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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?



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