Sunday, July 23, 2006

On Saying God

Near the beginning of John Updike's novel Rabbit, Run the main character Rabbit and his wife Janet are having a minor tiff while Janet watches Mickey Mouse Club on TV. Chief adult Mousketeer Jimmy appears onscreen and the following takes place, beginning with Jimmy's words:
"God doesn't want a tree to be a waterfall or a flower to be a stone. God gives to each one of us a special talent." Janice and Rabbit became unnaturally still. Both are Christians. God's name makes them feel guilty.
While ignoring the mistake that "God" is not God's name, I can nonetheless relate to what was portrayed here.

God was not talked about in my Christian home when I was growing up. Apparently my parents either thought it was inappropriate or they didn't know what to say because they didn't know anything about Him, so the safe thing was not to talk about Him at all. Such was the spiritual legacy I inherited.

For a while at age nine I had an interest in the Bible, from reading a Bible stories book for adults that my Grandmother owned. I even asked my parents to give me a real Bible of my own, a request that surprised them, but they happily complied. Because the real thing is more difficult to understand, and being given no instruction, my interest cooled quickly.

When I was in fourth grade I had to get up and read a paragraph from a book I had read in front of my class. It included some proverb that included words to the effect '... and God makes things grow.' Because I was embarrassed to say "God" in front of my class — or in front of anyone — I read instead '... and some word I don't know makes things grow.' My teacher did a double-take, knowing I was an excellent reader and would at least make a stab at some unfamiliar word, and called me on it, but she did not know the content of what I was attempting to read. Somehow I bluffed my way through it without having to say "God," but I was doubly embarrassed for being caught in what amounted to a lie.

By the time I was a teenager my father acquired the belief that it would be appropriate to say grace before dinner each night. Because he didn't know what to say himself, nor did any of the rest of us, he used a book of flowery, sentimental and religious sounding prewritten prayers he'd found somewhere, and each night would read one of them out of the book, a longer or shorter one depending on how hungry everyone was. My three younger brothers and I, perhaps intuitively sensing the inappropriateness of reading written prayers, would titter and make jokes about my father's newfound eccentricity.

Things changed later. In 1971 I became one of Jehovah's Witnesses. Thereafter I became Prayin' Sam for our family. Whenever I visited, and a need for one to pray would arise, because I was now viewed as religiously credentialed, especially once they learned that I was serving as an elder in my local congregation, with responsibilities of teaching and taking the lead in spiritual matters, I would be called upon to render the service.

But to use Jehovah's name in prayer to some people who don't know or recognize the Bible truth that Jehovah is in fact His real self-given name, that name being used as such in the original manuscripts nearly 7000 times, a Biblical fact that escaped them despite a lifetime of sporadic churchgoing, would be from their vantage point to pray to the God of Jehovah's Witnesses, which most of my relatives clearly did not want to become.

But it is not necessary to address God by his personal name each and every time, any more than it is to call a person by name, there being any number of substitutions that can be made. So in such prayers I would generally address Jehovah as "God," or as "Heavenly Father," both entirely appropriate. Of course, in doing so I was nonetheless always praying to Jehovah all along. And when those in behalf of whom I was asked to pray said "Amen," which they always did, they too thereby prayed to Jehovah.

Ha! Got 'em!

The Rudest Devices

On July 13th I became the owner of my first cell phone. My resistance to having one in the past was not entirely for financial reasons, nor because I suffer from high-tech phobias, nor because I'm an old-fashioned fuddy duddy. I've been an internetting software engineer since the mid-eighties, usually up-to-date on things that are new.

The change came because my daughter Cyra-Lea recently got married and moved to Indiana, where her husband owns a business, and is firmly rooted. While we miss her, this move is compatible with what children do — grow up and leave home, sometimes leaving families behind. Having to adjust hardly makes us unique. But in our desire to keep in touch, we got in on Cyra-Lea and Eddie's family plan, which for $15 a month per phone allows us to talk at any reasonable time, and also gives Suzy and me a means to communicate in emergencies. Our plan is to use it for little else so as not to eat into the kids' monthly allotment of minutes.

