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Students at commencement

Ministry in Context

Fighting F.O.M.O.

We did a lot of baptisms at the church where I was serving in October 1987. Although we discouraged the practice, there would often be a little honorarium for the pastor after the service. The one I got on October 25 knocked my socks off: tickets to the 7th game of the World Series to be played that night at the Metrodome, matching the Minnesota Twins with the St. Louis Cardinals. After extensive discussion at home, agreement was reached that my son would accompany me to the game.

There we were, seated down the 3rd base line, lower deck, for the 7th game of the World Series. As a lifelong baseball fan, being at a 7th game was like being invited to a private meeting with the president of the United States, something that happens only in dreams. The Dome was packed. The crowd's excitement was at fever pitch from the time the first batter stepped to the plate. Fans were regularly screaming and on their feet throughout the game.

Except for a woman seated directly in front of us. She had a briefcase full of work with her. In that pre-laptop era she set up a little desk on her lap, pulled out spreadsheets and a calculator, and went to work.  She rarely bothered to look up at the game. When the crowd screamed, she was silent. When fans stood, she remained sitting. When the Twins won the game and we all stood yelling and high-fiving each other, she simply packed up her briefcase.

She annoyed me. A person is not legally required to love baseball (although in Minnesota, a state enamored with the idea of governing by constitutional amendment, we might yet see an amendment to that effect). Obviously the 7th game meant nothing to her. She was present but refused to pay attention to the event taking place right in front of her. To her, the numbers on those papers, the expectations of some job somewhere, were much more important than the game. She was missing out.

Social observers today write about the phenomenon of F.O.M.O. (Fear Of Missing Out), the compulsion of thoroughly modern 21st century people to be constantly connected to "their network" and get updates instantly to make sure that they are not missing out on anything that is happening around them. I think of those irritating folks I have been seeing in TV commercials who have the latest in 4G telephones and are able to put down their friends with "That's so 12 seconds ago." As if having a hyper-speedy phone made you some better kind of person. I think of people I saw at our neighborhood park last summer, adults with their ears or noses buried in their telephones while their children played and cried out for attention. I think of a couple I saw in a restaurant recently. Both were texting and sending email throughout the meal; no time to talk to each other.

They are all like the woman in front of me at the 7th game. What was/is elsewhere seems much more important than what really is actually in front of us at the moment.

It seems to me that we as pastors and interns have a responsibility to be more attentive and in the moment; we have a responsibility to give our full and undivided attention to the people in front of us at the time. People are properly looking for us to be fully present with them, not distracted by what might be happening somewhere else. The irony is that this "Fear Of Missing Out," that leads us to be perpetually connected to our network, can easily cause us to miss out on what is happening in front of us right now. And that is really something to be afraid of.

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