From the Book of Deuteronomy:
There you will serve other gods made by human hands, objects of wood and stone that neither see, nor hear, nor eat, nor smell.
(From the Daily Office Lectionary – Deuteronomy 4:28 (NRSV) – May 29, 2013.)
Seems to me that “gods made by human hands” these days can do some of these things. I have a smartphone that wakes me up by speaking out the time, the weather (current and predicted for the day), and a news headline (I have no idea what the algorithm for choosing the news item is, nor what news feed the alarm application uses). I think I can (if I knew how and did the set up) talk to my smartphone and get it to do things. My phone is not an iPhone, so it doesn’t have a name, but it can do a lot of seeing and hearing and speaking. I don’t think it’s gotten to the eating and smelling part . . . yet. But there are restaurant and wine review applications and who knows what upgrades may be coming . . . .
It would be an overstatement, I think, to say I “serve” my smartphone – after all, it’s supposed to serve me! But it’s all too true that I seem to be at it’s beck and call every minute of every day, or at least I can fall into the trap of thinking that way. The darned thing has a variety of “tones” by which it alerts me to, among things other than telephone calls, text messages, emails, Facebook postings, up-dates available for various applications, Amber alerts, severe weather alerts, voicemail messages, Words with Friends plays, and slew of other inputs. Telephone calls are neatly sounded with individual ringtones; my wife, my daughter, my son, my office, the bishop, and a few other people all have personalized sounds.
A few of those alerts I’ve learned to ignore. I often don’t even recognize the faint “buzz” of a Facebook notification. On the other hand, the raucous SS-siren of an Amber alert will waken me from a sound sleep several rooms away. And when the ringtones for my wife (something called Illuminator) or the bishop (Fanfare for the Common Man) sound, I know I’d better answer.
So, yeah, I guess it does feel like I serve this little “god made by human hands.”
Therefore, for a few minutes each day, and for several hours one day each week . . . I turn this little god off. I can do that. I make it a point to do that. And in the times it is turned off, I turn my attention to God, the real one, the “maker of heaven and earth, of all that is, seen and unseen.” I need to do this because when the phone is on, when it sounds one of its insistent tones, I can forget to turn to God. When my “little god made by human hands” is in control, I can (and frequently do) find myself relying on my own strength, or on human institutions, or on human technology, all of which are prone to fail. I need those moments when it is turned off to be reminded, as Moses reminded the Hebrews and the end of today’s reading, “The Lord your God is a merciful God, he will neither abandon you nor destroy you; he will not forget the covenant with your ancestors that he swore to them.”
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Father Funston is the rector of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Medina, Ohio.