We live in an age of technology where we are accessible at any time and at almost any place. Look at the Verizon and AT&T coverage maps and you will not see a lot of white spaces.
Towers have connected us to each other through our mobile phones to the point that we are actually annoyed when we call each other and we get voice mail, so annoyed that most of us no longer bother leaving a voice mail or even listening to the ones that are left for us. We just call back.
We love this connectivity and we hate it at the same time. It is a part of who we are now. It’s a part of our world culture.
This new generation we are raising has never known what it’s like to talk to friends without texting or calling from wherever they are.
Some, I am afraid, will not be able to carry on real conversations of any depth unless they have these smartphones in their hands.
I picture two teenagers on a date, sitting across from one another at Steak ‘N’ Shake, texting each other because they don’t actually know how to look at each other and carry on a conversation.
Even those of us who have adapted to this new way of staying connected find it difficult to remember what life was like prior to the existence of these devices.
For all the good they do, they also are producing their share of negative side effects.
For one thing, they are not allowing us to disconnect emotionally and mentally from parts of our lives from which we need to take periodic breaks in order to take a true Sabbath.
I just returned from Liberia. One of the best decisions I made about my trip was to leave my iPhone at home. It was understood by my congregation that for the next week I would not be “reachable.”
Sure, if there had been an emergency involving a member of my family, there was a contact number. However, church emergencies were being taking care of by a very capable staff.
I managed just fine without my iPhone. However, I found it more difficult to manage without the Internet.
After a four-day digital Sabbath, I did slip over to school at Ricks Institute to check my e-mail and to look at the headline news to see if Congress had passed any legislation on the fiscal cliff issue and to see if Georgia won the Capitol One Bowl.
The experience reminded me that my church manages just fine without me when we plan well. Even if we didn’t plan well, someone would step up and lead.
The point is that I shouldn’t have to leave the country to take a digital Sabbath.
I keep my phone on 24/7, not because I am so important, but because I like to think I am.
In the process, I have ruined many a good day off with an interruption or with my own lack of self-discipline regarding a work item that could wait until another day.
Taking a digital Sabbath seems to be a responsible part of taking a true Sabbath, provided we do it responsibly.
In an age of accessibility, if we are going to close out the world for a half day, a day or more, we should at least inform those closest to us of our practice and how we can be reached in a time of crisis.
Occasional, longer digital Sabbaths are also needed to disengage from the world for a period of reflection, self-renewal, prayer and rest. It was a common practice of Jesus to pull away from the crowds for renewal.
The Gospel According to Luke tells us: “He left the crowds to pray alone” (Luke 9:18). The Gospel of John says: “After leaving them, he went up on a mountain side to pray” (John 6:14).
If Jesus had lived in a cell phone era, it’s difficult to picture Jesus keeping it on during times like this.
My first phone call when I came home from Liberia came very early the next morning. I heard my phone vibrating on the table. Thinking it might be an important call, I rushed to pick it up.
It was a call from my son, John, who accompanied me on the trip. He was calling from downstairs where he’d spent the night. He was just calling to inform me that he’d let out the dog and had already fed her.
By the way, John took his cell phone to Liberia. He’s still young. He’ll learn.
Even though I’m an older “dog” now, I can still learn a few new tricks. I hope to use this one more during 2013.
Michael Helms is pastor of First Baptist Church in Jefferson, Georgia.