Monday, August 24, 2009

21st Century Christians? (Part 1)

A number of years ago, I began using a Palm or PDA (Personal Digital Assistant) as an organizer. I have never done well with paper calendars, to-do lists, etc. Neither do I do well with paper files, etc. I have pretty much transitioned all those things to digital formats - my calendar, my address book, my task lists, goals, etc. I can "sync" my PDA with my computer and have everything - my calendar, etc. on both my computer and PDA - with no paper. And I can keep all that information up to date and backed up quite easily. I've often told people who try to give me a piece of paper or document of some kind, "Do you have that on your computer? If so, keep that paper and then send me an email with the document attached." That way I can keep up with it digitally, which works much better for me than paper.

Just a few years ago, I went from using both a cell phone and PDA to using a "smartphone," which is a Palm device that is both a phone and PDA. That way I could enter information into my address book with phone numbers, email addresses, etc. either on my smartphone or computer and it would automatically be in both places. Although I'm a Palm user, people use other types of phone/PDA devices such as Blackberries and the infamous iPhone. These devices have all kinds of software applications or "apps," for everything from GPS to calorie counters, spreadsheets, music players, etc. I also happen to have a couple of astronomy related apps on my PDA.

However, the main extra app I use on my PDA is my Bible program. In fact, it has become the main Bible I use. I have four different translations of the entire Scripture (one with pretty extensive study notes), as well as five different other resources, like Bible commentaries & dictionaries. In addition to that I have a daily reader program, and one that has the Revised Common Lectionary Readings, which I often consult for sermon preparation. I always have my PDA/smartphone with me and use the Bible program on it for devotional readings, references to specific Scriptures, etc. Consequently, I almost never carry around a bound Bible, and rarely open one even in my study (where I have a multitude of copies on my shelf).

Often when I'm preaching or leading a devotional, I'll pull out my device and read away. Most people find it amusing. However, some people object to it. Somehow or another, some folks think a Bible's not really a Bible unless it's contained in a book, and maybe only then if it's a soft leather cover with gilded edges. To think that something like a computer or "phone" could contain the Word of God seems somehow unholy or disrespectful.

I think this is pretty ridiculous. The notion that the text of Scripture has to be welded to a particular method of transmission, rather than spreading the Word, actually becomes a hindrance to it. Otherwise we would never have used a printing press to print books and we'd still be reading Scriptures on papyri or scrolls (Can you picture folks having a holster for their scrolls on their belt?). And while we're at it, we'd better not translate the Scriptures into a more modern vernacular (or language) that everybody understands. Some folks do object to this, and think that we need to use the King James Version, translated in 17th century England. But why approve of that translation? Why not make everyone learn to read Koine Greek, the language in which the New Testament was written (or Hebrew for the Old Testament)? The whole point of any translation is to make the Scripture accessible and intelligible to people. And quibbling about the medium of communication is even more silly. The same words that can be read printed on a page can be read on a screen.

And that's not all. Palm PDA's, computers, iPhones, Blackberries, and cell phones are the very places where we ought to put the Word of God since that's exactly where people live. Putting the Scripture on their PDA's right next to their calorie counters and all the rest can help integrate it into daily life. The Bible ought not to be kept only in one means of transmission that might be outmoded for an increasing number of people.

The important thing is that our lives are shaped by Scripture. And for many (including me), to be able to read it on a device that is always with me provides a way to experience that.