I had a Close Encounter of the Creepy Kind with my iPhone this week. This has caused me to pause and reflect on our relationship with all our bright and shiny electronic doodads.
It happened last Sunday as Eyegal and I attended early service at a local Episcopal parish, as is our habit from time to time. It was the First Sunday in Lent (Note to my Baptist and Church of Christ friends: Lent is a 40-day period of repentance preceding Easter. It is part of the church calendar, which is actually pretty official and has been around a long, long time–like, several centuries before the founding of the United States–and has more on it besides the date of the Ladies Retreat and the next church-wide potluck. It is NOT the little white stuff that you pick off your navy blazer/skirt prior to church, and it’s NOT what you did with your “Come Hither Baby Blue” cosmetic-tinted contact lens to your BFF back in 10th grade, although we didn’t call them BFsF back then).
Lent means repentance which equals solemnity. In Episcopal-speak, that means get there early and hit your knees prior to the Processional starting on the First Sunday in Lent. Of course, we didn’t know that because we’re clueless life-long Church of Christers. Still, the usher smiled, not scowled, at us and handed us our Order of Worship. We made our way to our usual pew, right hand side, two thirds of the way back, flipped down the kneelers carefully so as not to make a racket and joined in just as the priest started to make her way (that’s right, her way–not a typo) around the sanctuary leading the Processional.
It was the Great Litany (the Book of Common Prayer, p. 148) and it lasted a long, long time. So long, in fact, that my knees started to throb a little (Good Lord, deliver us!). But that’s okay, because it’s Lent and a little self-mortification never hurt anybody. Not permanently, anyway.
Now most churches these days remind you to turn off your cell phones and pagers (Pagers? Really? Does anybody still have one of those?) prior to the start of service, usually with a prominent bullet and catchy cartoon on the ginormous PowerPoint JumboTron (or two) hung over the baptistery. Which is, you know, sort of ironic.
I usually don’t have to be reminded of this. I am very sensitive about cell phones going off at inopportune times, probably because I have so many patients pull away from me in the middle of ophthalmoscopy to take that “important call” about Bobby Joe picking up a six-pack of Natural Light for lunch, so could Rufus (my patient in the chair) get some Pabst Blue Ribbon instead? “No problem, good buddy, but I gotta go, Doc’s getting a little steamed over here.”
I then crank up the light on my scope to all the way past 10 to 11. I have vays of making them squeal.
You won’t find a JumboTron anyway near an Episcopal church. Apparently, they don’t believe in them. Instead they put the request in tiny print in the Order of Worship: “Pretty please, if you don’t mind too much, turn off your cell phones and pagers. And even if yours goes off and ruins the moment for everyone, we forgive you and love you anyway and you’re still welcome to join us in the Fellowship Hall after services for coffee and scones.”
I turned my new-fangled techno-jewel off, I swear I did. But as the Great Litany went on and on, and my knees starting to throb more and more, I must have started to fidget and squirm a little. And when I did that, I must have put the tiniest amount of pressure on the “Home” button on my iPhone which was in my front left pocket.
Because that’s when “Voice Activation” kicked in. For all you of you Verizon and Sprint people out there whose lives haven’t been enhanced to the point of a primal scream by an Apple product yet, you can put your iPhone to “sleep,” but all you have to do is rub the “Home” button and —POOF!–the little sucker springs to life like a genie from a bottle ready to grant you your three wishes and then some.
This moment is marked by two short electronic “dings.” I heard them, but I tried to convince myself that somebody in the Processional had some cymbals, like the little finger ones that the Hare Krishnas used to wear at our nation’s airports before 9/11. Surely, I thought, what just happened didn’t happen. I was in full denial.
But my iPhone listened carefully to the priest as she spoke the words of the Great Litany and interpreted them exactly as it was designed to by its Gen Y creators out in California. “Play,” that sexy, twentysomething robotic voice intoned, and then….the rest was muffled, because as you might recall, it was tucked away, very deeply and firmly as it turned out, in my front left pocket.
As the music started–VERY LOUDLY–time seemed to stand still, or at least go into slow motion, like it sometimes does during dramatic moments at the movies. I would have normally been able to fish my phone out of my pocket and silence it in no time flat. But for some reason, my iPhone “jammed,” like a gun stuck in its holster, and it took me for what seemed like forever to get it out. And then once I did have it out (and of course the song was even louder then), I fumbled around for several seconds trying to figure out which button to hit to shut it up, for Christ’s sake.
Well, Apple people, you know you’ve got to scroll through the touch screen and find the iPod button and hit “Pause” but there was no time for that, so I starting repeatedly punching the “Volume Down” button on the side until once again, all you could hear was the celebrant’s voice as she continued with the liturgy.
I blushed redder than a priest’s robe on Pentecost. I started repenting in double-time. Suddenly, my Lenten “NOT To Do” List had grown one item longer.
Now I once saw a cell phone go off in a Church of Christ and the preacher paused, aimed a heat-seeking missile of a laser stare at the offender, and said, “Well, I guess somebody better answer that.” Without missing a beat, he went right on to the next proof-text. Nobody laughed; it appeared, at least, aimed to injure and punish, and I have no doubt it did.
I remembered that incident as I wondered silently what my fellow congregants were thinking. I halfway expected a vestment-clad bouncer to appear and toss my Anabaptist keister out on the sidewalk.
But nothing happened. My guess is that if anyone noticed at all, that they probably smiled, picturing themselves in the same predicament and perhaps recalling a time when the very same thing had happened to them. In all likelihood, they thought, Oh, I’ve had moments like that, and the world didn’t come to a screeching halt and it won’t this time either–this too shall pass. Poor fellow, he looks like he could use some coffee and scones.
Episcopalians are cool like that. By the time we “Passed the Peace” just prior to the Eucharist, all had been forgiven. Everyone around me smiled, shook my hand, and greeted me anyway.
After services, I decided to scroll through my touch screen and hit the iPod icon to find out what had been playing. Imagine my surprise when I saw this: “Crumbs From Your Table” by U2.
Here’s the refrain:
You speak of signs and wonders
I need something other
I would believe if I was able
But I’m waiting on the crumbs from your table.
Bono apparently intended those words as a prophetic call for America, in all her might and riches, to step up and “do the right thing” by ministering to the poor and downtrodden of the world (“To whom much is given, much is expected”).
I couldn’t help but wonder what this might mean for me at this particular moment. Could God speak through an iPhone? Well, I guess he did prophesy through Baalam’s ass donkey, so what not?
And this is where we find ourselves during Lent, 2010: Looking for signs of God, but waiting on the crumbs from Steve Jobs’ table.
Repent, for the iPad will soon be in your hand.