Think on these things

Thursday, July 17, 2014 10:13 PM

I like to think of myself as a flexible and open person. Maybe I’m just open to new people and new ideas … not so much to new things.

If I’d been born at the time when electricity was being put in peoples’ homes, I probably would have resisted – at least for a while. I used to refer to myself as a Luddite, but even I have succumbed to many of the advances in technology, albeit somewhat behind the typical curve.

And now I find myself reaping the results, both positive and negative.

The result that has taken on a new slant for me is the one with which most of you who have cell phones are familiar. I know no one’s phone number any more. Numbers that I used to just dial (yes, dial) my phone “remembers” for me.

How often have you heard it said, “It’s not so important that we learn information. We just need to know where to find it.” And then what? You find it; you use it; and then you forget it? This behavior takes the concept of a disposable culture to a new level. I wonder if our ideas, along with our used ballpoint pens and plastic water bottles, are becoming the source of just so much trash….if the need and our capacity for memory are becoming obsolete?

I serve in one of the number of denominations in which there is a liturgy. This means that each Sunday at least a portion of the service is the same. Young folks complain that it is boring. I guess in their world of unending novelty, it would be boring. But words repeated have a way of getting into your bones. They can then be reflected on – not just once, but until we have taken in their meaning. And the amazing thing is those memorized words don’t become stagnate. Over time they take on greater depth. As our lives change, their meaning evolves. These words don’t just anchor us, they also draw us into newness.

Perhaps you carry within you “Tyger, tyger burning bright….” or “Four score and seven years ago” or “In the beginning was the Word….” Were the unanticipated to happen – the grid go down; the satellite lose orbit – you would still have these ideas, and the meaning they carry could not be taken from you.

In the June 20th Bad Catholic blog the writer uses the phrase “Internet mind” and highlights the flattening out of our memories when we’ve handed them over to social media.

Technology is a safe repository for an event, but it does not allow the memory to develop or give joy – to take on importance or transform. Technology relegates the living event to a series of lifeless zeros and ones.

All memories have equal status in FaceBookLandia. Your trip to Disney World and your visit with your sainted grandmother - they look the same. And at the end of the year it is FB’s algorithm that will churn out your Timeline, telling you and the world what was important in your life. How well do you imagine Grandma will fare?

I try not to be cynical about technology. I know it is not all bad. Perhaps what concerns me most is my response to it….how I will let it affect how I relate to the people and the world around me. When sacred notions, beautiful words, profound ideas, and relationships begin to reside “out there” instead of having life “in here” I fear for what it will mean.

I am grateful for the liturgy of my church and the repeated words that I will not forget. From years of repetition they have sunk deeply into my marrow and are part of me. They keep me oriented Godward when the world does its best to turn me elsewhere.

Perhaps as our engagement with technology usurps more and more of our time, leaving us with less and less inclination to commit much, if anything, to memory, the best we can hope for is an app based on Philippians 4:8 “whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things….”

Leigh Waggoner is priest at St. Barnabas Episcopal Church. She can be reached at 565-7865, or