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Ponder with Pastor Bill

“Wonderful, Scary Technology”

May 11, 2017

The most recent TIME magazine has a story, “The Last Act,” about the final performances of the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus. After 146 years, the last show will be later this month.

The article acknowledges that some of the reason for closing the show is the result of pressure from animal rights groups to stop using elephants as performers. But it suggests a deeper issue – the circus as entertainment has been replaced with electronics – kind of like television has taken the place of live performances.

The story suggests that the circus was popular when we lived in a culture with less stimulation. The performances brought to rural and suburban areas an excitement that broke the routine of work, school and, in some cases, basic survival. I am pondering this statement: “Now our supply of stimulation is infinite, and our capacity for wonder is dwindling.”

As to why children today might be less excited about the circus than their parents and grandparents, two suggestions are offered: The big tent and live music have been replaced with (1) “a deafening soundtrack of recorded music backing a dull program punctuated by strobe lights, foreshortened performances cut to Internet attention spans, a rip-off of $6 sno-cones and $20 flashlights,” and (2) “Nothing can compete with the circus that they hold in the palms of their hands.”

I rely on technology every day and use my smartphone for access to what appears to be unlimited instant information. I like the DVR feature of our TV that makes it possible to watch a 30-minute news program in just over half that time (sorry about that, advertisers). I do not want to be without my computer and software conveniences that help me prepare sermons and facilitate communication that were not even dreams during my childhood.

But when technology takes away creative thinking and the joy of face-to-face relationships, it becomes a scary reality. I am looking for balance.

Pastor Bill Ehmann

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