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Ring tones and God

Ring tones and God

Psalm 93, 96 (Morning)

Psalm 34 (Evening)

Ecclesiasticus (Sirach) 51:13-22

1 Corinthians 14:1-12

Matthew 20:1-16

While recently attending a conference geared towards vitality in small churches, I got to laughing at all the various sounds emanating from the various phones, yet people seemed, for the most part to know which sounds were “theirs,” responding only to “their sounds.” In this world of customization, we can convey a great deal of information with a simple tone. We can tell if it’s a text message or merely a notification. We can tell if it is originating from someone in our lives we’d best not ignore. We can eschew tones entirely and choose to get our information from vibrations–or intentionally choose tone-deafness by shutting off alerts and notifications altogether.

It’s interesting how, back in the early days of personal communications at our fingertips, inadvertent phone tones at meetings had all the appeal of flatulence, bringing down the wrath of our neighbors and possibly even a scolding from the speaker–but 20+ years into the personal communication revolution, for the most part we’ve learned to simply ignore the tones that are not “ours.” Now, that’s not to say there aren’t times we really should silence or power down our phone as a courtesy to our neighbors in public places (particularly where there’s a public performance) or when something truly does need our entire focus, but for the most part, in the working world, we coexist with that way better than we used to, and it doesn’t have the abject shaming quality it used to have.

Paul obviously never had to deal with cell phones, but he certainly affirms our human capacity for “tone-ignoring” in today’s Epistle. He brings up an interesting point in the difference between two gifts of the spirit–tongues and prophesy–basically pointing out that tongues are more about an individual relating to God, but prophesy relates to (and builds up) the community. He brings up the possibility that, although, responding to the customized tones of our life is mostly good, it really doesn’t mean much to anyone else, and if we don’t share the knowledge with each other, it loses value to the community.

Think of it like the infamous “stall phone conversation” we’ve all heard in a public restroom. All of us, at one time or another, has heard someone inside the stall having a phone conversation. We didn’t ask to hear it, but there it is, and we end up in that place where we can’t help but hear it. We don’t even know the person, but we certainly perceive things from that person’s tone of voice, abruptness of speech, or the hesitation in their voice (because, they are, after all, having a phone conversation inside a public restroom stall.) Yet at the same time, we really don’t know very much at all about the conversation. We don’t really know who they’re talking to, we don’t really know the other half of what the conversation is about, and we don’t really know what’s behind the call–the pattern of the intersection of those two lives. Yet, more often than not, there’s something about what we hear that might remind us of something in our own life, and we can identify, even if we really don’t “know.”

Paul reminds us that understanding God’s plan for us and responding to the customized tones God provides in our lives is all well and good, but more importantly, he’s encouraging us to share what we’ve learned from them to each other–to build up our community of faith by letting their stories intersect with our stories.

How has “admitting things about your phone conversation in the stall with God” changed the way you work with others in your faith community and how they work with you?

Maria Evans, a surgical pathologist from Kirksville, MO, is a grateful member of Trinity Episcopal Church and a postulant to the priesthood in the Episcopal Diocese of Missouri. She occasionally finds time to write about the obscurities of life, medicine, faith, and the Episcopal Church on her blog, Kirkepiscatoid.


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