I Don’t Want to Brag, But…

It was Boasting Paul the end of last week at Mass. “Since many boast according to the flesh,” Paul wrote the Corinthians in Friday’s first reading, “I too will boast.” He’s all apologetic about it, excusing himself for “speaking in foolishness” like an “insane person,” but he goes at it with relish. Beatings, shipwrecks, imprisonments, and persecutions of every kind. Sure, as we heard on Saturday, he could also boast of spiritual highs, but they were tempered by a “thorn in the flesh” that Paul received to keep him from becoming “too elated.”

All those hardships and suffering were for the “sake of Christ,” Paul assures us, and “when I am weak, then I am strong.” Sure, sure, I get that. But it was the boasting that was rattling around my head when I stopped by the bank Saturday morning. In the course of my exchange with the bank teller, I casually mentioned that I don’t text.

“No?” she asked.

“Nope,” I happily boasted. “No texting, no i-gizmo. I have a flip phone, but it’s in my glove compartment.”

Then I waited for the payoff. “That’s great. You’re lucky.”

That’s pretty much the response I get every time I brag about my self-imposed digital deprivation, and I have to confess that I love it every time. To top it off, as I was leaving the bank’s parking lot on Saturday morning, I caught Kai Ryssdal on NPR’s “Marketplace” saying something about downloading podcasts or some such, and I sighed with great satisfaction. I’ve never downloaded a podcast in my life – or an app, or anything else on one of those pocket-sized computers. I’m blissfully unaware of how that whole portable cyber-realm operates, and I’ve no interest in getting up to speed.

The reason relates to Paul’s boasts of weakness. “According to a 2017 study from the Pew Research Center,” writes former app addict Liz Zarka, “46 percent of smartphone owners said they couldn’t live without their phones, and research centers report that the average cell phone user touches their device about 2,617 times a day.” I have addiction problems in my family tree, and I saw red flags waving all over the place when cell phones and their smart descendants started appearing everywhere. Total abstinence seemed the safest route for me, and I’ve not seen any evidence that I erred in that assessment.

So, yes, I’ll happily boast to you about my freedom from cellular serfdom, but it’s a boast with no judgment, no self-righteous edge. It’s a confession, really: I’m weak. Going without a smart device is a link to some kind of strength.
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