There is a lot of talk about cell phones this week. On Saturday, I had a long conversation with two young women who traveled to Belize with our youth group this summer. We had many powerful experiences in Belize - we experienced transformation of families, we heard about wonderful ministries, we participated in the building of a bathroom and in the building and rebuilding of lives. We witnessed the powerful movement of the spirit creating a Christ-like community. We spent time genuinely listening to those in our group and those locals which became part of our group. We had hours of conversation about God’s work in our lives over dinner tables and campfires. And we did it without cellphones.
Upon their return, these two ladies were struck by many things in their lives, one of which our society’s dependence upon them. Although both of these young ladies have a “no cell phone policy” at their family dinner tables, they experienced culture shock upon visiting friends. Sitting awkwardly at friends’ dinner tables, they sought to engage - only be to be met by a table full of blank stares looking down at phones.
On Sunday, the Rev. Joe Mitchell’s sermon added to our conversation. He preached on our desire as a society to constantly want the latest and greatest technology. He spoke of the good in cell phones - the ability to connect with family and friends who were far away. He also challenged the not so good - the ability to need a bigger and better device to store our data like the man who destroyed his barns to build bigger ones.
As a youth minister, I struggle with the integration of technology, especially cell-phones in the life of our community. I recognize how much smart phones can be used to God’s glory - for easy access to digital Bibles, for immediate access to the Daily Office and Sunday lectionary readings, for prayer over the phone with my youth ministry friends across the world, and for counseling kids through a rough day at school. This year, we will be using cell-phones and IPADS as we search for God’s grace in the internet when we launch our new high school Sunday School - the Unveiling. I also see how disconnected they can make us when we see them as more important as the people around us.
Struggling with authentic ways to live our faith both in the context of community and the world around is is not a new idea. For thousands of years, Christians have struggled with balancing Christ like community and secular world. For the past weeks, we have been reading Romans within the context of our Sunday readings. Paul did not have cell phones, but he did struggle with the right uses of food in relation to faith and especially how that food effected Christ’s beloved community. Was one to follow strict Jewish rules on food, or was one to eat anything as the Gentiles did? Paul gives us these words,
“Some believe in eating anything, while the weak eat only vegetables. Those who eat must not despise those who abstain, and those who abstain must not pass judgement on those who eat; for God has welcomed them... Let all be fully convinced in their own minds.” (Romans 14: 2-5). Paul goes on to remind us that whatever it is we do, it is not to pass judgement on one another but to build up one another for the body of Christ, and to do all for the glory of God. The community has a responsibility to look after one another - if what you are eating is causing another person to stumble in their relationship with Christ, then you probably shouldn't eat it in front of them. For Paul, food was the symptom of the issue. The issue was a community who loved and lived for Christ, the food was the symptom that was being manifested. “For the kingdom of God is not food and drink but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit... Let us then pursue what makes for peace and for mutual up-building.” (Romans 14: 17, 19).
I do not know what Jesus would do with a cellphone. I imagine he would use it to keep up with those in crisis, to say daily prayers, to keep a calendar of healing appointments. But I do know, he would use it for the glory of God and for the benefit of a loving community. Cell phones are not the issue - holy living is the issue. To eat or not eat, use a cell phone or turn it off, Christ desires for us to do whatever makes us closer to his presence, both individually and corporately.
As our families and youth return to school, life gets busier and the amount of family communication through text and iCloud calendars increases. As we enter this busy time may we use our phones and our beings for the Glory of God - to love those around us and to spend time challenging each other to be what we are at the core of our being: interconnected beautiful manifestations of God’s love and community.
"Life is short, and we do not have much time to gladden the hearts of those who travel with us, so be quick to love and make haste to be kind." - Henri-Frédéric Amiel