Bag phones and other humiliation


It was 1992 during an environmental law lecture for graduate students that a first occurred for the instructor and the majority of students present. A bag phone ringer went off in the middle of the lecture period. Offended to have his class interrupted in such a careless manner, the instructor halted the lecture and unceremoniously strode up the stairs and out the back doors while muttering, “Well, that’s a first.” It represented homage to the quickly expanding age of electronic communication and an affront to those holding ground against a rising tide of change.

It soon progressed beyond minor infractions of lecture propriety to a flood of laptops supplanting the art of hand-written outlines and notes. Of continuing irritation was the size and obtrusiveness of personal computers which were just beginning to hit their stride. They ushered
in a whole new set of parameters including the provision of enough outlets in a lecture hall to power a small city.

If oversized classroom laptops constituted the first salvo, subsequent damage centered on noise within the classroom. Long before choices of touch and tech were available for laptop keyboards, lecture hall turnouts usually found noisy laptops banished to the back of the hall so
that respectful students could remain traditionally forward. The noise issue remained an item of contention until a variety of less obnoxious options became available.

Fast forward to present day where choices are broad and plentiful. Popular picks include traditional keyboards, no touch laser projections, and gaming options. I would never make it out of the back rows of the 90s lecture hall. I like my keyboard ‘clicky’ and responsive, with an
undeniable mechanical feel when keys are rapidly pressed. Having experimented, I now refuse to give up the brilliant backlighting or the current color choice of yellow-green neon.

Once we view and experience the myriad of keyboard possibilities, we are reminded of how bound we are to traditions, even those more recently associated with rather modest emerging technologies. Without exploring or asking questions, or learning to become more astute observers, it is easy to fall prey to believing there is only one way, one experience, one solution. Concerns are further compounded by leadership that reinforces sameness in our approach to faith. Who will, after all, risk challenging the hierarchy of the church itself?

Someone did. His name was Jesus and he unabashedly remained steadfast while encountering unyielding tradition that at times caused more harm than good. Not all tradition is destructive. We value and welcome customs of faith on many levels. What are we to make, however, of movements that color tradition in ways unfamiliar? Shall we arbitrarily dismiss them? We cannot. To declare sole possession of truth is to deny humanity. It sounds safe but black and white is always easier than working with shades of gray.

Expanding understandings of faith is preferable to narrowing, then dismissing, hosts of other believers. We can only offer what we know and listen carefully and critically to what we don’t. Some acknowledge that there are many truths but only one God. Are we willing to explore those truths as part of our religious quest? We might be exiled to the back of the lecture hall for a time, but we should come out of it with a keener sense of our role in the divine dance.
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