My mother owns a Greek diner with an Egyptian twist, and one of the main ways her and I relate is through food and cooking. I still remember helping her smash the garlic and beat the eggs. On a recent trip home, I got to raid her unused kitchen stuff and scored some sweet stuff, including a 100-year-old cast iron skillet. Suffice it to say, I like food and cooking.
When I had a more expendable income, I paid closer attention to the food scene in Philadelphia. With all my Yelp reviews, the reputation follows me (I still get random texts messages about restaurant recommendations, even though life with a two-year-old limits such opportunities). I even have a handful of local food blogs I still read.
As I was clearing the deck on my RSS reader, I noticed a very interesting article from one of those food blogs. Marc Vetri, one of the restaurant emperors in this town, recently stumbled into a coffeeshop that I frequent: Elixr.
Vetri has made something of a reputation for himself being an arrogant chef with pristine taste, an immaculate palate, and loud opinions (his Huffington Post column is quite interesting—the last two articles he wrote bash food critics and the fashionably gluten intolerant). He furthered tattooed his aggressive reputation when he snapped a photo of Elixr’s unsuspecting guests and proclaimed this on his Instagram account:
This is what life has boiled down to…people at a coffee shop not engaging, not communicating. No sense of community or culture. People just looking at screens. This is so sad. Never have I been to a more depressing coffee shop in my life. Dismal music, zero talking. Wake up people!!! Your life is passing you by!!!! Just look up and say hi! It’s that easy!
Vetri’s point is simple: we are an anti-social generation, more glued to our screens, more concerned with likes and news feeds, than we are real people. It’s a bit hyperbolic, but I get it. It’s not uncommon for my friends to be viewing their own screens while I am even giving a sermon at the meeting they volunteered to be at! So I’m sympathetic with Vetri’s outrage.
But I also feel a little defensive. I’m a little attached to my phone, that’s for sure. Even when I put it on “moon mode” (Do Not Disturb in iOS), I still manage to compulsively check it. My discipline of letting sleep downstairs while I slept upstairs came to a halt when a thunderstorm zapped my real alarm clock. So I’m afraid sometimes I feel like I’m a cyborg too. But I’m with Ben—long live the humans.
Beyond my compulsion, though, is the fact that my phone and my laptop are useful tools that I use to connect with other people; social media along with them.
The Elixr people were self-justifying when they wrote to Vetri this reply:
Something is seriously wrong with you @marcvetri. Just because you might not understand something (or potentially an entire generation) does not give you the right to condemn it…There is no doubt in my mind that if you would have conversed with them, instead of passing condemnation on, you would understand that those folks are busy becoming doctors, tech giants, surgeons, humanitarians, and generally stuff far more important your apparent pastime of holding grudges and being a generally pessimistic jealous person.
Elixr’s fed up with Marc Vetri’s superiority and his “condemnation.” They lashed out.
What an amazing exchange. There’s a lot to learn in this dichotomy. A few points.
- Both parties are using social media to communicate to one another. (So am I.) I think it is a reasonable form of dialogue, but it’s hard to consider one’s communication style holier-than-thou when we are sharing it in common. It is what it is. Vetri’s photo is as impersonal as the people at the coffeeshop. Put another way, it is as acceptable.
- I’m with Elixr in a sense. In a Romans 8:1 sense, really—there is no condemnation in Christ Jesus. Elixr’s defense has less to do with Jesus though, and more to do with the careers of their patrons (which is not verifiable of course). Our careers and aspirations won’t save us. And neither will our authentic, organic relationships. Only Jesus will save us. Even the best policy in the world isn’t salvific. Just the empty cross is.
- Both Elixr and Vetri were kind of speaking to their own with their elusive dialogue. Elixr defending its costumers. Vetri defended all the angry grandpas who can’t manage to send a text message. But the Vetri and Elixr’s leaders weren’t really in dialogue. I wish they were. I think they’d learn from each other, instead of just acting like the hipster versions of Stephen A. Smith and Skip Bayless. As we say in Circle of Hope, dialogue keeps us connected and protects gravity.
I’m committed to building a church for the next generation. The people Vetri’s insulting are the kind of people I love and want to include. I want to speak their language. At the same time, the habits that Elixr is defending are the kind that Jesus wants to transform.
To complete my Pauline metaphor, I want to be all things to all people. So I’ll relate to those stuck to their screens. But I want to move to stop conforming to the patterns of this world, so I’ll put my phone down for some real dialogue and community.
Without Jesus though, neither our dialogue nor our social networking will save us.