Spiritually Speaking

Question: We’ve attended the same church for 18 years. This past Sunday, we sat behind a couple and their two teenagers. Although they weren’t bothering anyone, the teens were both looking at their phones and texting for most of the service. Although we didn’t say anything, our thinking is this behavior is an insult to the pastor and others who are helping with the service. We also don’t understand why the parents didn’t tell the kids to put away their phones and pay attention. What do you think? ~ Old-fashioned

Dear Old-fashioned,

Yes, I have some opinions on this.

First you’ve said: “Our thinking is this behavior is an insult to the pastor and others who are helping with the service.” It really is. As a preacher myself, I can tell you that preaching to people who are on their cellphones is a lot like preaching to people who are busy reading the newspaper during my sermon.

But beyond simple etiquette, the overall problem is this: The very most exciting aspect of any church service is the possibility of hearing God’s voice … not that we have to hear an audible voice, yet that is often the case through prayers, sermons and hymns/songs. We tell God we are not available to hear Him when we’re busy texting someone else during the time we’re supposed to devote to Him. Who knows what God will say? It’s exciting!

Sadly, these days God often gets a busy signal when he seeks to dialogue with our hearts in worship.

Second, you’ve said you don’t understand these parents. I don’t either. I suspect that cellphone manners are the next great social frontier to conquer in our culture. It’s terrible everywhere. But these parents have done something right.

Third, never presume that it is your job to criticize a fellow worshiper’s parenting. I have great hope in today’s teenagers. I’m so glad they’re in church. They do indeed need to put their phones down and ask God to speak to them in this holy moment. I mention this occasionally to my congregation. Perhaps your pastor needs to say it, too. But now you’re being distracted by teenagers in church who aren’t bothering anyone. My advice would be to lift your gaze, metaphorically speaking, and be in communion with the Almighty yourselves so that the behavior of fellow worshippers matters to you less and God’s voice matters more.

Rev. Jon T. Karn


Dear Old-fashioned,

A recent Gallup poll reports that church attendance in America is at a record low of only 47% as compared to 79% in 1999. They claim that this is because most people nowadays don’t have any specific religious beliefs and aren’t participating in organized religious communities. While the data shows that our youth are not being guided toward religion by their parents, it does not show that our youth are without a sense of spirituality. More than ever, the youth of today actually want, and need, a community of unconditional loving acceptance and support. As a minister, and a mom, I understand how hard it is to get teens out the door in the morning – especially on a Sunday! I applaud the skills of those parents you don’t seem to approve of.

Yes, their teens were texting during the service but, back in my day, we would have been mindlessly staring out the window and drawing pictures on all of the offering envelopes! Like it or not, no one can be forced to pay attention. However, people of all ages do pay attention when something interesting is going on. Be aware that our teens today are technological wizards. While they are texting, they are listening to music, doing homework and ordering a pair of shoes online. I feel certain that they can also listen to the pastor’s message if it grabs their attention.

No one needs to take offense here. Your pastor can see this as a great opportunity to become more engaging and to make the changes needed in order to embrace the job of growing a younger congregation. If not, the data shows that your existing church membership will continue to age, shrink and eventually die off. This is already happening all over America. This family may be searching for a warm and welcoming community to be part of. Did you or your pastor encourage the family and their teens to come back to your church?

I am really wondering why you chose to say nothing to them at all.

Negativity can be felt without a single word being spoken and it would be sad if your silent judgment kept them from coming back. Ask yourself what Jesus would have done in that situation. I believe he would have welcomed them with open arms, played a game with them on their phones, listened to their thoughts about church and asked what he could do to make it better. In Matthew 7, the Bible says, “Judge not, lest ye be judged.” It’s so easy to criticize someone else’s parenting but why not choose to be grateful that they came to your church as a family when in our society so many parents and teens are disconnected? Why not start a teen group or host a spiritual movie night for families? Open the doors and windows of your church and let the stuffiness out. Embrace the inevitable winds of change and do your best to shine the love of God on everyone you meet, whatever their age, and even if they happen to be texting. 

Rev. Karen Mitchell


Question: I have friends on both sides of the political aisle. My thinking is that everyone is entitled to his or her opinion. I pretty much stay out of political discussions unless I’m with an acquaintance who is like-minded as to my way of thinking.

My problem is that since the latest Supreme Courts decisions, so many folks want to talk about, argue or debate the issues. Some of them are “fishing” for my opinions on these issues and I refuse to engage. The last conversation I had with a person I know and respect became rather heated because I told him, “Let’s talk about something else.” He walked away in a huff. I don’t feel I owe him an apology and the way I’m looking at it is now the ball is in his court. Is there a way to handle difficult conversations without causing problems? Perhaps I was too abrupt? – Peace Loving Guy


Dear Peace Loving Guy,

I admire your choice of diversity of political affiliations in friendships. I too made a point over the years of finding areas of common ground with people of different political views. My secular humanist belief structure focuses on recognizing the good in people. Despite my very strong personal political views I attempted to avoid issues with conflict. That became increasingly difficult the past few years as violence and extremist activity became more prevalent. I agree everyone is entitled to their opinion but when a friend’s opinion disregards facts, I feel compelled to speak up.

