“But Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart.”
“SIRI, please get me directions to Interstate 45.”
“I couldn‘t understand that. Do you want to know about 1945?”
“SIRI, please get me directions to Interstate 45”
“In 1945 the Allies defeated Germany and Japan to end World War II.”
My exasperation was growing. It was now dark, the traffic was becoming brutal, and the road construction was all around me as I attempted to traverse Dallas on the evening before Thanksgiving. I know, I should have expected it. In my defense I thought I would outsmart everybody by driving through Dallas at rush hour on the night before a major holiday on the theory that everyone else would be smart enough to avoid such an obviously foolish plan. Evidently the vast majority of individuals of driving age in the United States also had the same idea. (For purposes of this letter, I have expanded the definition of “drive” to include the action of sitting in a car with hands on the steering wheel and right foot on the brake in a position frozen in time and space).
“SIRI, get me directions to Interstate 45 to Houston”
“Getting directions to Underwear for T5 to Houston. Cannot find directions to Underwear for T5 to Houston.”
That was it. I cracked. I started yelling at SIRI. I started denigrating a computer voice as if it was a real person. In hindsight, it was an absurd thing to do, but my maturity level takes quite a dip when driving in traffic. My next brilliant and deranged idea? I would shame SIRI into usefulness. I asked Lee Ann to call up the Google assistant. 10 hours in a car driving through the scenic grandeur of the Oklahoma Indian nation casinos will do strange things to a person.
“Google, give me directions to Interstate 45 south to Houston.”
“Getting directions to Interstate 45…….in 2 miles turn slightly to the right.”
“Aha SIRI, I think I have found a better assistant!”
“Searching for Veteran Assistance….Take Interstate 45 South…” said SIRI.
I am not proud of this, but I began arguing with my telephone: “I am not searching for Veteran Assistance”
“Searching for Veterinary distance,“ replied SIRI.
“In 1 mile take a slight right turn onto Interstate 630 East.” interjected Google.
In order to understand what happened next, you need to know that I was not driving my car. I was in fact driving a very large, very empty minivan with all the seats folded into the floor. We had rented it so that we could pick up my mother in law’s belongings. However, this was a rental vehicle and had probably just returned from a round trip to Disney World carrying fourteen members of a teen age hockey team and their two mostly house trained Labrador Retrievers. Also, as a rental vehicle, it was not optioned with the largest engine, the most accurate steering, or functional brakes of any sort. In fact, it had the newly turbocharged 3.5 hp lawnmower engine coupled with the apparently popular “steering wheel stuck in glue” option.
As the traffic inexplicably picked up speed I tried to stay in my lane, which was conveniently and brilliantly outlined by dozens of orange flashing barrels identical to the dozens of orange flashing barrels outlining every other lane of the construction. The only thing missing from this festive sight was any indication of which way any particular lane was headed. As I looked for signs for I630 East, Google updated me:
“In 1000 feet, take a slight right toward Interstate 630 East.”
I made the mistake of looking behind me to see if I could change lanes quickly. What I saw was the rear of the minivan stretching out like a bowling ball lane to infinity and beyond. I realized I had no idea if I could turn so I pushed down the gas pedal to the floor. I felt the surge of the mighty 3.5 horsepower lawnmower engine and realized I was still going the same speed as before I floored the gas pedal.
“In 500 feet take a slight right turn toward I630 East,” warned Google.
I figured the “slight right turn” would be obvious. It wasn’t. Ahead of me were 4 lanes of highway all headed somewhat to the right. As those of you who, like me, always pick the grocery line behind the person who wants to pay their $3.87 bill with an out of state check and no ID have already figured out; I picked the wrong lane.
“Recalculating. In one mile take exit 24 and turn left,” said Google, noting my mistake.
I seriously contemplated pointing out my innocence to the computer, as if its bits and bytes cared. I just took the exit. It was troubling that I was the only car doing so. I thought I could just turn back onto the highway, but quickly found that the entrance back onto the highway was closed. In fact, everywhere I looked there were concrete mixers and piles of dirt. The only thing missing was lighting of any kind.
I heard Lee Ann say: “Richard, Let’s get out of here.” When Lee Ann uses my full first name, I know it is serious. I looked around for any type of signage. I saw “Your tax dollars at work”
“You have arrived at your destination,” said Google
“Not unless I was looking for mafia burial sites,” I said, rather sarcastically.
“Searching for mafia bear eyesights,” helpfully interjected SIRI.
