It was a story from The New York Post last spring that I pondered and saved. The headline proclaimed, “City removes last-standing public payphone from NYC street.” The accompanying picture showed the removal of a telephone counter, not the old-fashioned telephone booth in which Superman changed clothes.
It used to be that we entered the booth and closed the door for some privacy. Then we began to use the telephone counter that allowed passersby to listen in if they chose. Now we all have portable phones in pocket or purse that often ring while the pastor is preaching!
I begin funeral services with the admonition for everyone to turn off their phones. One man didn’t listen well since his rang three times while I somberly talked about the reality of death. Last year, a gentleman’s phone rang while I was conducting a graveside service. He answered, “Hello,” instead of shutting it off, so I suppose he thought the call was more important than the few minutes of remembrance.
Someone noted lately that this generation has never heard a busy signal on the phone. I suppose that’s true. We seniors also remember another thing they’ve not heard—the party line with someone having a conversation on our phone!
Another thing we seniors remember is paying 30 cents or 50 cents for long-distance charges. Now we hardly think of distance. A few years ago I called a lady who was on a local denominational committee to share some information, and she told me she was on the slopes of Alaska vacationing with her family. The signal was crystal clear, by the way.
Though I lament seeing people always on their phones, even when dining at a restaurant with their families, I do appreciate the fact that we have instant communication today. A simple phone call or a text can be a great way to stay in touch and share concern. Certainly we should call family members. The late Lewis Grizzard wrote a well-known column: “Call your mother — I wish I could call mine.”
And it’s good that we can use the telephone for Christian ministry.
In the past few years I’ve often asked people if I could offer prayer for them over the phone when an in-person meeting wasn’t possible. Former Chaplain of Bourbon Street Bob Harrington said he did this many years ago and prayed that the operator would listen in and be converted! (Operators? That’s another bygone mystery.)
And I encourage Christians to put a Bible app on their phones so they can read in spare moments or listen to scripture as they drive or do household chores.
Like most other gifts, the cellphone can be used wisely or unwisely.
“Reflections” is a weekly faith column written by Michael J. Brooks, pastor of the Siluria Baptist Church in Alabaster. The church’s website is siluriabaptist.com.