ON CALLER ID AND THE IDOLATRY OF CONTROL

I’ve been thinking about Caller ID, this wonderful technological marvel that allows us to see who is calling us before we need to hear who is calling us. To be true, there are some very real, vital benefits that can come from this advancement in call screening (allowing people who really do need to avoid speaking to someone to avoid speaking to someone), however I think, by and large, it speaks to a larger issue in our lives… namely, our compulsive need to control.

 Much (read: all) of our technological advances seem to fall under the category of feeding our need to control – cars allow us to control our mobility, air conditioners our control of the temperature, toasters with 9 options for degrees of toast allow us to control exactly how much browning our bread will endure. So Caller ID is hardly unique, but it does stand out from the previous examples due to its area of control being related to other people. Helping us control whether or not we will engage with another person. Giving us the ability to engage now, not at all, or later on our terms, when we have retreated and readied ourselves for what may come with the call.

 It is an unnerving moment when, sitting across from someone who receives a call, we watch them pick up the phone, register the name (and potential photo) on the screen, make a face, and place the phone down unanswered… it is unnerving because we know that the next time this person misses one of our calls we have to wonder… what kind of face did they make for me?

But this need to control extends beyond technology (or rather technology is merely one avenue by which we seek to execute our need to control). The need reaches out to our relationships, our time management (the concept itself is further evidence for this hypothesis), and our faith.

 I only wish to address this last point now (and even then I only want to grant it a preliminarily glance).

 It is interesting to think of us trying to control a call. For those of us who profess to follow Jesus, we are people of the call, people who have responded to the call, and importantly, responded to a call without knowing what it will bring (without really knowing who/what it is that calls). There is no Caller ID when responding to the call of faith, otherwise it wouldn’t be faith – the call to love, to extend hospitality, to offer forgiveness, to practise non-violence (in short: the call to follow Christ) is answered in faith, never knowing (nay, yielding the ability to know) what we are being called into (all those things can lead to death, they did for Jesus after all). The problem is so many of us try and exert control over this call, over our faith (and its outcomes) (fearing not that it would lead as into death, so much as it would drag us into life, into other people’s lives). This, at its core, is impossible, for how can we control that which must, by its nature, be beyond us? 

 Moses had no idea where his call would lead him, (he may not have answered if he had). And when asking for the ID of his caller, Moses received only an enigmatic verb, rather than a noun (authors note: I would like you all to enter me into your phone as verb rather than my proper noun name, the verb is up to you). So much of our doctrines, dogma, places and programs seem designed to remove the risk, to give us control – over caller and call.

 Loving those who are loveable; extending hospitality to those we know, trust, enjoy, and invite; forgiving what is forgivable; believing that which we have always believed (or our community has always believed) – these are all manifestations of how our need to control (the idolatry of control) has extended over our faith. We must be willing to abandon control, to lay it down. Perhaps first by trying to let go of some of our technology and second by looking at our faith (the material has a way of leading us toward the spiritual). This might mean we need to think about loving those who are a little less loveable, welcoming those who are unwelcome, forgiving that which feels a little more unforgiveable, hoping for some situations that are a little more hopeless, and having a faith with a little more doubt. All this comes as we give ourselves over to the call/caller we cannot see, which we cannot control or plan for, by responding with my favourite phrase from Caputo (and my little mantra for 2015): “viens, oui, oui” (come, yes, yes).