We should maintain that if an interpretation of any word in any religion leads to disharmony and does not positively further the welfare of the many, then such an interpretation is to be regarded as wrong; that is, against the will of God, or as the working of Satan or Mara.

Buddhadasa Bikkhu, a Thai Buddhist Monk

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Birth of the Remote Control

1st wireless remote (from the Detroit Free Press)
Miami Herald columnist Leonard Pitts recently published a column entitled, "The remote control that revolutionized our ‘fat assets’," which was published under other titles by other papers, such as, "Leonard Pitts Jr.: TVs and sofas, never the same again," in the Detroit Free Press and, "A Tribute – By Remote Control" in the Yankton Press & Dakotan.  The man who invented the TV remote, Eugene  Polley, died at the age of 96 on May 20th, and Pitts column partly pays tribute to Polley and his invention and partly laments the fact that the TV remote was ever invented.  Pitts recalls the old days of the 1950s when TV watchers had to get up and go to the set to change channels—or send one of their kids to do it (children being the original TV remote).

 It is easy to see how the wireless remote, which is now used for all sorts of things, can be a metaphor for the benefits and evils of technological society.  It singlehandedly created generations of couch potatoes, thus contributing to the obesity epidemic sweeping the globe.  On the other hand, the TV remote is a key element in the TV revolution that to a degree has put the world at our fingertips.

The deeper lesson is equally easy to see.  We have an uncanny ability to turn the good things we invent and discover to unhappy purposes.  TV remotes are two-edged swords, and so is just about everything else that we consider good.

And the theological point is just about as obvious.  The central fact of our lives is that God's creation of us remains unfinished.  We are a "work in progress" and as such have a long way to go before we see the Kingdom.  The story line of the Bible is the way in which God (wearing the mask of the Spirit) wrestles with us, works on us, and seeks to herd us toward the future, a task that is far, far worse than trying to herd cats.

Actually, the TV remote is a good sermon illustration, one well worth using for that purpose.  Amen.