Texting Beyond our Limits

Imagine it’s Saturday, 2,000 years ago.  Jesus is sitting in the synagogue.  His cell phone is laying out on the pew beside him, flipped open.  He is following along with the Rabbi, but frequently glancing down at the phone, checking incoming messages.  Multi-tasking is no bigee for Him. 

A coalition of blind beggars are texting Jesus regarding their plight.  Martha is frantically texting him to hurry come heal Lazarus who’s on the verge of death.  Peter wants to know if they really have to stay for the whole message.  Mary, his mother, wants to know what He would like for lunch.  A lonely suicidal friend just wants to chat. 

This picture is ludicrous because Jesus never operated that way.  Jesus ministered only to those within his sphere of physical proximity. 

I realize the technology of Jesus’ time precluded anything different.  Face-to-face contact was his only option, but that didn’t hinder His ministry or prevent Him from turning the world upside down.  All without cell phone, e-mail or the internet.  This capability we have to remotely stay in touch is perhaps stretching us further emotionally than we were designed to be stretched. 

Hold on, I’m not saying everyone who wants to be a true follower of Jesus should throw their phone out the window or that text messaging is evil.  Far from it.  Nevertheless, it’s interesting to me that us humans have, in the name of progress, devised systems which destroy community (like insulated suburban neighborhoods, houses so private fortress would be a better term, productivity to the extreme we don’t have time to breathe, and of course the never ending advertisements to guarantee we’lll never exit the treadmill rat race) then, on the flip side, also devised systems, in the name of progress, that fill the voids with artificial community like Cell Phones, Facebook, IM, and Text messaging.

In recent years, our amazing technology has removed all obstacles of physical proximity.  We are no longer limited by space.  I have tele-meetings at work with guys from Canada and France.  We all login and see the same computer screen.  In our daily lives, this gadgetry opens incredible opportunities, but also takes a high toll because we are finite creatures.  I was talking with a friend recently about how we keep running into this whole 24 hour thing.  Technology oft gives us more opportunities than we can handle.

Communication isn’t the only technology that removes physical limits.  Think about transportation for a minute:  This past Tuesday after work I spent an hour and a half reading a book at my apartment, then an hour and a half at one of my Indian friend’s apartments visiting and doing laundry together, then an hour and a half at my parents eating supper and catching up, then an hour and a half at another friends house hanging out and helping him get ready for a fire demonstration he was giving the next day at school (don’t ask).  These locations were miles apart.  If I tried to go all those places walking I’d still be walking.

With transportation comes options.  Options make us feel we should take them.  Taking them stretches us thin.  Again, not bad, just the reality of our society. 

Conscientious people get hit particularly hard by all these relational options.  They end up trying to be three (or ten) places at once, and end up being no-where well.  The person texting them is in a crisis so it makes sense to give them priority.  But the distance barrier inhibits a fully compassionate response (like maybe a hug or tender expression).  In the meantime, those they’re actually with may need a hug too, or a listening ear, but instead get a split mess, the dregs, a physical body and preoccupied mind.

In some cases we need to be some place physically (with family, at work) but feel like we’re needed elsewhere mentally.  Technology allows us to do so, but at a cost.  Getting caught in the cross-fire is difficult.  There are no easy answers. 

My advice to myself is to consider living in the here and now, like Jesus did.  No matter which way I cut the pie, even in the best scenario I’m only giving pieces of myself to others.  I am a finite creature!  So perhaps it’s best to at least give full pieces.  Maybe those I’m with physically deserve the full piece of me for those moments, within reason. 

Hypocritically, I write this at a Laundromat where there are others around me.  To my credit, I did discuss this whole “technology stretching us too thin” deal with the lady I’m sitting next to waiting for our clothes to finish.  She’s been on her iPhone texting most the time.  Her take on things was we’re better off now than the old days when we had to interact face-to-face only.  She said now that relationships are digital, it’s easier to say “no.”   She thought of one friend in particular though who really struggles with all the relational options.  She said her friend is not strong enough to say “no” and so tries keeping up with everyone.  Consequently, her friend is seriously stressed out.  Wisdom from a Laundromat stranger.

When is Texting Rude?

Two relevant facts:

    1) My actions always speak louder than my words
    2) What I spend time on communicates what I find important

Regarding text messaging, here are 10 observations:

  1. Nearly everyone texts, including my Grandpa (there are around 5 billion cell phone subscriptions out of 6.8 billion humans and more than 2/3 have a text messaging service)
  2. Texting is amoral and not rude in and of itself
  3. Texting works great for conveying information
  4. I personally text quite a bit
  5. Texting can be used as a neat tool to encourage others
  6. Texters probably don’t mean to be rude but sometimes are (including myself)
  7. In certain contexts, texting can be very rude and even hurt peoples’ feelings
  8. Therefore, for conscientious folk, it’s important to think through this issue
  9. Whenever I text, I am communicating by my actions that texting  is – for the brief moments I’m engaged in that activity – more important than anything or anyone else (see fact 2 above)
  10. Jesus never sent a single text message (nor did any human before 1992).  Therefore, instantaneous telepathic communication must not be that important.

