Dear Good People of St. Mary,
I was on the phone the other day with a dear friend of mine who is an evangelical minister in the Chicago area, we were trying to put together details for some upcoming meetings. It was a Saturday afternoon and I told him I would email him the information shortly, as soon as I could get to it after confessions were over. He said, “That’s fine. But just know that I won’t respond to you until Monday morning. I shut my phone off for the Sabbath.” My reaction was, “You’re kidding, right?” I mean, I didn’t say it out loud to him, but I was thinking it.
As accustomed as we have tried to become to constant emailing and texting, I wonder the damage caused by the sheer volume of communication as a constant activity. But if we don’t check in very regularly, the emails and messages pile up so quickly that we don’t have time to catch up.
My friend isn’t actively serving a congregation as a pastor at the present time, he attends a church, so he doesn’t have the weekend demand. But still — I don’t think I could go off the grid for the Lord’s Day. I think of myself as one who has tried to keep limits on these things, to manage several hundred communications a day. I tried Facebook for about three months, only to learn that it filled my inbox with information that either wasn’t necessary or simply not any of my business.
I learned things about people and how they dealt with each other that I realized I’d just rather not know. As for all the “friends” and “friending” that was taking place, I found it a very cheap substitute for real relationship and, if we were honest, was more of an addiction for information, scanning, searching, consuming knowledge about other people and what is going on. It is a modern-day, infinite version of the one-column by five-inch article in the newspaper (old school) that we used to call the weekly “gossip column.” Back to my friend. The more I thought about it, I realized that we have allowed these hundreds-a-day invasions of time. We all know people who do little else all day long. One young adult I know counts among his very best friends those with whom he chats on line, people that he actually has never met in person. “Doesn’t that trouble you?” I asked him. “Not at all,” he replied. “Should it?” Have you found yourself resenting the many demands which too easily can be made by anyone who types a sentence and hits “send”? Your response is expected. This “remote control” allows us to hold expectations for others with very little personal accountability for ourselves. It also allows us to act inhumanly, even cruelly, without any responsibility, patricularly when we communicate anonymously. We learned a long time ago to never look at a public blog, some seem basically a license for hatred.
One social media site popular with teens advertises itself as the place where you can “be anyone you want to be.” It makes you wonder if the person on the other end of the ether is who they say they are, at all. Some people have begun to refuse to use email or social media at all. “If you want to speak to me, or ask me something, you just need to call.” There is a growing awareness that community cannot be established and nurtured through an unnatural, impersonal message (which is so often misunderstood, anyway). Since community is built on relationships, these relationships need to be real, face-to-face, and multi-leveled. Our community is based on the quality of its communication. How are we doing? Are we losing the ability to communicate we once had? Will a new generation develop with a completely different, detached understanding of relationship? There will never be a substitute for real-time encounter and sharing. Give somebody a call.
May God bless you,