On Sunday, I left St. James, Dallas, as they were locking the doors. I unlocked my car and tossed my backpack onto the passenger’s seat when I realized: I had left my vestments inside the church. Since the doors were locked, I tried to phone the rector to let me in, but just then someone exited and I scurried past before the doors closed again. Later I realized I had left my sermon there also, but that didn’t matter: the file is on my computer.
The previous day I had visited my podiatrist—an amazing doctor, recommended to me several years ago by a couple of serious runners amongst our clergy. (If you ever need a podiatrist, I’m glad to recommend him.) He figured out my new problem and made adjustments to my orthotics. Then, sitting in my car and about to drive away, I saw him coming out the door: I had left my extra pair of shoes behind.
Earlier in the week I had flown into Dallas Love Field. The Lyft was quick to arrive, the car clean and sporty, the driver a young Brazilian fellow between other jobs. Apologizing for the racquets in his trunk, he explained he plays tennis. He was friendly, a safe driver with interesting talk—just what one wants in a ride home from the airport. Once he had discharged me at my apartment complex, I went in to retrieve a package. I put my hand into my pocket to get the code—and there was no phone there. I had left it in the car. No more than five minutes had passed, but he was long gone.
Reader, you see the pattern. It raises the question: Is Father Austin losing his mind?
To lose a printout is no problem: one can always print it again. To lose shoes or vestments is different: that is to lose physical objects, material things in the world. They can be replaced, but only with some difficulty, because they are the products of craftsmanship and skill with real stuff in the real world.
To lose a smartphone, however, is both of these. It is to lose a physical object of deep intricacy, a material thing that connects the world of things with the virtual world of data and such. I wouldn’t say I lost my mind, but I did lose my brain, or something so close that it has become an extension of my brain.
I wrote a few weeks ago about the Kafkaesque character of modern reality. Do you know, if you leave something in a car, Lyft’s response is to use their app to contact them? That’s what I found online once I was home with my laptop. So, I go to the Lyft website, and discover that the only way to access my account is for me to enter a code that they will send . . . to my phone! There is a form you can fill out if you leave something in a Lyft, but on that form you must enter . . . your phone number!
Eventually I realized they wanted the phone number not in order to contact me but to identify me. Okay. And it worked out: in an hour I had an email from the driver, who told me he had my phone; a couple of hours later he brought it by for me. All was well.
But let me linger for a bit with those three hours in between. Without a phone I could not make phone calls. (Duh.) I could not access a multitude of apps. My steps were not being counted. I started thinking through the deep complications of being severed from constant connection with the virtual world. It was nothing more than going back about ten years in time. And yet I felt isolated, vulnerable, unclothed even. So much of the world assumes you have a smartphone.
And here’s the truth: for a few minutes I hoped the phone was really lost. I thought: I’d like to live free of this thing.
I thought: I’d like to get my own brain back.
On the Web. In his blog, “The Path Before Us,” the wonderfully triply-named Matthew Lee Anderson notes the creation of the first synthetic human embryo, with respect to which he recommends (as do I) a piece he wrote three years ago: https://www.thepublicdiscourse.com/2020/08/70313/ . “People of faith have a responsibility to keep alive the memory of a world in which children are received as gifts from God.”
Out & About. This Sunday, June 25, I am preaching at St. Matthew’s Cathedral, Dallas, at 9 and 11:15 a.m. This will be my first sermon there in my new role as Cathedral Theologian-in-residence.
I hope you have noted the date (and are enjoying the book): The “Good Books & Good Talk” seminar will have its first fall meeting at St. Matthew’s (a new location) on Sunday, September 10, from 5 to 6:30 p.m. The book is The Index of Self-Destructive Acts, the most recent novel from the remarkable Christopher Beha.