Breaking it down, I see two types of texting:

  1. Texting for information (mentally engaged)
  2. Texting for conversation (emotionally engaged)

It’s easier for people to forgive us ignoring them when we’re texting for information.

Regarding the second category though, ever been in a group where everyone was conversing except one loner who’s texting?  I’ll admit, I’ve been that one loner before.  You know, the guy who looks up every now and then to convey the impression he’s still engaged?  The sad thing is I’m only really engaged the few times I throw in my two cents to the group, then I put the phone down.  But as soon as someone else starts talking I look back down to my phone.  I’m multi-tasking people.

What does this communicate to others in the group? They do notice.  My actions are telling them I don’t care what they think or say, even though that’s not true.

The moral of this post is to warn myself (and in turn, perhaps others) to realize my actions convey messages. 

Just because my mouth isn’t saying anything doesn’t mean I’m not saying anything.  In fact, I might be saying something I would never utter audibly.

frog_sadWhen I text around others, my actions shout loud and clear, "I’m with you physically because I have to be, but I’m with them mentally because I want to be." 

It’s crazy, I may die a thousand deaths before verbalizing something like that in real life (knowing it would be hurtful), but not hesitate in the least to say it over and over again through my actions.  And peoples’ feelings are often hurt.  By me.

Here are problematic facts:

  1. When texting, I’m not fully engaged with the people in my presence

  2. When texting, I’m communicating to people in my presence they’re temporarily not as important as the invisible ones I’m texting with (this is true by definition. people around me may be understanding, cut slack, not get upset, realize the texts are “necessary,” but that doesn’t change the fact I’m still communicating this message)

  3. When texting, I’m (probably) distracting others and raising curiosity about who I’m texting with and what I’m texting about

  4. When texting, if I don’t bring those in my presence into the loop, my actions (probably) are communicating distrust and secrecy

All this begs the question, how should I change? 

  • Text when alone. I can’t be rude then (I don’t think…?)  

  • Ignore texts when with others or excuse myself to a private location.  Kids do this all the time in school:  "I need to go to the bathroom" is code for, "There’s an important text I need to send or read."

  • Let others know who I’m texting with and why, allow them into my life.  I was in a group recently and received a text that read, “Tired?”  I punched back, “No.”  Everyone stopped to look at me when I pulled my phone out.  It got quiet in the room.  In this situation I felt forced to explain myself (usually not the case). So I did. I told everyone, “Hey, I just got this one word text message that read, ‘Tired’ so I sent them a one word message back, ‘No.’”  Everyone laughed and we went on.  By not explaining I would have left people in the dark; they would have been curious (at best) and felt excluded or hurt (at worst).  The great thing about this tack is it strengthens the ties of those in our presence.  

  • Re-evaluate who I’m spending time with and why.  Perhaps we need to think again about why we feel such a need to interact with those outside our physical proximity.  This will be the subject of my next post.  Stay tuned!

    So, when is texting rude?  When should I not text? 

    In the state of Kansas, where I live, restrictions have been placed on texting while driving.  Why?  Because it could result in physical injury to others.  Etiquette-wise, perhaps I should come down on the same side of the fence: refraining from texting when it could result in emotional injury to others.  Of course, that’s a value judgment…

    Silly?  Too harsh?  What do you think? I’m just realizing when I text, signals are being received closer than the tower.

    For a more secular rule of thumb on when texting is appropriate, check out The Bathroom Rule.

  • Living and Dying

    "He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain that which he cannot lose." Jim Elliot (1927-1956)


    What are we living for?  Is it also worth dying for?  Because if we’re not living for something worth dying for, we’re not living, and we’re not ready for dying either.

    "Whoever tries to keep his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life will preserve it." (Luke 17:33) 

    Christ Jesus provided the perfect example: He laid down his life as an atonement.  He calls us to lay down our lives too: for His sake, in service to others. And as Jesus rose from the dead to new life, He promises we too will save our lives in the long term by losing it in the short term:

    "For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will save it. What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, and yet lose or forfeit his very self?"  (Luke 9:24)  No good.  Zero.  But I ask myself, "Are these teachings sinking into my life?" 

    James warns, "Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says." (James 1:22)

    Yet God doesn’t require perfection, he requires faith. 

    “It is not that Christianity has never been tried and found wanting; rather, Christianity has been found difficult and never been tried.” G. K. Chesterton

    This talk of living and dying brings up the topic of safety. Jay talked in his message this morning about how much of Christianity is marketed in terms of safe these days: Safe music, safe books, safe alternatives to worldliness. Jay pointed out we may even tend to think of God as being safe. God is not safe. He is good though. Christianity aside, as a nation we’re also preoccupied with safety: safe food, safe suburbs, safe playgrounds, etc. This quote gives a different perspective:

    First, what do we define as “dangerous”? From our largely white, middle-class, suburban culture we think first of the drive-by gang shootings and other violent crimes which appear on the evening news.

