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.