When you reach a certain age, you should just avoid new technology. To me, there’s something very wrong with an octogenarian TWEETING the outcome of their latest trip to “THE RIVER,” which is code for “Tunica Casinos” amongst the retired set in Mississippi’s Bible Belt. Can’t we just grow old with dignity and grace? Why must we subject ourselves to the ridicule that comes from our fumbling attempts at conquering the latest gadget? Passing through middle age, we become the master of so many things – house payments, odd jobs, selecting the best routes to anywhere, NFL play calling. Must we continue to put ourselves out there with the other rats in the race and wobbly peddle life’s next bicycle? Frankly, I don’t know what the “iCloud” is, and I am sincerely hoping that I won’t be forced to find out.
To be sure, our children consider our involvement in the latest tech craze as falling somewhere between hilarious and embarrassingly pathetic. A friend of my 18-year-old son told me the other day that he was going to wake up the next morning and tag me in a “tweet” that said, “Good Morning World! LOL!!!!!” And then he was going to put a smiley face and a smiley-winky face at the end of it. And I don’t know how to prevent that from happening! Even at a young 48, I find myself hoping that I will not be forced into his Twitter-world or Instagram or Pinterest or whatever’s next. I’m already shaken and disturbed by the fact that I catch myself being interested in how many “likes” I get on my latest Facebook post.
To let you know how bad it can get when people from my generation or older feel compelled by peer pressure to move beyond their well-seasoned areas of expertise, I will recount an actual event that I witnessed just over a month ago. Some of the names have been changed to protect generational honor and my personal safety, but the identities of the primary protagonists – Kenneth Webb, Jonathan Hancock and me – may as well be revealed here and now.
I sing tenor in the choir at the First Baptist Church. Although absences occasionally place a different fellow member at my sides there in third row of the choir loft, usually I have Jonathon Hancock, a high school junior, at my right and Kenneth Webb, a near-60 businessman, on my left. Even after our song service ends each Sunday morning, the choir continues to sit behind our pastor, who stands in the pulpit at the front of the congregation. When our preacher cites the scripture that will be the basis of the day’s sermon, the proper response from both congregation and choir is to follow along in our personal Bibles that we are to have at the ready. But technology has extended its insidious tentacles even into our church services. Currently, members of First Baptist have several options to satisfy their “following-along” requirement.
Certainly, we can take our own Bibles and turn to the book, chapter and verse that our pastor has announced. However, for choir members in my age group, that option is not as simple as it might seem. The size Bible I can read without the aid of reading glasses would require wooden poles and handlers to carry it to my spot in the choir loft – Ark of the Covenant-style – and there are no pockets for glasses in choir robes. The First Baptist Church choir tries to maintain a sense of decorum as we perform our musical selections each week, and any up-and-down scramble – for glasses under our seats, big Bibles, small Bibles, music, or whatever – tends to make us look like a robed version of Whack-a-Mole.
Whether my reasoning is sound or not, I am not sure, but I typically choose Option #2. I follow the pastor’s verses on THE BIG SCREENS. A few years ago to keep up with … well, I don’t know who … we installed two huge projection screens on the high walls at each side of our sanctuary (that’s the church auditorium for my apostate readers) and, since the choir faces the other way, we also put a big-screen TV on the front rail of the balcony at the back of the church. So for the 63.4% of the time that the verses on the screens ACTUALLY match what the preacher is reading, hundreds of angelic faces turn heavenward to see the verses as they are projected and advanced by the junior high boys who have agreed to go into the no-win, pressure cooker of church media operation.
The third choice – one that is more and more frequently selected by church members of all ages – is to follow the scriptures as they are read on an “electronic reader.” Nooks, Kindles, iPads and other small book-like electronic devices all have the ability to display the Bible quickly, any verse and chapter, and importantly for those of us past 40, at any font size necessary. Of course now when a preacher, as he waits for his congregation to find the chapter and verse to which he has pointed them, uses the old line, “I love to hear the pages of those Bibles turning,” he has unwittingly uttered a generationally divisive statement. “Discriminatory,” those under 30 might say. Sister Seniority, large-print Bible in hand, looks over the top of her glasses at her niece, who has flipped out her iPhone, through the same facial expression that she would have if her niece had shimmied down the pew in a skirt that was 6 inches too short.