    But what about the dangers that are rampant in the suburbs that people rarely think about. Dangers to the soul and to the family such as out of control materialism, the worship of comfort and narcissism, the individualism that is so prevalent that many people are dying of loneliness and depression, and the rapid, busy pace of life that robs virtually everyone of peace and rest and real relationships? Are these not genuine dangers?? (ref)

    Begs the question, “Which is more important: fostering the formation of spiritual life or frantically attempting to preserve the decaying physical life?” 100% of living beings die anyway, regardless of how well insulated from the dangers of this world.

    Jesus put it another way,

    “Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell.”

    Rethinking the Standard Testimony

    Ever learned a new vocabulary word and then right afterwards heard it used three times in unrelated contexts?  Seems to happen all the time.

    Another example: my brother moved to Oregon and now it seems everywhere I turn there’s an Oregon connection.  Works out practically everyone’s brother lives in Oregon.  Who’d have thunk?  Even today I stumbled upon an Oregon reference:  I needed the phone number to my doctor’s office but the first google result was a doctor by the same name in Oregon.  Of course.

    Something like this recently happened as I mulled over a thought gleaned from Revolution in World Missions by K.P. Yohannan.  Which, by the way, I highly recommend as an insightful look at foreign missions from an outsiders perspective.  Particularly the last chapter.  Yohannan doesn’t hold back any punches.  But his book is free so we can’t complain.  Plus, near as I can tell he lives what he preaches.

    I’ll review this book later, but here’s the quote I’m referring to:

    The typical media testimony goes something like this: ‘I was sick and broke, a total failure. Then I met Jesus. Now everything is fine; my business is booming, and I am a great success.’

    It sounds wonderful. Be a Christian and get that bigger house and a boat and vacation in the Holy Land.

    But if that were really God’s way, it would put some believers living in anti-Christian and in the Two-Thirds World in a pretty bad light. Their testimonies often go something like this:

    “I was happy. I had everything-prestige, recognition, a good job, and a happy wife and children. Then I gave my life to Jesus Christ. Now I am in Siberia, having lost my family, wealth, reputation, job and health.  Here I live, lonely, deserted by friends. I cannot see the face of my wife and dear children. My crime is that I love Jesus.”

    What about the heroes of the faith down through the ages? The apostles laid down their lives for the Lord. Christian martyrs have written their names on every page of history.

    In the former Soviet Union, Ivan Moiseyev was tortured and killed within two years of meeting Jesus. In China, Watchman Nee spent 20 years in prison and finally died in bondage.

    When Sadhu Sundar Singh [Hey! I mentioned this guy last April, he wrote the song “I Have Decided”], born and raised in a rich Sikh’s home in Punjab, became a Christian, his own family tried to poison him and banished him from their home. He lost his inheritance and walked away with one piece of clothing on his body. Yet, following his Master, he made millions truly rich through faith in Christ.

    Sure I’ve thought about all this before, but for some reason it resonated in a new way.  Then, a few days later I’m reading a book by Shane Claiborne (which was not free but should have been) and he made a very similar observation:

    I know there are people out there who say, ‘My life was such a mess.  I was drinking, partying, sleeping around… and then I met Jesus and my whole life came together.’ God bless those people. But me, I had it together. I used to be cool. And then I met Jesus and he wrecked my life.  The more I read the gospel, the more it messed me up, turning everything I believed in, valued, and hoped for upside-down. I am still recovering from my conversion.

    So I thought it strange I got the same thought twice in a row from polar opposite writers. 

    Here’s a few things Jesus said:

    Woe to you when all men speak well of you, for that is how their fathers treated the false prophets.” (Luke 6:26)

    "I tell you the truth," Jesus replied, "no one who has left home or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields for me and the gospel will fail to receive a hundred times as much in this present age (homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, children and fields–and with them, persecutions) and in the age to come, eternal life.” (Mark 10:29-30)

    Paul weighed in too:

    “You, however, know all about my teaching, my way of life, my purpose, faith, patience, love, endurance, persecutions, sufferings–what kinds of things happened to me in Antioch, Iconium and Lystra, the persecutions I endured.” (2 Timothy 3:10)

    “Therefore, among God’s churches we boast about your perseverance and faith in all the persecutions and trials you are enduring.” (2 Thess 1:5)

    Of course Peter had advice:

    “Dear friends, do not be surprised at the painful trial you are suffering, as though something strange were happening to you.  But rejoice that you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed.” (1 Pet 4)

    Then John wraps up with a succinct, Do not be surprised, my brothers, if the world hates you.” (John 3:13)  Thanks John.  I’ll remember that.

    I realize this blog is turning into all challenge and no encouragement.  Sorry!  I’ll try writing things more encouraging.

    This Is What I Get Excited About

    In short: Incarnational Ministry Among the Poor

    I first read this article about a month ago.  I got excited reading it!  It discusses Incarnational Ministry from a practical perspective. Though lengthy – and at least one of my friends found boring – it does lay down a thought out framework.

    The author discusses Incarnational Ministry as a Model, a Method, a Message, and a Spiritual Discipline.

    Ok, that was the post.  What follows next are rambling thoughts of mine sparked by the above article…
    Nick’s Thoughts on Incarnational MissionsPDF Format