Fellow Passengers: This week’s Pastoral Passage* (I Corinthians 2) transports me to the days of my childhood when I got to accompany my dad, a specialist in electronics, on his jobs to various and sundry churches large and small to repair electronic organs. I carried the toolboxes and fetched tools, such as the often-used red-handled socket. One of his toolboxes contained a hodgepodge of vacuum tubes, organized in no particular order, meaning I had to hunt through the box looking for the particular tube needed for a Hammond B-3 on the blink. In the larger churches, the Hammonds had given way to Allens and Rogers organs, with transistors instead of tubes, which meant I got to fetch the soldering iron and hold the solder as it melted, something I loved to do. Daddy tried unsuccessfully to explain the technology to me; he was fascinated by the engineering genius that had figured out how to get hundreds of components – diodes and rectifiers and capacitors – onto a small circuit board. Little did he know what was going on in the labs of Texas Instruments, where Jack Kilby was inventing something that would soon replace the old transistor technology. Kilby, in the summer of 1959, brought the first integrated circuit, aka computer chip, into the semiconductor lab of TI to show his colleagues, and a new world was born, a world that would soon have little need for the expertise of electronics repairmen like my dad. Because of Kilby’s revolutionary invention, many churches have gone to using compact synthesizers instead of the big old Rogers; others simply download apps on their smart phones that simulate the sound of a Hammond B-3 or Rogers or Allen organ. The key design spec for the silicon chip is “get small.” The little chip Kilby showed his colleagues is now able to hold a hundred million transistors in a square centimeter. Packing as much as possible into a small space is the driving force of computer technology, and small has become the premium in information technology as well, with texting shortcuts and 140 character Twitter feeds replacing emails which replaced phone calls which replaced post cards and letters. Had Kilby’s colleagues known what he was showing them in 1959, the reaction would have been a chorus of OMG.
Something tells me Paul would have embraced the shortcut approach and character limitations in communications. Thirteen epistles, comprising roughly 1/4 of the New Testament’s 138,000 plus words belong to the pen of Paul. These messages were sometimes as prone to generate dangerous heat as a vacuum tube on the blink. The lengthy tomes dealt with topics far and wide – from philosophical ponderings and deep theological musings to hairstyles and jewelry and sexual mores and dietary protocols. But here, in this early missive to the Corinthian congregation, he sensed that all this wordiness was a distraction at best. He understood that his testimony didn’t need to be couched in lofty words or wisdom. His resolution could have fit into a Twitter feed, with room to spare: I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and him crucified. That’s packing a lot into a small space; there’s a ton of meaning and significance in those few short words. If Paul had been able to stick to this resolution of brevity, he could have saved himself a lot of ink and parchment – 32,000 words worth to be precise. And we could have been spared centuries of soldering broken circuits over what he meant by things like slaves obey your masters or wives submit to your husbands. But then again, we would have missed out on Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him and other edifying jewels.
As amazing and revolutionary and ingenious as the silicon chip is, I still have quite an affinity for the old technology; there’s something beautiful to me about the outmoded vacuum tubes and the whirring Leslie of the Hammond B-3, even if you can get the same sound out of a smart phone. And as compact and significance-filled as Paul’s brief testimony is: Jesus Christ and him crucified, there’s something in me, as there apparently was in him, that is not satisfied with a Twitter sized testimony. Give me all the epistles, distractions and non sequiturs and culture-bound ethics and all. And give me a soldering iron in my toolbox, for when the circuits break.
How about you? Where does this Pastoral Passage take you on your journey of faith? Feel free to comment, and share with friends on Google+, FB, even in the small spaces of your Twitterfeed, etc.