Wednesday, July 26, 2006

The Ultimate Loud Time

I got a forwarded e-mail today that was surely intended as an exhortation to read my Bible more:

CELL PHONES VS. THE BIBLE I wonder what would happen if we treated our Bible like we treat our cell phones? What if we carried it around in our purses or pockets? What if we turned back to go get it if we for got it? What if we flipped through it several times a day? What if we used it to receive messages from the text? What if we treated it like we couldn't live without it? What if we gave it to kids as gifts? What if we used it as we traveled? What if we used it in case of an emergency? What if we upgraded it to get the latest version? Oh, and one more thing. Unlike our cell phone, we dont ever have to worry about our Bible being disconnected because Jesus already paid the bill!

I thought this was kind of cute. I immediately, of course, took pot shots at it:

What if we could switch our Bible to vibrate?
What if it had games and music and cool ring tones built in?
What if we read from the Bible in a really loud voice on the train or in restaurants or during movies?
What if we read the Bible while we were driving?
What if the people who sold us our Bible kept calling and e-mailing and text-messaging about system upgrades and supplemental junk that we didn't really need?

But I did think about the cultural message we send with our cell phones. Cell phones interrupt us all the time; we privilege potential phone conversations over the actual conversations we're having. We content ourselves with looking insane as we talk on a hands-free device while walking down the street. We've turned the Bluetooth earpiece into a fashion accessory.

That's the one that got me. I've just finished reading Girl Meets God, a memoir of one woman's journey through Orthodox Judaism and evangelical Christianity. She talks quite a lot about the lifestyle accommodations that Orthodox Jews make out of fidelity to their faith. Among them is the phylactery, a leather box worn on the arm or the forehead by Jewish men. Stuffed inside the phylactery is text from the Scriptures. You can't not notice phylacteries, and the message they send is shouted from Mount Sinai: "Hear O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is One!"

Christendom is awash in messagewear--Jesus fish, Jesus mints, pop culture images plundered and reconceived as Christian messages--all kept within easy reach for the unlikely spontaneous spiritual conversation with a non-Christian. I'm reminded of the Jetta commercial, in which Jetta drivers pass luxury and sports cars whose drivers shout through megaphones: "My parents never loved me!" "I'm compensating for my shortcomings!" The intended audience is barraged with a message it's often not interested in receiving.

The phylactery is not so much like these. It's more like the Bluetooth earpiece. The world looks on and gets one message--"I'm wearing something you're not accustomed to seeing"--and is left to wonder who's on the other end of the line, what's in the leather box. The wearer, meanwhile, endures the discomfort of looking odd in order to gain the benefit: a message intended for them, setting the course for their day.

I hate cell phones. But I kind of like phylacteries. To top it all off, their batteries never go dead.

10 comments:

Pete Juvinall said...

I would agree that phylacteries are unlike anything found in your local CBS (Christian Book Store).

Boiling it down, and not to intentionally give a Sunday School answer, ours are a bit more intangible than a box. Proclaiming that the Lord is God looks very different for us in that it should permiate every fiber of our self. It's the question I, and many other generations of students have faced in the University, what does God being Lord mean to me? Does it effect my work, my priorities, my love life and how? I would reckon that embracing that would, indeed, show to the world something that they are not used to seeing.

The problem with some of the junk you see in a CBS is that for many people it ends in that; lump them in with the Sunday Christians because they don't want to or can't figure out how to implement their faith beyond wearing a t-shirt. Their are places for that and people who genuinely express their feelings through that sort of thing, but you made a good point: when's the last time you heard about someone being spontaously converted as a result of seeing a t-shirt or eating a Testa-mint?

--pete

Margaret Feinberg said...

Makes me go hmmm

Anonymous said...

It seems that a phylactery can be worn for "show": "I'm wearing something you're not accustomed to seeing." But that was not it's original intent, was it? Seems it was to remind the wearer, not the observer, that "The Lord our God, the Lord is One!" It is self-directed, not other-directed.

Though the batteries never go dead, the intent or purpose may, and often did (does).

Anonymous said...

Some of us do not have, or want to have, a cell phone in our lives. Just think: no annoying messages, no irritating ringing or vibrating, no useless interruptions of our thoughts or activities. What is wrong with being alone with oneself and having the time to think without useless interruptions? What is wrong with some silence in our lives?

GZ

Rick said...

no cell phones means that the only interruptions will be the actual voices in my head. not a good thing, trust me.

