Pope Francis gets it!

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I love this Pope. I’m a non-hierarchical Presbyterian, but I love Pope Francis.

TOPSHOT – Members of the faithful take photos of Pope Francis, as he arrives to lead the Liturgy of Penance in St Peter’s basilica at the Vatican on March 17, 2017. / AFP PHOTO / VINCENZO PINTO (Photo credit should read VINCENZO PINTO/AFP/Getty Images)

He “gets” relationships as well as he “gets” worship. He “gets” distraction and what a “60 Minutes” investigative report exposed: a form of technological addiction built into cell phones to make the user as anxious as a nursing infant torn away from its mother when you’ve put down your cell phone for more than eight minutes.

Lift up your hearts,” he said, not “Lift up your cell phones to take a picture,” referring to the use of cell phones in worship. “Mass is not a show!”

Francis is not an abstainer. He has a cell phone and he uses it.

Susan Hogan of The Washington Post reminds readers of Pope Francis’s Amoris Laetitia (The Joy of Love) in which he urged Catholics last year to use discretion in using electronic devices. “We know that sometimes they can keep people apart, rather than together, as when at dinner time everyone is surfing on a mobile phone, or when one spouse falls asleep waiting for the other who spends hours playing with an electronic device.”

Pope Francis might have added the fact that we humans are mammals, not invisible spirits. Mammals are flesh and blood creatures who use all five senses. For tactile creatures who live in a single place in real time, cyberspace relationships and distractions are no substitute for face-to-face, body-to-body, eye-to-eye, hand-in-hand physical presence to each other. Whales don’t take pictures. Neither do dogs, cats, or chimpanzees.

“Lift up your hearts! Not your cell phones!” says the author of The Joy of Love.

Three cheers for the pope who took the name of Francis of Assisi whose community included other mammals — whales, dogs, cats, chimps, and humans — and, of course, birds who found a resting place on his shoulder.

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, Nov. 10, 2017.

 

Ever feel invisible?

Sometimes I feel invisible.  People walk by me on the street or in the mall…and it’s like I’m not there.  People walk by like ghosts talking to ghosts.  They don’t see me.  They’re somewhere else, not really there.  They walk like people.  They talk like people.  They look like people.  But their eyes are somewhere else…in some far off place. Their heads down, reading or writing a text or staring into space, babbling to someone who’s not there.  They don’t see me. I’m invisible.

I have the same experience driving to and from work.  Drivers cut in front of me or run up behind me. They laugh and smile and wildly gesture, but there’s no one else in the car! When their driving puts me in jeopardy, and I honk, they keep talking.  They don’t look and they don’t hear anything but the voice on the other end of the cell phone. Even my Toyota’s invisible; it’s become a non-material world.

It’s nothing new really.  Western spirituality has always been dualistic. It says that we have a body and we have a soul – the physical and the spiritual.  We just have these bodies for a while.  We don’t really die; we just get rid of these bodies and fly away like birds set free from their cages.  It’s an old Greek philosophy that made its way into the writings of St. Paul.  The world of “the flesh” is evil; the world of the spirit is good.

The rudeness on the highways and in the malls, in the coffee shops and even in our homes is but the latest expression of this deprecation of bodily existence.

The voice on the other end of the phone is more important than the person in front of me, and the ones I cannot see or hear or receive a text from are unreal…in Iraq, Afghanistan, and anywhere else I decide to hang up and nuke their worlds into the permanent invisibility of nonexistence or the fires of hell.

I sit quietly at the airport gate, waiting for my flight. Used to be people would at least acknowledge one another’s existence – the bare fact that you were really there and not somewhere else or nowhere – but now they’re on cell phones, babbling away as though the room were empty except for them. Because, I suppose, we’re ancient Greeks with head sets, cell phones, and iPods, seduced by the old idea that we are meant for non-embodied existence. It’s just me and my invisible world, and you with yours, a rude collection of loud mouths and headsets, mouths and ears disembodied from eyes that see, noses that smell, hands that touch and minds that actually think in the silence between our noises.

Touch is a basic need. My dog knows it.  I know it.  Hearing and speaking are important. But the most important communication comes by touch. An animal that goes untouched becomes wild and crazy.  So do we.

To touch and be touched is a vulnerable thing. We crave it. But to touch and be touched is a vulnerable thing. It reminds us of our embodied selves, our mortal selves, our dependent and interdependent selves. The non-material world is safer. Unlike the body, the worlds in our head are invulnerable. In the world of disembodied spirits

The oldest Christian creed says “I believe in the resurrection of the body” because those who developed the creed saw the body – the physical world,  the material world, the world of the five senses as not only “good” but essential to existence itself. There is no human life without a body. The body is not a thing to be shed. It’s a gift that places us squarely in time and space.

Next Sunday is Pentecost, the day the babbling stopped, the day the Spirit transformed their separate worlds. Tore down the barriers of language, class, race, gender, and nationality with the sound of a mighty wind so profound that they all stopping babbling and listened to the Voice that spoke in and through the strangers around them.

It may be hard to comprehend exactly what happened on the Day of Pentecost – tongues of fire descending and resting on each one – but it’s not so hard to make the translation for us in the era of instant communication lonely crowd.

Do you feel the wind and the tongues of fire calling us back into the celebration of embodied existence?  Isn’t it time to see each other again? Talk with people who occupy the same space?  Time we grow up and stop talking to imaginary friends or hanging up on real people who don’t do what we don’t want them to do? Time we recover the spiritual joy of physical community: the recovery of sight, smell and touch.  Time we pay attention to common courtesy. Time to notice that the person on the other end of my cell phone and I are not the only ones in the universe: a Pentecost in disembodied world of the 21st Century.

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Silence and Cell Phones

This piece originally aired on “All Things Considered” (Minnesota Public Radio). Click here for an audio connection on the MPR site, or just read the piece.

Driving to work this morning, I suddenly started to pay attention to the drivers in my rear view mirror.  It all started when a large SUV nearly hit me from behind.  The driver was jabbering away on a cell phone.  I’m sure the conversation was important.  Why else would he jeopardize our safety?

For the next fifteen minutes on I35W I conducted my own scientific survey.  All of the drivers had cell phones glued to their ears.

Makes me wonder.  Are we that uncomfortable being alone?  Or do we think we’re so important that the rest of the world can’t get along without us?  Or perhaps we are afraid that the rest of the world WILL get along very well without us – so we need to keep reminding others that we exist because we’re not sure we really do unless someone else is filling the speechless void?  I wonder.

As concerned as we should be about the terrorism of distracted drivers on the highway, I’m more concerned about what our use of cell phones says about us as a people.  We are addicted to outside stimuli. Less and less comfortable with silence. Less and less attuned to wonder. More and more filled with chatter. More wordy – less thoughtful.

Sociologist Eugen Rosenstock-Huessey once observed – before the advent of the cell phone – that for many folks the drive to and from work was the only true “free zone” during their day.  It was time for solitude and reflection, a transitional pause to get your bearings, time to make the transition from home to work and from work to home. These were trips to be celebrated for what they were – opportunities to stand free from the herd – the herd mentality of religion, nationalism and ideology.  They were times to think.

Maybe I’m just getting older.  I am.  And that’s a good thing.  Because I’m getting tired of looking in my rear view mirror at someone with a cell phone stuck in his ear because he can’t stand the silence…or the sound of her own heartbeat.  Someday that beat will stop and there will only be the silence.  Maybe we ought to put down the phone and listen before there’s nothing to hear.