Calls or “the Call”

It seems like all one has to do is pay attention and potential themes for spiritual inspiration and reflection daily jump out at you. One way of saying it is religion is always in public life. Sometimes it is explicitly religious and other times religion is in the public life, but it is implicit. When it is implicit, you have to be alert and pay attention or you’ll miss it.

Such was the case yesterday when I was reading an article online. Gradually it dawned on me what I was reading was implicitly spiritual. It was an article by Andrew Keen, a British-American entrepreneur and social skeptic, as he was called. That description of the guy nearly stopped me in my tracks. I understand an entrepreneur, but social skeptic? That is an interesting vocation!

The article is entitled, “How our Mobiles Became Frankenstein’s Monster.” I hope it is clear that “mobiles” means our smartphones. For a long time, I could laugh at this one. I did not have a smartphone and did not plan to buy one. Wrong again! I remember making a joke that I had a “dumb phone!’ Well the joke is on me. Now that I have one, I figured I had better read the article with some care. After all, who wants Frankenstein’s Monster in your pocket?

As I began to read, I thought the article was going to be more psychological. Keen talks about whether folks are able to live without the device. Psychologically this sounds like the opening to a lecture on addiction. Listen to his words. “Exaggeration? When was the last time you went out without your smartphone? How naked, how lost, do you feel without your mobile device? How much essential data, I mean really personal stuff that you wouldn't want anyone else to see, does your mobile phone contain?”

It was there in those words I began to see the implicit spiritual material. Notice how he talks about our state of being without our mobile. He uses language I associate with sin: naked and lost. That sounds like Adam and Eve in the garden after munching on the forbidden fruit. Maybe my smartphone has become the proverbial apple!

I was now very intrigued. I read on. I had to laugh. These gadgets are not called “smartphones” for no reason. Once again, I was on the lookout for religious language. Keen says, “The real problem with these phones is their increasing intelligence. Just as Google is designing the self-driving car, so tomorrow's cell phone will become more and more all-knowing.”

It hit me squarely. The author speculates on the smartphone becoming “all-knowing.” That sounds like God-language to me. I certainly don’t think about myself as all-knowing. My mind is too frail and feeble ever to make me think I know everything. I am a limited human being. And so is every other human being I know. But if any one or anything is all-knowing, it is God.

So if the smartphone approaches being all-knowing, then we would start attributing god-like attributes to that device. That sounds to me perilously close to idolatry. Who needs to listen for God’s call on my life? I prefer to get a phone call, email, or text message and get the “word!’ In fact, there are multiple calls on my smartphone. That is even better than God! And the connection is almost always good.

There is a conference happening in Barcelona, Spain, that precipitated Keen’s article. He refers to this event when he notes, "All the coercively seductive new products unveiled in Barcelona in the next few days are just phones. They can't make us younger, richer, more virile or more intelligent. And they certainly don't empower us.” Now here is some spiritual sanity that I can grab. Be careful about the addictive, idolatrous call of my smartphone. It can be seductive! But it cannot make me younger or richer. It has no chance of making me more virile. It may be a smartphone, but it won’t make me smarter.

Just as the Old Testament folks had to be careful and distinguish the real God from the idolatrous gods, so do we in the twenty-first century. I begin to ponder this. If I am always connected---always getting calls, texts, etc., then I have little or no chance of receiving the one call of God on my life. So what difference does this make?

A big difference, I would argue. If I am intrigued and trapped by all the calls, I am probably trading the important for the interesting. Of course, I find all the little calls interesting. They may even be entertaining. But are they important? Perhaps. Are they ultimately important? Of course not. There is only one ultimately important call. And that is God’s call on your life and on my life.

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