Craver VII said...

I see television commercials and pop-up ads as useless interruptions. But I’m trying more and more to go “the glass is half-full” by seeing human interruptions as divine opportunities. Things like trivial comments from my kids while I try to study, and even the ringing of my telephone--these are opportunities to love my neighbor. Silence and solitude can be precious, but in my life, it must not be the priority…even if they cause me to delay my goals and desires. There's a time and a place for using the "Do not disturb" sign, but that is the exception, rather than the norm. Besides, I'm already disturbed. (Like Rick.) I wish I did this divine opportunity thing better; it’s a work in progress.

David A. Zimmerman said...

I've heard teachers talk about lecturing while watching their students text-message on their phones. I'm with GZ--and not just because she's my mom. (Well, maybe because she's my mom, since I would have absorbed some of this perspective from her.) I'd agree that interruptibility is virtuous, but there's something to be said about the sacrament of the present moment. Cell phones don't just interrupt our being by ourselves; they interrupt our experience of community with people who are right there with us, and on occasion they interrupt work that God is doing in our heads. And sometimes, quite frankly, they interrupt our ability to drive without becoming a danger to ourselves and others.

Now, with regard to the message of the phylactery, the appeal for me is the intimacy of the message: only the wearer really knows what's written in the box. It's like the string tied around your finger. But like that string, someone who sees it is going to ask about it. If I see some dude wearing a leather box on his forehead, I will be curious, to say the least. If you don't think there's a message being proclaimed by Orthodox Jews, read the Old Testament: "When your children ask, 'What does this . . . mean to you?' then tell them" (Exodus 12:26-27). After all, the message hidden in the phylactery is the same message shouted to all Israel, not some secret illuminati: "Hear, O Israel: the LORD our God, the LORD is one."

bethany said...

Interesting thoughts. I think some of the complaints about cell phones are more complaints with the users. I couldn't live without my cell phone, as I am so often away from my home and so may of my friends are far away. Also, when one is my age, social plans are built around the assumption that you can call to find out where people are. However, I am very fastidious about turning it off or ignoring it when I am with people. I don't let my phone take priority over the present moment, and judging by the tone of my voicemails, those who call me understand. I agree that cell phones can get in the way of contemplation and community, but it's easy to avoid.

But the phylactery discussion is probably more interesting here, anyway. How do you quietly and provocatively wear (or "wear") the word of God in contemporary society without being obnoxious. And, additionally, how do you avoid seeming ironic instead of sincere? I think humility is an important part of it.

David A. Zimmerman said...

Here's a sneak peek for you of the forthcoming book Flirting with Monasticism by Karen Sloan. She's interviewing Sister Antoniana, a member of the Dominican Sisters of Life:

SISTER ANTONIANA: To wear the holy habit is one of the nine essential elements of religious life. But before I had even heard about the nine essential elements, I knew that if I was called to be a sister, I would be wearing visible garb so that people would know I was consecrated to Jesus. It’s part of the package.

KAREN: So wearing a habit is the tradition and practice of the Catholic church?

SISTER ANTONIANA: Right, we wear this outward sign of an inward reality that we are consecrated and set aside. And what is consecration? It is to be set aside for the sacred.

The book is Karen's story of learning paths of spiritual formation through her encounters with some Dominican novices. These folks wear flowing robes and clunky rosaries all over the place. Karen's a Presbyterian minister; she only wears flowing robes on Sundays. But I suppose the habit operates similarly to the phylactery: it communicates one thing to the wearer and cannot help but communicate further to the observer.

Mr Steve said...

Then the LORD put a mark on Cain so that no one who found him would kill him. Genesis 4:15

. . . also forced everyone, small and great, rich and poor, free and slave, to receive a mark on his right hand or on his forehead. Revelation 13:16

So how many of you had your name written in a piece of clothing so that it wouldn't get lost? Me too. But usuall it was written on the inside so it wouldn't be readily apparent to others that we would loose our head if it wasn't attached to our body.

I may be getting sidetrcked, but I find the notion of marking something to designate ownership as ery intruiging. How many of you still notice the network "bug" placed in the lower corner of your tv screen? If the mark is there long enough you forget about it. Being marked by God as one of his children is a thrilling experience, but how long before the "novelty of the new" wears off and we forget about that new mark we have. How do we make it new? I could try strapping a little pocket New Testmaent to my chest. But I'm afraid the tape would really hurt coming off.