The preacher said, “Turn to Acts, Chapter 4, verses 21 and 22.” I looked up at the big screen, Jonathan whipped out his iPhone, and Kenneth reached for his Kindle Fire. At my right, Jonathan tapped a time or two and rotated his phone 90 degrees counter-clockwise. I just kept looking up. And on the left, Kenneth flipped open the black leather case that held his Kindle which he had placed in his lap. Immediately, just as the pastor began reading the verses, the theme music from Donkey Kong – as loud as could possibly be generated by a 6-inch square of metal and silicone less than ¼” thick – blared from Kenneth’s Kindle. Ken would later attribute his misfortune to “The Mark of Cain,” not Adam’s son, but Kane Morris, Kenneth’s 3 year-old grandson, who had the night before been engrossed in barrel jumping and gorilla-hammering as “Mario” on the classic video game which Kenneth had so unfortunately loaded on his Kindle.
Had I been wearing my reading glasses, they would have been uselessly fogged over from the sweat and heat that Kenneth instantaneously generated. If the preacher heard the music, to his credit, he showed no sign. Kenneth’s hands and fingers moved over every button on the Kindle so fast that all I could really see was a flesh-colored ball mixed with black leather streaks hovering above Kenneth’s knees. DC Comic’s The Flash came to mind. His efforts availeth him not … “dee du da li da du dee” … over and over again, the music played on.
I stiffened and faced forward, but I saw peripherally Kenneth’s nervous smile at my left and the sweat beads on his upper lip. Each second that passed seemed like minutes to me. They must have been hours to Kenneth, stuck in a time warp, and he started opening and closing the cover of his Kindle in the vain hope that he could put the thing to sleep. The Sopranos, who sit on the row in front of the tenors, started to squirm, and finally Jonathan leaned forward and looked left down the row toward Ken. I continued to face forward. Jonathan wanted to help and could likely stop the melodious strains of Nintendo’s best, which were now digital background music to our pastor’s reading of Acts 4:21-22, in a matter of seconds. But that would involve my taking hold of the Holy Hand Grenade and passing it to him. Believe me; that was NOT going to happen. Finally, from row two, Toni Soprano, tight-lipped, turned her head completely around, like Linda Blair in The Exorcist, and her (Toni’s) eyes burned a 2nd-degree swath across Kenneth’s forehead. In panic, Kenneth took the last fateful step available to a person of our generation when confronted with a cyber-world gone mad. He raised his rear-end slightly off his padded choir chair, slid his Kindle into the slot, and sat on it.
At this point, I had to turn my head slightly in Kenneth’s direction, just to give him a nod of approval for his quick-thinking. To muffle the sounds of Donkey Kong under his years of experience and his right cheek and thereby allow the undistracted hearing of the Holy text was a stroke of genius. Kenneth, Jonathan and I synchronously sat back in our chairs. A clear sigh of relief issued from Kenneth as the pastor continued … then the “Mario Death Sound” emerged unmistakably from underneath Kenneth and “dee du da li da du dee” began anew, over and over again, only slightly muffled.
Beaten in this battle of man versus machine, Kenneth extracted his Kindle from what he had hoped was its final resting place, opened it and let the music play … until he could finally kill the beast some 90 seconds later. Even though my heart went out to Ken, my chair shook uncontrollably for the full minute and a half. I did not, however, laugh out loud, perhaps restrained by the disgusted and distraught exhalations of the Sopranos, who like their television counterparts, would have been more than happy to have had our entire row “whacked.” Even the basses finally awoke from their slumber and realized something was going on down the row to their right just as the event came to its conclusion.
If the preacher ever heard his scripture-reading theme song, he did not acknowledge it. Following the benediction when Kenneth was brought before the Sanhedrin, he still refused to declare his total future abstinence from the use of technology. Such is the addictive nature of the cyber-beast. When pressed, Ken did say that he would accept rigorous, pre-service quality control procedures in upcoming weeks to avoid a repeat of “The Mark of Cain” debacle. Satisfactory? Sister Seniority and Toni Soprano harrumphed their disapproval. Yet I couldn’t help but to throw my lot back in with Kenneth, especially given the scripture we had just put to music.
Acts 4:21-22: “After further threats they let them go. They could not decide how to punish them, because all the people were praising God for what had happened. For the man who was miraculously healed was over forty years old.”