When my phone went rogue

Last night my phone went rogue. It started spelling everything out on the screen. If I pressed anything, it just told me what I’d pressed, rather than doing anything. Swiping didn’t work. Pulling down the menu from the top didn’t work. Pressing the little buttons at the bottom of the screen didn’t work. Finding Settings didn’t work (I couldn’t navigate there).

AI image created by Dall-E, courtesy of Bing Image Creator

Then I found restarting didn’t work. I turned the jolly thing off, and it restarted, unrepentant, unchanged, malicious, spelling out the buttons on my screen with a crazed leering voice. By now I wanted to throw the accursed object across the room. ‘Turn it off’, suggested my wife. ‘Let it settle down and try again in the morning.’

I began to panic. Turn it off? What was she thinking? What if I woke in the night and needed to read some news sites? Or my interlinear Bible? How can I manage a whole night? Nor would just turning it off resolve anything. Like a cupboard with festering food, it would still be there, haunting my consciousness. If my phone was having a 2001-‘Dave, I can’t do that’ moment (and I am not called Dave by the way, unlike most people I know), then we needed to get a grip on this here and now.

Emotionally, it was almost as bad as if my wife had told me to calm down.

I got a laptop and started googling, which took a while. I was led to a YouTube video which meant I had to watch an advertisment about taking a holiday. Then someone with an incomprehensible accent did complicated things on a phone that didn’t look much like my own. Hopeless and ridiculous.

Finally. I read that if you press both volume buttons down at once, the phone switches into Talkback mode. It’s an ‘accessibility’ feature. Quite.

But pressing both volume buttons down again makes it all alright. The crazed leering voice departs; the nightmare ends; the phone returns to its compliant, usable self; I could go to bed. Dystopia had summoned me with its bony curling finger; fortunately, this time, I pushed back.

But it was close.

The gift of curiosity

Image by Pexels from Pixabay

I have realized that I hide from people who have too much certainty.

This is largely confined to people with a Christian faith, probably because I hang around with them a lot of the time.

But I have learned to dread them. Like Russian battle tanks, they approach, waving their whatsit, ready to turn their turret on anything that departs from the Doctrines of Grace, ‘the faith once-for-all delivered to the saints’. They’re good at it too, and I feel myself shrivel as they gun for my theological loose thinking.

I think I’ve always felt this dread, so it is unlikely to be a virtue. When I was a young Christian I remember the pastor of my then-church say during a sermon, ‘I was reading C S Lewis recently and I’ve found the error in him.’ Given that their relative intellectual attainments were as different from each other as a sideboard is from a lunch-box, I did not feel this was an especially wise thing to say.

Where is the curiosity? Where is the head-in-shower joy in discovering that you are completely wrong? Where is the zest for learning, and growth, and change? Where — we might add– is the humility, the poverty of spirit? It is not that there isn’t certainty in the Christian faith — there is — it is that people can get carried away and have too much of it, in too many areas, and it isn’t pleasant to see; gracelessly and proudly defending grace.

While all the while, shafts of truth can flash from completely outside the Christian space, or from theologically-dubious people within it, and do us the world of good.

I think of Isaac Newton’s famous quote:

I do not know what I may appear to the world, but to myself I seem to have been only like a boy playing on the sea-shore, and diverting myself in now and then finding a smoother pebble or a prettier shell than ordinary, whilst the great ocean of truth lay all undiscovered before me.

That was Isaac Newton. Meanwhile Russian tanks are proving a bit vulnerable, much better parading around the place than seeing real action.

The light touch(2)

Thinking more about the way we do things in community, and most especially if it’s on you to lead it.

I wrote last week about the subtle, partial, fertile, creative light touch that achieves more than the all-spelt-out, big, heavy, full-throated approach. I think this is because the light touch respects people’s humanity. They can work stuff out for themselves. They don’t need to be infantilized. Dropping seeds into their hearts may at times be more productive – though less predictable – than taking them through the procedure manual.

The more you think about this, though, the more complicated it gets. You need to select the right leadership tool for the job. Here (making it up as I go along) are some.

  1. The routine procedure. Some things are just best approached as procedures to be learnt. They become routine, mechanical memory. For example, the crash team electrocuting the stopped heart, the pilot working through a preflight checklist. Mechanical memory (and its first cousin, tradition) embeds and even automates the proven learning of the past. It saves us having to think, which is exhausting and can be error-strewn or just not as good.
  2. The precision task. Related to the routine procedure, the precision task differs from it because it requires a deep understanding. A checklist won’t do. Somewhere in your head you have to carry a precise working model of the system. Chernobyl exploded when they powered-up a powering-down reactor, without knowing the detail. They thought it probably would be OK, these reactors are safe anyway, leadership was on their back and it was nearly goodbye to Europe. Apollo 13 came home safe because the main actors mastered the detail., and had room to contribute more than just obedience to orders.
  3. The judgement. Sometimes a situation just needs someone to decide even if they have incomplete information. As recipients we may bridle, we may chafe, it will be the wrong decision in small or large ways, but it will have been decided and we can all move on. That is why we elect politicians. They aren’t super-people but we pay them to make the call. Court judgements are like that, elections are like that, Brexit was like that: a poor decision but least a decision. We are spared the agony of not resolving anything. Now we can reset and go again.
  4. The light touch and now here it is again, part of the tool box, ready to be applied, creative, open-ended, unexpected, hated by the control-type, slow, requiring humility and an open hand, but a way to reach unexpected solutions to complex problems. The gospel is like that. Forget the religious clutter, says Paul, it boils down to faith working through love. Work things out from there. May it never be missing from the toolkit.