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Picking up the phone

| Monday, April 4, 2016

Although the show originally premiered in 2007, I have recently been catching up on AMC’s television series, “Mad Men.” Through the workings of the Sterling Cooper advertising agency, the show offers a glimpse of life in the 1960s. By extension, it invites us to see how life has changed — and what has stayed the same.

The show is rich thematically, but there’s something much simpler that has caught my eye — old telephone designs.

Although I was familiar with these designs — mostly through pictures and Turner Classic Movies — I still felt a novelty each time I saw one used in the show. Let me pause to offer a brief refresher.

A quick examination of the phone reveals a receiver that contains a moveable disk with openings for each of the digits. After placing a finger in the opening corresponding to the desired number, the caller then drags a finger to move the disk completely to the right and register the number. The disk then slides back to its original position and the process repeats until the caller has completed the dial.

This phone was truly a far cry from the modern smartphone. Back then, modern “assistants” like Apple’s “Siri” or Microsoft’s “Cortana” looked much more like the local telephone operator. And, the best bet at caller ID was to have someone answer the phone for you.

Not only that, but people actually answered the telephone. Although it took me about two seasons to get used to it, I did eventually come to realize that it is entirely possible to communicate well without email, texting and social media. Moreover, I am willing to bet that people answered the telephone more then than we do now.

I stand especially convicted, because I am really bad at picking up the phone. I do it for work, mostly because it’s a professional responsibility. But a personal phone call? That’s a lot more difficult, especially when I have had a long day.

For me, a lot happens in the couple seconds that follow an unexpected ring. First, I immediately check the number and caller ID. Who is calling? An immediate family member? Close friend? Someone I haven’t talked to in awhile? In the span of a short amount of time, I’ll calculate the perceived urgency and possible duration of the call. In a great majority of instances, I think to myself, “If it’s important, they’ll leave a voicemail.”

A couple weeks ago, I experienced my first accident. I was very glad to learn my dad doesn’t follow this practice.

Although the accident was minor, I was startled. In the span of pulling off the road and exchanging information, my head was whirling as I tried to recall the proper accident procedures I had learned and seen others follow many times before.

My mind, however, was coming up blank. I quickly realized that I would benefit from a little guidance and advice.

So I picked up the phone and called my dad, whom I knew was seasoned in handling these sorts of matters. He picked up on the second ring.

Not only did he stop what he was doing to talk me through the immediate steps at the scene, but he put much of his own work on hold the following week too as I peppered him with phone calls, questions and doubts about insurance and repairs. He patiently and reassuringly guided me through each of the subsequent steps that followed.

Not once did I have to leave a voicemail.

My dad didn’t have to answer that initial phone call. He did not need to spend so much time helping me the following week. There was certainly not anything particularly fun or enjoyable about the process. Yet he did. For him, love meant picking up the telephone.

Life since college has been filled with moments like these, moments where I have realized that I still have much to learn. Just when I think I’m too busy, or I have too much going on, there are people like my dad who teach me what it means to see clearly and to love selflessly.

In all the years I have been in theology and ministry, I have continually searched for academic insights about these very topics. Yet God has shown me clear answers in other areas, sometimes as clear as the other end of a telephone line.

What truths might be calling to us? Are we receiving those truths or choosing to send them to voicemail, putting them off for other days? As Meredith Wilson wrote in “The Music Man:” “Pile up enough tomorrows, and you’ll find you are left with nothing but a lot of empty yesterdays.”

Fortunately, we have a God who calls and promises to walk with us into truth. May we have the courage and the confidence to answer our truths (and others) in the present knowing he is with us.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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