By Eugene C. Scott
The only time I’ve ever given something (my computer) up for Lent, it wasn’t even Lent. And I didn’t choose–of my own free will–to give up my computer.
A few years ago, despite the fact that I own one of the best and most reliable computers going (yes, you poor PC plugs it is a world-famous Mac), my 256 megabyte hard drive crashed and burned. After trying several home remedies such as opening and closing the laptop lid, pushing various mysterious buttons (I wonder what the “F” stands for on those buttons), and muttering to myself, I finally scheduled an appointment with the “Mac Genius” in the closest Apple Store, which happened to be a mere 150 miles away. At the time I lived in the mountains near Vail, which was great except when . . . . Anyway the 2.5 hour drive to Boulder, CO did give me time to reflect—to take stock of my life as it relates to computers and electronic stuff.
The way I remember that fateful drive is like this:
That drive turned out to be a sobering and painful several hour odyssey, during which my hands trembled on the steering wheel and thoughts of living computerless distracted me. The usually spectacular Rocky Mountain scenery passed in a blur. My skin became clammy to the touch, as I fought back fear and worry each time I thought of how long it had already been since I had last checked my e-mail—ten hours and counting.
What if someone sends me an extremely important e-mail chain letter and I break the chain? I worried. I sobbed when I realized my communication ties to my world had been sadistically and heartlessly severed. I had unwillingly joined the ranks of the out-of-touch and uninformed. I feared I might become e-illiterate.
Less important but equally traumatic it dawned on me that I had lost parts of my seventy-five page (so far) doctoral dissertation, and my most recent sermon (I convulsed at the idea that I now faced researching sermons using books rather than the internet and writing them on those hideous yellow legal pads).
And how could I live in a world where my entire iTunes library had vanished?
Then panic hit! With my Treo palmOne phone calendar lost in cyberspace, how could I possibly know when to be where and with whom I was supposed to be? I nearly ran off the road. I saw my life pass before my eyes. To my horror my life was configured in indecipherable ones and zeros. Tears blurred my vision. I pulled over and turned on my emergency flashers.
I was a mess. Right then and there I knew what I must do. Admit my dependency.
So looking up to the blue sky through my pitted windshield I mumbled, “Hi, my name is Eugene.” I paused; I breathed; I listened. Then white-knuckling the steering wheel, I continued, “And I am addicted to my Mac! Computers, and other electronic devices rule my life.” I listened again. Sadly there was no encouraging “Hi, Eugene” response because there is no support group for this. I sighed. More tears flowed. At least I had said it. It was out.
On the drive back to Edwards, CO, determined but frightened, I swore I would use the three to ten days it would take to repair my PowerBook G4, to overcome my addiction and start a new life. I told myself I would read more books, talk to people face to face, and occasionally— shudder—use a pen or pencil to write. I even thought I would break out the old turntable and listen to a record or two. I pulled into our driveway ready for anything. I was fearful but resolute.
Fortunately my PowerBook was ready in three days and I never had to follow through on those rash resolutions. Though on day two of web-sobriety I did pick up my old, loose-leaf Bible. I stumbled on this passage, “You shall have no other gods before me.” Then I googled the passage to find out what it could mean.
Some wise saint (possibly John Calvin) once said, the human heart is an idol factory. The ancients carved wood and stone into what they hoped would be gods of their salvation. We fashion chips and technology into the same hope.
If you listen to the chatter of our world, how many times a day will you hear that a certain scientific discovery, or hypothesis, or technical advancement will bring us the healing or answers we are looking for? Hundreds? All the while God stands at the side of the internet-super highway with his thumb out, hitching a ride. As wonderful as science and technology are, they are finite–limited–and can’t save us.
This is because they are creations of our own limited minds. Technology is created not in God’s image but ours. We are broken beings capable of taking anything good and using it for evil. And we do. Also, if our struggles were material/physical only, maybe physical/material solutions could help. But our problems run deep into our souls. And not even a super computer can go there. Only God can.
I may have exaggerated my struggle with my forced fasting from electronics of several years ago. But I did recognize then, and still do now, how easy it is for me to try to slip something else into that God shaped void in my life.
Maybe that’s what seasons like Lent are really about. Not just giving stuff up. But taking stock of where in our life God stands or who/what we have standing in God’s place.
By Eugene C. Scott