Thursday, 8 December 2016

'I literally can't wait' : Living in a Culture of Distraction

By Isaac Withers

I was hoping you’d read the quote of the title in the accent of a Californian girl. ‘Literally’… 

But anyway, we’re waiting for Jesus right now (Advent etc.), and some people really aren't good at waiting for Christmas. They like, literally, just can't even...

However, before we celebrate the arrival of Jesus, I thought I’d take this time introduce you to my Nokia. It’s a beaut.

It’s white. It has snake. It's a stone cold classic.

It’s the replacement of two previous ‘brick phones’ as they’re affectionately known and it gets reactions (not the good type). The question across seminar tables of, ‘is that really your phone?’ One of my personal favourites was this, ‘O, I’ve got that phone too! It’s for when I go inter-railing, in case I get mugged.’ That one hurt a little.

Every now and again, a friend in horror, will just outright offer to replace it when they get an upgrade, and I have to think seriously about why I choose this rubbish, muggable phone. The truth is, I've always spent way too much time on Facebook, and I hate the idea of having it on me all the time.

So being smartphoneless, means that when I get on trains for a few hours, or go on retreat, or leave the country for a week, or find myself without wifi, I really am pretty disconnected, I have few options to distract myself with. And I love it. It’s given my life space. Hours of it.

I came across a Youtube video a while ago, where one of the biggest comedians in America, Louis C.K., was explaining why he didn’t want to get his kids phones yet. He got pretty deep.

‘The thing is, you need to build an ability to just be yourself and not be doing anything,
that’s what phones are taking away.
Is the ability to just sit there.
That’s being a person, right?’

Now to clarify, I’m not anti-smart phone, I’m just pro the practice of waiting. That’s gotta be what Advent is. A time to get used to the long waits of life. A friend of mine passed me a Dr. Seus book a few weeks ago and demanded I read it. I’d never read him before (he’s the writer of The Grinch), and again, I was not expecting the profound, especially from a kids book. It spoke of ‘the waiting place’, and it reads:

‘… for people just waiting.
Waiting for a train to go
or a bus to come, or a plane to go
or the mail to come, or the rain to go
or the phone to ring, or the snow to snow
or waiting around for a yes or a no,
or waiting for their hair to grow.
Everyone is just waiting.’

And the book shows you that it looks like this:

And as sad/strange as that looks, it speaks to my frequent reality. Waiting has always been uncomfortable. It’s anticipation, it’s frustrating. It’s like messaging the person you really like, putting it all out there and receiving ‘Seen at 17:13’. And just staring at that for as long as it’s there. That’s horrible. Waiting never really feels like ‘life to the full’, and yet it’s given to us a lot. What do we do with it?

The good doctor continues in the book:

‘Whether you like it or not,
Alone will be something
you’ll be quite a lot.’

I found myself at a retreat last weekend, and I was hit by something totally new, about the nearness of God. It’s what we’re expecting now, it’s what we celebrate at Christmas: the Emmanuel, the God-with-us. One of the speakers said simply, when Jesus left the earth, he said leaving us with the Holy Spirit was better, than him being physically here. The Holy Spirit dwelling within his disciples, the baptized, us, is the reality.

‘Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you,
whom you have received from God? You are not your own.’

1 Corinthians 6:19

He chooses to dwell in me always. Not only when I ask him to be with me, or when I’m spiritually feeling ok, but always. He is with me in the waiting place too. But I can forget that if I’m distracted. When I’m living every journey with earphones in, and every reception sofa moment by checking a profile. And this might sound dumb, but I’ve never sought out prayer with as much urgency as I have Wifi. That sounds like a fun line, but it’s actually true. Something in me needs to change.

Taking moments to live with the Emmanuel, to sit with him, is what we’re called to. The biggest thing that uni life has taught me these past few years, is that friendships come down to something very real and quantifiable: time. Spending weekly/daily time with people, has made me a better friend to them. Setting time apart, solidifies relationships.

So give him your waiting. Replace scrolling through the Facebook void with personal prayer. Give him your boredom, because that’s quality time. Give him your advent anticipation. Because we really can wait, and we’ve got the best company to share our waiting with.

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