“If Mad Men has taught me anything, it’s that phones are the worst.”
Why would Sammy Rhodes say, sorry, “tweet” that?
Don’t you know exactly what he means?
And how come we break into exuberant elation on those rare moments when we’ve screwed up the courage to make a return phone call and it goes directly to voicemail?”
What makes the Hallelujah chorus seem the only appropriate internal response in your relieved self when you discover that you DON’T have to speak to another human?
When An Unanswered Phone Proves the Existence of God
Maybe the reluctance is because you’re an introvert?
A phone call would drain the last bit of vitality from your life and would instantly liquify you into a puddle on the floor if you had to have a phone conversation?
Maybe you just prefer face to face interactions? It’s possible.
Perhaps you loathe being put on the spot, not knowing what to say...
There might be a momentary lull that starts to feel like a marathon of silence during which your only wish is to be swallowed up by a hole in the earth…you might have to lie….pretend you are losing your signal, that you just got pushed into a pool, that a dragon has just been spotted near Rock City and the authorities have alerted everyone to go into phone-less hiding.
These are surely valid rationales for phone avoidance. At least sort of. And there are many more that I haven’t listed.
Phone Calls as Spiritual Formation
But what if picking up a phone could be a useful tool for developing dependence on Christ? For growing to resemble our Master more fully?
What if I said, talking to another person on the phone, (or preferably in person!) may just be one of the greatest spiritual development tools you’ve got in our present moment.
You’d likely say, “the devil invented the phone and you are now his spawn.”
“Haven’t you ever heard a man with a ridiculous space-alien looking plastic pod hanging from his ear talking to the air in a Target, ruining life for everyone? You think God likes that. He hates it as much as we all do!”
Perhaps. But that’s not what I am talking about. I’m not talking about when or where to talk on a phone or to another in person.
Such decisions involve important rules of consideration to others, taking the environment into effect, the well-being of those around you, etc.
When the Phone is Kryptonite
I am talking about contending with the paralysis that freezes you at the thought of making a call. Or of going to a meeting. Or of having to interact “live” with another, whether there is “a piece of creation” between you and them or not.
I am thinking of pushing through the phenomenon that overcame me as a child when I wanted to know if the Record Bar had, say, the latest Billy Joel cassette tape (Wikipedia it!) and would ask my parents to find out for me. And my father would say, “You call them.”
Why that throat-closing terror, that coronary infarction producing event for a 12 year old at the thought of having to speak to another, of having to call the Record Bar to ask a question? He may as well have been sending me to stand on the top of a tall cliff while holding a snake around my neck, with a brown recluse on my nose…
And this was all before cell phones were even invented.
Pre-Game Phone Call Dread
A study I can no longer find, but guarantee I have read, suggested that millennials do not want to talk on the phone. My experience corroborates this.
But you don’t have to have an ironic mustache, wear flip-flops to work and labor for a start up tech company that has an unlimited vacation policy (or un-policy?) to have this aversion.
Seems to me that people-avoiding is alive and well across the generations so the millennials get a pass on this tirade, for once.
Self-Editing Not Allowed
One astute commentator suggests a primary reason for this phone conversation aversion:
The inability to self edit.
The impromptu nature of the phone conversation takes away your capacity to give thoughtful, edited, calculated responses to the person on the other end. The live event takes away your curating moment.
A text message can be pondered, if even for a second and a witty zinger, as if those are your only sort, can be offered. And you can have the warm experience of leading the group with whom you are interacting on text to believe that you are ubiquitously ready with a snarky reply, a erudite insight, a verbal sneer…they can laugh and we can feel affirmed.
The world feels right.
But with a phone call… Such immediacy!
What am I Gonna Say?
It’s just you and the other voice. It calls for honesty. It demands full attentiveness.
In other words, it requires extreme vulnerability.
Someone may invite you to a dinner on Thursday, and right there on the spot, you have to figure out whether to say yes or no or maybe…and if no, find a way to do so without them getting mad at you, or feeling hurt, or thinking you are stupid, or an ingrate… And if yes, a way to commit without fully committing in case something better comes along…so much pressure. So much at stake.
Jesus’ Potential Advice on the Matter
Next to this soul calculus surrounding phone conversation, I’d like to bring a Jesus command from completely out of context that might have something instructive to say to our growing dread of the moments when no self-editing is permitted…
In one commissioning moment, he lets his friends know his career aspirations for them. Unfortunately, a lucrative profit-sharing plan is not in the cards, nor all the free locally-brewed, IPAs they could drink…He says, “You’ll be arrested. Whipped. Thrown into prison. Brought before Supreme Courts to give an account of yourselves and what you are up to.”
If ever self-editing would be required, it would be then, right?
Life and death are on the line. Well-rehearsed and pre-planned speeches seem most fitting.
And it is there, when the cost seems highest that he says the oddest thing. (He does this sort of thing you know)
“But when they arrest you, do not worry about what to say or how to say it. At that time you will be given what to say, for it will not be you speaking, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you.” (Matthew 10:19)
Yes, it was a special apostolic mission.
Yes, he is talking about bearing witness before Gentiles to the Kingdom of God.
Yes, he is talking about their being equipped for their calling in a unique historical situation that has already happened.
But don’t we likewise have a unique mission to picture and embody Jesus in the world?
Aren’t we disciples, attempting, badly perhaps, to live as little christs…under the tutelage of Jesus himself?
Aren’t we called to bear witness to the reality of God, “living our lives in such a way that they would not make any sense if God did not exist?”
Can’t We Count on God too?
So can’t we expect words to be given to us in difficult conversations that we move toward in obedient love?
Shouldn’t we count on the grace to refuse self-editing, so that we can pursue another in the impromptu moments of live conversation, out of care for them…trusting that, in real time, the Lord will “live tweet” the words we need through the mouths he has given us?
What if we picked up the phone, expecting the Holy Spirit to be a verbal dispenser to us….permitting us the simultaneous thrill and terror of a high-wire walk across a cellular connection…trusting that we’ll be given the balance to stand the entire time without being destroyed, as we welcome him to furnish words and ears for the benefit of the presence on the other end?
To do so, we have to entrust our reputations to Him. We have to count on Him for the capacity to fully listen to another and to be so self-forgetful we temporarily lose the capacity to fuss over self-editing. We’re too busy paying attention to them!
Then we respond. We have to trust, for we might look (or sound!) foolish. We might say the wrong thing. We might not appear as clever as we might’ve had we curated a response in a text or email.
But we have to endure those “mights” to get the thrilling immediacy of discovering time and time again what it’s like not to bow down in the face of fear always, but instead, to move forward, trusting Jesus to be there, each time, “after we have walked through the door marked ‘Fear’.” (Pastor Joe Novenson’s instructive image)
Whether introvert, extrovert, ambivert, or just occasional cower-vert, there will always be opportunities to run toward or away from the seeming danger or awkwardness of a voice to voice, or better, face to face, conversation.
A conflict to be ironed out. Ears that need to be offered. A needful chat that’s just too precious to be hammered out with thumbs. In those moments, even the phone, the gosh-darn-awful phone that is frequently luring us, because of everything else it can do, to be “alone together” can be a togetherness tool, linking us by the ever-present, connective tissue of the reassuring, resourcing, and re-constituting Holy Spirit.
So in celebration of Pentecost, follow the advice of P-Diddy the next time the situation dictates, and “Pick up your phone...!”
Contact Eric Youngblood, pastor of Rock Creek Fellowship on Lookout Mountain, at firstname.lastname@example.org