GPS

Generic GPS navigation system device (3d illustration)

Twenty-fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time

I like new technology. I love that it challenges me to imagine something amazing and beautiful, or it inspires me to re-imagine what’s good, what works, so that it is even more amazing and more beautiful. Sometimes I might hesitate, mainly because I can’t figure out a clear path to amazing and beautiful. But that doesn’t mean if I can’t find the path, no one else will. Because if you can, I say go for it.

I prefer to go slow sometimes. So I still play an acoustic steel string guitar. I empty my pockets of change into a jar at the end of the day. I ride a mountain bike. I own a half dozen kites I will fly on a windy day. And I own George R. R. Martin’s bestselling series “A Song of Fire and Ice” in hardcover. But I also use a digital SLR camera. I drive a hybrid. And I own a smartphone. I do not have a Twitter account. I still don’t see the upside. I don’t play videogames. They give me a headache. I’ve blogged on WordPress for 4 years, and I get my daily paper on my iPad. I will still occasionally send a hand-written thank you note using a stamp. But I probably send text messages more than I talk on the phone. I very seldom watch anything on TV in real time, now that Tivo and Hulu+ give me a lot more flexibility. I’m shopping online on Cyber Monday more than in real stores the day after Thanksgiving. But I will hit the outlets in Williamsburg on the way to my parents. And when driving long distances, I play music really loud in my car, and conduct the New York Philharmonic in wide sweeping gestures (when the light is red). The music comes from my iPod, but it feels like Radio City Music Hall. I can think of a few things more awesome. And for the record, I have no fear robots will rule the world one day.

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I still believe that one of the marvels of modern technology is GPS—the Global Positioning System. I don’t like asking for directions, so that’s good. But the most useful feature on my GPS device is perhaps also the most annoying. This feature kicks in only when I do not do what it tells me. “Make a legal U-turn … Recalculating.” The machine will automatically adjust to accommodate my inability to follow directions or my choice to ignore them. I just wish it would lose the attitude when it tells me I missed a turn. It doesn’t go, “That’s okay. Just turn at the next light. It’ll be fine.” Instead, it comes in just one setting—condescending and annoying.

Then I wondered if such a feature existed to help me with my Christian life, you know, some kind of Gospel Positioning System, so that I can live intentionally by the values that Jesus lived and taught. And whenever I miss a turn, it would help me get back on track, preferably without being condescending and annoying. “Make a legal U-turn … Recalculating.” If someone can create that technology … On second thought, such a feature already exists actually. It lets me know deep down ever so subtly that I’ve not made the best choice. It is only condescending and annoying when I choose to ignore it. Maybe if it spoke with a British accent, I’d pay more attention. Unfortunately, it sounds more like mom.

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The passage from the book of Amos is a warning for when we are motivated by greed and selfishness. We know better. Most people know better as well. Or at least their parents and families should have taught them better. We are familiar with the ten commandments, and that some things are not pleasing to God. Yet we don’t always do what we know. We look for loopholes. We make excuses. We find ways to avoid doing what’s right because it’s hard. We are motivated by greed, and power, and popularity. We default to the path of least resistance. We don’t always put our best effort forward. Instead, we sometimes work to be considered “average” when we have what it takes to be “excellent.” Why is that?

I’m not sure if Jesus was actually praising the steward in the parable for being dishonest; or was he purposely being sarcastic? It seems the master of the corrupt steward was impressed by his warped reasoning, seeing his options come down to either begging or digging ditches. The steward was plainly more creative and inspired in his attempts to avoid the inconvenience of being fired, than he was in improving his chances at remaining employed! Was this the last straw for his master? Had he been asked to get his act together before, but didn’t take the warning seriously? Parents, teachers, and employers will sometimes encounter this pattern of thinking. Why are some people more inspired for selfish reasons than for virtue? Are they not conscious of their higher purpose, their dignity as children of God, their role in building up the Body of Christ, their share in the life of grace? Is it asking too much that we make some effort to live up to our baptismal promises, to keep God’s commandments, to strive for the gifts of the Holy Spirit? What it comes down to is, who are we working for? Are we working for God, or are we working for someone else?

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Congress is poised for yet another bruising fight over government funding and raising the debt ceiling. I don’t know all the gory details, but I understand that it is customary to play the game of brinkmanship, so everyone will dig in their heels, and nothing gets done, and the most vulnerable suffer. Would we get better results if we put more energy into looking after the welfare of others, than just trying to help ourselves? Is the Gospel challenging us to do one thing, and we choose instead to do another … usually something not as difficult or demanding? Why is that?

Pope Francis has been making the news lately because of his more conciliatory tone, what seems to be his grand outreach to those on the fringes of Catholicism, telling the people we have traditionally cast aside as irrelevant that the church has something to offer. It seems when we have a narrow focus, we speak only to those who are already in. And we find more ways to annoy those who want to be faithful, but struggle to do better. So if the church is intent at reaching out to all people because God “wills everyone to be saved and to come to knowledge of the truth” (as Paul writes to Timothy), then we need to put more creative effort into inspiring Christians to live their witness of faith with more conviction and joy. Beating people into conformity is no longer an effective strategy. I’m not sure it ever was. We have to find a better way. Maybe we can put some of that new technology to use. Maybe there’s an app to help us make better choices, more consistent with the values of the Gospel. Maybe we can find a way to help others live their faith in ways less condescending and annoying. Maybe we need to work on our British accent. Maybe …

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Rolo B Castillo © 2013