Bending the Straw

By Paul Koch

Consider these two conversations: the first was one I had around a year ago at a Verizon Wireless store, the second was with my father at a bar in a Holiday Inn about 20 years ago.

My phone had died and I suddenly felt helpless. I couldn’t immediately check the stats on The Jagged Word, I was sure there were a few texts that I hadn’t responded to, and what was I supposed to do while filling up my car with gas if I couldn’t peruse my Instagram feed? This was a problem that needed an immediate solution.

Now bear in mind, this phone (which I only had for a little over a year) was my first “smart” phone. Until I made the move to such a device, I was considered by many friends and acquaintances to be a Luddite. In truth, I have never despised technology. However I believe, as Neil Postman warned, that all technology is a Faustian bargain. It always gives something but always takes something away. I’m concerned that we rarely even ask the question of what we are losing with the solution that our technology seems to offer us.

So, I entered the Verizon store: upset not only because my phone wasn’t working but also because I felt helpless without it. My conversation with the hip and technologically superior salesman is worth remembering.

Him: Well there seems to be a corruption in the operating system and it can’t be restored. However, you’re in luck because we have some great deals that have carried over from Black Friday.

Me: Alright, whatcha got?

Him: Well, with this one (he actually gave the name which I don’t remember) you can get a free tablet.

Me: What am I supposed to do with a tablet if I have a “smart” phone?

He started to describe all the things I could do on the tablet, which were the very things I currently do on my phone. I actually began to picture myself setting down my phone after checking text messages just to pick up the tablet and begin checking my email.

Me: I don’t think so. How much is this one?

Him: Same price as the other one, except without the free tablet.

Me: I’ll take it.

Him: (nervously twitching) But the free tablet…

Me: I don’t want the tablet. I’m already upset that I want the phone.

I paused for a moment, wondering what the hell I was doing. Here was a man standing before me who tied up his life in wonderful advancements of our age. In them he found some identity of his own.

Me: Look, what problem do I have that this tablet is a “solution” to?

Him: I don’t know. Maybe your kids might enjoy it.

Me: I’m sure they would but they already enjoy plenty of other things. I’m pretty sure the last thing they need is another screen to stare at.

Him: Well, I guess it’s just not for you.

Me: I guess not. (Though I’m not really sure it’s for anyone.)

He ended up throwing in some other freebies to soothe his conscience. In the end, I left him confused by challenging the supposed good that is embraced in our technology – why would anyone say “no” to more technology?

Now lets back up to around 20 years ago, shortly after I had turned 21. My Dad had a meeting down near my college in Irvine and invited me to meet him for a drink. This was the first time I went to a bar with my Dad and so I remember it well. Now, the Koch family is known for its propensity toward bourbon. So as soon as I sat down on the bar stool my Dad ordered his usual bourbon and seven, and I followed suit.

I’m sure we talked about many things: about the future, about the state of the Lakers (little did we know then, but they were just about to sign Shaq), about my plans and my wedding. It was a long time ago and I’ve forgotten much of it. However, there is one exchange I will never forget. As our drinks were set before us my Dad swirled the ice for with the little cocktail straw. He then bent it over the side of the glass, secured it there with his fingers, and took his first sip.

Dad: Always bend the straw over the side before you drink.

Me: What?

Dad: This is the way a man drinks a drink. You don’t want to look like some sissy, sipping it through the straw.

Me: Okay.

Now I know this isn’t some earth shattering conversation. It was seemingly void of philosophical intrigue or theological insight. But that simple exchange between a father and his son was more defining then all the apps in my “smart” phone. Here my Dad spoke with certainty. There was a right way and a wrong way to do something. There was a thing called being a man and it was to be desired. Without thinking he was simply doing what he had always tried to do, shape my character. This is something all the disposable crap at the Verizon store could never touch.

Without even thinking about it he created a ritual. Throughout my life, I have learned a lot from my Dad. I learned about hard work, about freedom, about virtue and vice. I learned what it looked like to care for a family, to provide and protect. I learned what it was to need forgiveness and to forgive. And all of that comes back when I bend the straw over the side of my glass. After all, I still want to be a man.

Our world is overwhelmed with passionate conversations about meaningless crap. As we look around, we find that too many people bind their identity to their technology. My Dad taught me there was something more permanent, more real than our virtual distractions. You are not the content of your wallets or the type of devise in your pocket. You live in real relationships with those you love and fear and help and hurt. You are men and women who struggle to be what God has called you to be and yet you are men and women who have been died for.

You are the subject of a love that would send the Son to die. So, take a moment, put down the phone, bend the straw and give thanks for an identity secured in the blood of Christ.