Minutes? There's a term that has taken on a whole new meaning in recent times. As in, "I can't call you tonight because I've used up my minutes!" Ten years ago someone overhearing that conversation would have no idea what it was about.

Telephones in general, as interrupt driven devices, are the rudest gizmos ever invented by mankind; I'm shocked by how enslaved people have become to them; the advent of cell phones has only served to increase their power over their owners. Users feel obliged to jump up and answer them no matter how important whatever else they are doing is.

When I worked for Motorola I would sometimes take advantage of this insight when I wanted to speak to my boss. If I went by his office and saw someone else was there, rather than stand outside and wait, or come back repeatedly, I would return to my office and call him on the phone. No matter who he was talking to, he would leap to answer the phone while the other guy had to wait. I got special pleasure out of doing that when he was busy talking to his own boss, a man I personally loathed. Meanwhile, my own problem would be resolved.

I have learned to ignore telephones. One day at Motorola my boss came by my office saying he'd tried to call me, and thought I was in. I'd forgotten that I unplugged my phone several days before when I was busy and didn't want to be interrupted and never got around to reconnecting it.

Yesterday we were doing the work Jehovah's Witnesses are known for, making return visits on people in their homes, which I sometimes refer to as "riding around in cars with girls," because of the spectacularly unproductive use of time it can be when done in the disorderly hit-and-miss manner it often is in our area. We had five in our car. I was driving. The lady in the back seat was on her cell phone more or less constantly the whole morning. As she got in the car she asked Suzy to describe Cyra-Lea's new house, and as Suzy started to talk, the inquirer punched up a number on her cell phone and began to talk to someone else. Nice.

At one home, while two people went off to talk to someone, we waited behind. I took the opportunity to call Cyra-Lea. The conversation went something like this.

"Hi Cyra-Lea, whatcha doin'?"

"Hi Dad, I'm buried in writing thank you notes. Why aren't you in field service?"

"I am in field service, waiting in the car. In fact I'm doing something right now something that I hate!"

"You hate field service!??" She took the bait.

I replied in a clear voice. "Of course not. I love field service. The thing I'm doing is taking the opportunity while I'm waiting in the car to yack on a cell phone instead of conversing with the others in the car, as though they aren't worthy of my attention. I've always hated it when other people do that to me, leaving me to stare out the window and look at my watch twice a minute, so I thought I'd try it and see if it gives me some kind of buzz that I was missing in hopes of figuring out what the appeal is."

Cyra-Lea cracked up on her end. I don't know if I made my point with the others who heard me.

A cell phone, properly used, can definitely be an advantage in simplifying communication.

On my flight to Indiana on July 13th, my flight out of Phoenix was delayed an hour so that I missed my connection. Having no cell phone, and not knowing my daughter's cell number, I had no means of reaching Cyra-Lea to tell them my arrival would be delayed two hours. As a result they wasted two hours looking, and we all missed a meeting that night.

Yes, I should have written the number somewhere I could get it so I could call from a pay phone, but I'd never had a flight bumped before, so it never occurred to me to do so. The irony was that I had my new cell phone in hand later that evening, as it was waiting for me at Cyra-Lea's house.

Upon returning I arrived at the airport to find that my flight was canceled and that I would have to stay overnight in Louisville. Suzy had preceded my return by eight hours and was planning on picking me up at 10:30pm, when she had to be up at 4:45am the next day to get to work. Without easy access to a phone it would have been tough getting in touch, as I would have had to find and dump endless quantities of change into a pay phone.

Regrettably, no protocol of etiquette regarding the proper use of cell phones has yet emerged, or if it has, I am unaware of it, and most people ignore it, as in most matters, the majority do whatever works best for them personally without regard for other people.