into the wrong hands. I recall how the ministers one generation older than mine made fun of us “young pastors” for not being able to write sermons without computers.

However, just because almost everybody uses the internet, whether for business or pleasure, or both,  doesn’t mean that everyone knows HOW to use it.  I’m talking not about technical proficiency,   nor the dubious skill of “thumb typing”, but about something as everyday as good manners, a.k.a. etiquette.  Whether online or offline, good manners are good manners, and bad manners are bad manners.  It is the latter that seems to glare online.  I think nobody should be allowed on the internet until they pass “Email 101” or “Facebook 101” So I’d like to pass on a few pointers on both:


  1. Answer Your Email Promptly. Back in the days of “snail mail” when writing letters was an art, it was considered bad form not to answer a letter that was addressed to you personally. Now that we have the ability to send an email around the world in seconds, it is still bad form to ignore a message sent personally to you. If you and I were in the same room, and you talked to me, you would think it rude of me if I were to simply stare at you and not reply to your question.  It is no less rude if you do it electronically.  Don’t make someone ask you days or weeks down the road, “Did you get my email”?  How many seconds does it take to hit “reply” and type, “thanks, I got that”, or to type a brief response to a question etc. If something needs a complicated answer, or you can’t reply right now, send the sender a message explaining what you will do and when, and then keep your word.
  2. Clear your INBOX Every day.  This will help you to do # 1 above.  There is nothing less motivating, then to look at your inbox and find 975 messages that have piled up. I have certain times in the day when I check my email.  The way I keep my INBOX empty is by doing something with every single message.  I either answer it, put it in a folder of “needs to be answered”, file it, or delete it. 
  3. Use the Bcc properly and sparingly. Bcc stands for “blind carbon copy” i.e. you are sending the same message not only to the intended recipient, but also to another party or parties.  But the person being addressed doesn’t know it, for the email address of the other recipients is not visible, hence “blind”.  Isn’t that sort of “sneaky” — letting someone else, or even several others in on a private message, without telling the original person? In business, sometimes an email does have to go to several people, because it affects them or their duties in some way. The CC button is the proper tool to use for that, and everyone who gets the message will know about everyone else who gets it.  That is the transparent way.  One good use of BCC however, is when you want to send to a large group of people who do not know one another, and who might not appreciate their email address being visible to people they don’t know.  The way to do that is to send the message to  your own email address, and put everyone else’s’ in the Bcc line. 
  4. Use the Fwd. properly and sparingly.  The proper way to use the “Forward” button is to pass a message that you received to someone who either needs to see it, is better qualified to deal with it, or you know that they would be genuinely interested.  The improper way to use FWD is to click on it every time a joke, some trivia, or some article comes along.  A lot of hoaxes and misinformation are spread that way.  
  5. On Facebook, Fwd. is called “SHARE” and on Twitter, “Re-Tweet”.  When you share or retweet,   something that arrives in your feed or on your wall gets broadcast either to your friends list, or the general public, depending on how you have your settings. Some retweets or shares are really valuable, or really funny, but most of them are, well, just plain annoying.  From some people you never read anything original or personal, only “share this” or “share that”.  And the absolute worst, and in my opinion in the poorest taste are the ones that say, “95% of you won’t repost this, but if you (insert here the cause: love Jesus, care about cancer patients, and love your son or your daughter) then please share this.  Yes, I love Jesus, and I believe in many of the causes that are shared that way, but I refuse to be shamed or bullied into saying it just so that the picture or article or whatever gets spread.  It could be called junkmail or spam, take your pick. 
  6. Before you post anything on social media for the entire world to see, think carefully whether others really should, or want to see or read this. Do you think people really care about the fact that you just vomited, or got drunk, or even that you are “bored”? Profanity on Facebook  even from Christians, is no better than profanity in person. (And you do know that profanity is the result of a feeble mind trying to express itself forcibly, don’t you?). A picture of you smooching with your significant other, is no different than smooching in public on a street corner or in church. It cheapens the relationship that you are trying to show off.  This goes for any pictures that you post anywhere: in many cases you can’t retrieve it.  I have never understood why anyone would post nude pictures of themselves anywhere! If you do, don’t be surprised if those pictures somehow find their way to your boss’s computer, or come back to haunt you in some other way. 
  7. Gossip on Facebook is the same as Gossip in person. Maybe even worse, because of the potential of something being spread much farther and much faster than we imagined.  Some things just don’t belong on Facebook, Twitter, or anywhere else on the internet. I know about ruined friendships and hurt inflicted on entire families because of things that were said on Facebook.   Don’t say or do anything online that you wouldn’t say or do in public, and you should be alright.
  8. Check Your Facts Before You Send something To Avoid Spreading Misinformation. The internet is a wonderful way to access information, and an effective way of doing research.  BUT, you need to be aware of the source, and the credentials of all who make statements on the internet.  If you are not careful, you could be instrumental in spreading false information.  I’ll give two examples of ones that really annoy me.  Madalynn Murray O’Hare, America’s most famous atheist has been dead for many years.  Yet once or twice every year, something floods the internet about some conspiracy that she is supposedly responsible for, or that “her organization” is behind.  BTW, her “organization” is now defunct, although there are other entities out there whose mission is to disseminate atheism. Another one is about the supposed harm that vaccines do, and we therefore should not vaccinate our children etc.  Although science has effectively debunked the most famous 5 claims, we continue to see the false propaganda on Facebook, in email forwards and elsewhere. Granted, everyone has the right to make their own decision about this matter.  What you don’t have a right to do is spread false and misleading information.
  9. Never send an email or post something on social media when you are angry or upset. People have lost their jobs for sounding off about their boss on Facebook.  Others have been sued for libel and slander because of an email sent in anger.  Email should not be a replacement for conversations that need to happen face to face, where we discuss things with restraint, and where we can also see the meaning of a person’s words by observing body language, tone of voice, eye contact etc. Whenever I have to send an email that deals with “heavy” things, I save it until the next day.  In most cases when the next day comes I don’t send it without making significant changes, and generally dialing things down. The alternative is: press SEND impulsively and repent at leisure.
  10. Email and Social Media Have Limitations. Still things are being done by these media that are in poor taste.  Firing people by email? Cowardly in my opinion. Breaking up with someone on Twitter?  Same thing. Cowardly. Proposing by email or Twitter?  How Romantic. Not! Sending condolences by email? The jury is still out on that one, as it is about thank-you notes, apologies, etc.  My take on that, it depends on the relationship and how it is said.  But the irony is this: Electronics is faster and more efficient than the old way.  But has it really brought us all closer together, and taught us how to communicate better or more deeply?

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