Between Two Worlds Day 9 (of 40)
In 2000 there were two million payphones in America. Last year that number had dropped to less than a quarter million–an 88% decline in less than one generation. Should we be worried? Are Americans suddenly averse to “reaching out and touching someone”? Do we no longer care about communication, connection, and conversation? Are we all going to hell in a hand basket?
You must wonder if I am on another planet? I can see some of you rolling your eyes and yelling across the room to your partner, “Hey honey, this guy, Brian, thinks that the disappearance of payphones means we don’t connect anymore. This dude is seriously out of touch? Hasn’t he heard of cell phones!”
Of course, I was just making a point. We all know that the disappearance of pay phones isn’t a sign that Americans no longer want to connect and communicate. “Duh,” we might say, “in fact we’ve made it even more convenient than ever.” We just have to reach in our pocket, say, “Call Barbara,” and Siri will politely inform us, “Calling Barbara now.” The only downside I can see is that Superman has fewer changing rooms.
I am calling this the Parable of the Pay Phone (I read a reference to this in a book once but can’t remember the name. The ghost author gets credit.). This 40-day Lenten conversation is titled “Between Two Worlds” and this parable seems to speak directly to that theme.
I am struck by how this parable speaks both to the dying of one thing and the ongoing life of another thing. Payphones appear to be going away, but our human need for connection, communication and conversation has only shifted to another gadget. The form is changing, but the basic need hasn’t budged a single inch.
I think this is why, even with all the anxiety and wrestling that goes with being in the Church now, I have continued to serve. The underlying purpose of the Church is something I still resonate deeply with. I would much rather be working in an organization that is about transformation, compassion, grace, connection, healing, peace, justice and love than selling vacuum cleaners (even though we all know that cleanliness is next to godliness!).
My struggle is not with the underlying purpose of the Church; it is with the form of the Church. Does the form still serve its purpose or is it a barrier to its purpose?
If the Parable of the Pay Phone has any truth to it, it points to why I get impatient with the Church at times. The questions and comments in church meetings often sound like this to me:
- Why aren’t more people using payphones (read–coming to church);
- What if we just repaint the phone booth a more attractive color (read–tinker with worship);
- Maybe we need more signs pointing to the payphone (read–bigger ads in the Yellow Pages–remember those?).
I love what the church is about and I love the people, but I have to admit my soul left the building long ago.
Maybe we need an iChurch!
- Does this parable fit your experience?
- Are there other ways that you have met the same spiritual needs that were once met in and by the Church?