Jason Byasee, writing for Union Theological Seminary’s New Media Project, tells of a recent experience teaching Sunday School, when one of the attendees whipped out his mobile device and started texting.
At first I figured I’d win him over. Be more profound, funny, Jesus-y, entertaining. It didn’t work. Next came resentment: “Who’s he got to email on a Sunday morning?” By the end, I tried to let it go, but I couldn’t help thinking, “What if we were in a different pastoral situation? What if he or someone he loved was in the hospital and I was the pastor called to offer care, and what if then I pulled out my phone and started thumb-clicking? He wouldn’t care for it, would he?”
Checking one’s smartphone during conversations or intimate gatherings seems to me to be more commonplace these days. And it’s not just texting: A friend tells me of a wedding in which a groomsman’s cellphone rang. This is common enough, if not still embarrassing. What happened next though was truly epic: The man answered the phone, the congregation heard the caller ask, “What’s up?”, and he answered so that everyone could hear, “Nuthin’.”
…. As a preacher and professor, it seems that I’m going to have to get used to competing with the increasingly brazen use of personal devices. States wouldn’t have to pass laws against texting while driving if people didn’t do it and then crash. As one who cares about teaching and small group gatherings, I wonder how we can overaccept this development as theologian and priest Sam Wells suggests, borrowing from the language of improvisational acting (Improvisation: The Drama of Christian Ethics, Brazos Press, 2004). We cannot simply block the use of devices, insisting no one touch them in our presence. Nor can we simply accept thumb wars during weddings and church. How can we overaccept the devices, instead? How can we draw them into our life by including them in a larger story where they have a role for good?