Recent Supreme Court decisions have reversed what has been thought of as settled law for decades. With mass shootings continuing to occur, relaxing concealed carry laws worries people. Many consider the reversal of Roe vs. Wade to violate the separation of church and state. The decision is not in accordance with the will of majority the American people per several polls. Hampering the EPA costs lives with increasing global warming due to fossil fuel extraction and use. It is understandable that many want to discuss all this. Bad situations rarely get better when ignored.

The public debate of issues is the hallmark of our democratic republic. Unless your health would be jeopardized by stressful conversations, I urge you to rethink your policy of non-engagement. Perhaps if you listen to your friends’ thoughts on a controversial issue you’ll be surprised. You may be wrong in your assumptions of who is like-minded. Another advantage of civil discussion is learning how an issue affects others; maybe you haven’t thought of all aspects of a situation. You can always agree to disagree if there is an impasse.

Another positive outcome of describing your views might be that you become more comfortable sharing your opinion.

A poll from the Southern Poverty Law Center came out as we celebrated our nation’s independence that shows over half of Republicans think we’re headed for another civil war. Wouldn’t some uncomfortable exchanges be better than that? If a polite exchange of opposite political views isn’t something you want, you may have to let some friendships go.

Sharon Weisman WEB 0505

Sharon Weisman


Dear Peace Loving Guy,

I don’t think you are alone in your feelings about this. My sainted Irish grandmother once advised me never to talk politics, religion or nationality at the dinner table. As I have gotten older, I recognize the soundness of her advice. Indeed, I have heard many say we seem to be living in a world that has recently gone inexplicably insane, where it is dangerous to express your opinions for personal safety reasons. We find ourselves facing, at times, people with inflexible and polarizing belief systems who seem to be willing to fight and harm others for not having or sharing their same values or beliefs. Regrettably, this intolerance promotes and feeds further conflict, destroys social stability and national unity, undermines and tears apart the social fabric and erodes peace and civility in society in general. Further limiting dialog, I have even found myself discontinuing a conversation with someone of the same viewpoint because I find the subject so upsetting. On the one hand, it is perfectly acceptable to protect your safety and peace of mind by choosing not to engage someone with the same, or differing, beliefs or points of view in order to avoid unnecessary upset or conflict, especially when it feels there is no common ground to be found or solution to be had. The art is in knowing what is necessary and when.

So what do I mean? The renowned Argentinian poet Jorge Luis Borges once made the profound statement, “All real learning comes from dialog.” A civil, informed and respectful dialog with a willingness to adjust our thinking, or to compromise for the greater good and benefit, is at the core of a successful democracy. In other words, an open and constructive dialog amongst all citizens is crucial for the survival of democracy. The Founding Fathers recognized this and it is why they enshrined the right to free speech, and a free press to both expand and protect free speech. As in anything, fear (and the intolerance born out of fear) kills all possibility for good when we become afraid to talk to or with one another and when we hesitate to speak truth to fear. We give power to the fear or the fear monger and to the darkness and deception they are promulgating.

So what should we do? In 1935, a noted logician and economist, William J. Reilly (no relation or association with the former Fox host), once astutely observed: “Anything that you believe because you were born into a certain family, city, state or nation and are identified with certain economic, political, educational, social, business or religious institution is a prejudice and open to question.” I can tell you as a young divinity student I was highly offended by his statement and all that it implied about my belief system at the time. Now I see its wisdom; so much that passes or is held up as truth in both religion and society is often nothing more than a belief or opinion of another. So much “so-called” truth often ends up being nothing more than we what we choose it to be and/or choose to consent to, often without fully grasping or being fully aware of the implications of that choice. Why? Because, at the heart of it, we are all born into ignorance and the discovery of what is really real or true is often beyond our individual ability.

Furthermore, let us not forget that all anger comes out of fear and all fear comes out of ignorance. Anger, fear and ignorance are the trinity of evil as well as its sole cause. This being the case, it seems the true test of our own personal moral and spiritual character is whether we choose (knowingly or unknowingly) anarchy, anger, intolerance or evil, or choose to be a good, decent, kind and honest human being to both others and our self, always working for the uplift and further enlightenment of humanity over the darkness of anger, fear, ignorance and deception, with its resulting tyranny over the human mind, spirit or body if that tyranny manifests as religious, political or commercial. In all these instances, a humble and kind spirit, with an open mind and reasoned voice, must be heard … in spite of the confusion, uncertainty and threat to oneself that fear seems to present.

In conclusion, the Christophers have a wonderful saying: “It is better to light one candle than to curse the darkness.” Be that light when you determine that it is truly needed or required.

Anthony Kelson, RScP