I realized we had gotten to this point by listening to computer generated voices that weren’t responding to our needs, but to programming that some engineer in a cubby hole in California had inserted. I finally took a moment to assess the situation myself. It was the first time I had actually done something other than just reacting.
Pushing the pedal to the floor, we proceeded directly east at the same speed as before in our inconspicuous suburban rental minivan. I figured we would either find I45 or Jimmy Hoffa’s resting place. As Google frantically “recalculated” every block and SIRI searched for “mafia bear eyesights” we eventually “zoomed” (“zoom” being a wildly exaggerated description of our actual speeds) onto I45 and down to Houston.
As I thought about how dependent I had become on a smartphone generated voice, I realized I had never consciously decided to place our safety in the incomplete knowledge of some soulless mini computer. I was just following a current cultural norm. I had an inkling that there was an important lesson here somewhere amidst the orange flashing barrels and ominously parked cement mixers, but I didn’t have time to think about it..
Several days later, as I was reading the Christmas Story in Luke and Matthew, I kept returning to the same verse. In Luke 2:19 we read that all who heard the shepherds’ story wondered at it, “but Mary kept all these things and pondered them in her heart.” If there is one thing our culture does not do well, it is “pondering.” We are being taught to react instantly to every text, tweet, email and newsflash. Look no further than this past election to see what confusion and damage can be caused by instantaneous reactions to information, whether true or false. To compound the problem, we now start formulating our response before the message is even complete. Truth doesn’t matter. Winning the argument is what counts.
As I further pondered, I was reminded of the important part that thoughtful listening played in the Christmas story. Joseph was told in a dream about the impending birth of the Christ child and agreed to proceed with his marriage to a pregnant Mary. The angel Gabriel told Mary that she was going to conceive the Son of God by the Holy Spirit. Mary’s cousin Elizabeth proclaimed the holy birth to come when she saw Mary. Her husband Zechariah, who was mute, suddenly began prophesying when his son, John was born and many listened. The shepherds on the hillside were told by a host of angels about the importance of the birth, and they responded. The Wise Men heard about the birth as well and began quite a journey. Joseph, Mary and Jesus escaped to Egypt because they were told in a dream to get out. The Wise Men also were told to go home by another way and obeyed.
The difference between my situation and the Christmas Story, apart from one dealing with the salvation of mankind for all eternity and one dealing with the earth-shatteringly important issue of finding I45? Obviously the source of the voice and the unwavering truth of the content; but also the far superior listening skill set. In a time before radio, video, internet and blue tooth, listening was a skill based upon thoughtful discernment. It also required the listener to invest and respond to the message. Unlike today, the listener could not record the message, or pull it up on YouTube. In a time when many were illiterate, the verbal message was the manner in which most important information was conveyed. Much of history was passed down as oral tradition. People walked for miles to hear Jesus give a sermon. People listened and pondered.
Today? We listen, read and exercise at the same time. We listen to multiple sources at once. We half-heartedly listen until we hear something that interests us. There is so much media to consume that we inhale it in vast amounts at once, valuing it very little. We are loathe to expend effort or time to process. Our discernment skills barely exist anymore. We have stopped screening the validity of the messengers and just started listening to the loudest and most insistent. Our smart technology has dumbed us down.
How about you? Are you hearing a lot of information, advice and “wisdom” from voices that are not motivated by your well being? Is God trying to reach you with an important message that is lost in the cacophony of every day life? Are you too busy hearing to listen? Is Jesus calling to you to comfort, uphold or sustain you while you miss his message? When is the last time you heard something and actually thought about it for a while? Christmas is a time when God spoke very powerfully to mankind in word and deed about his love for us all. He also gave us a record of His love and wisdom in that Bible on your shelf. Could this be the Christmas you take it down, open it up, read it and ponder God’s message to you? It will change your perspective and still your soul.
By the way, like the Wise Men, I finally pondered our trip experience, and we went home by a different way.
Merry Christmas to all of you dear friends and members of our HCA community!
Who We Are in the Christian School Community:
Heritage Christian Academy is a Pre-K through 12th grade Christian school with campuses in both Olathe and Overland Park, Kansas. We realize that there are many good options in Olathe/Overland Park for Christian school education. But, as the above post articulates, our passion is teaching our students from a Christian worldview. We have been given the greatest gift of mankind in the person of Jesus and want to share that with our children.
If you are interested in learning more about our school and teachers who are passionate about making sure our students know “the Reason for the Season,” please visit our website www.whyswitch2hca.com. There you will find further information, videos and facts that enable you to make an educated decision about whether our Christian school is right for you.
To visit our full school site, go to www.hcakc.org.