Philip Gulley: A Higher Calling

Illustration by Ryan Snook

I’m what is known in technology circles as a late adapter, which explains why I still don’t have a television, despite its invention 96 years ago. Before I plunk down my hard-earned money on something, I want to make sure it’s not a fad, whether it’s a television or a car. For years, I resisted buying a gas-powered car, suspecting their days were numbered, but then in a weak moment I abandoned all reason and splurged on one, dropping $2,000 on a 1999 Corolla, only for Elon Musk to invent the Tesla. Now here I am, stuck with a vehicle that will be obsolete in a few short years sitting in my yard on cinder blocks. I feel like a sap.

When the first cellphone came on the market, a man in my Quaker meeting bought one. Being a dutiful pastor, I told him cellphones were an affront to God, but like most sinners, he remained unrepentant and went on to buy several more before dying and going to hell. Then my wife bought a cellphone, and our union, straining under the burden of technological infidelity, nearly collapsed. I eventually forgave her, and our marriage recovered, but for a while there it was a close call.

A year or so later, the elders of my Quaker meeting asked to talk with me, never a good sign. I attribute the longevity of my pastoral career to having as few encounters with the elders as humanly possible. Our meeting began well, with them expressing appreciation for my ministry.  Then they suggested I needed a cellphone, and that’s when things went south. I reminded them I had a phone, hanging on the wall in our kitchen, which worked perfectly well, but they were adamant. I purchased a flip phone, though vowing never to use it. As you can imagine, this raised several ethical and theological questions for me. Is it morally permissible to have a cellphone if your church elders require it? If not, and thus I go to hell for owning a cellphone, will the church elders join me there for requiring it? If I hook up with an old girlfriend on my cellphone, is that my fault or the elders’ fault? The pastor’s life is one moral quandary after another.

In retrospect, the transition from a kitchen phone to a flip phone wasn’t as jarring as I had thought it might be. Indeed, sometimes I caught myself marveling at my flip phone’s convenience, wondering why I had put up such a fuss over something so minor. Then the smartphone was invented. Because I traveled a great deal, my wife, ever the temptress, suggested I buy one to have access to street maps and flight reservations. Of course, it’s a spiritual maxim that once you’ve made your peace with sinning, it’s nearly impossible to stop, so within a short time of its unveiling, I owned an iPhone and began my moral decline.

If you’ve ever seen a drug addict shaking and sweating, glancing madly around for a line of cocaine to snort, you’ll have a fair idea of what I look like after five minutes away from my iPhone. The tremors come first, then the fatigue, with agitation cycling in and out, followed by paranoia, when I accuse someone of stealing my iPhone, my hands wrapped around their throat, squeezing.

I had been warned this might happen by the woman at AT&T, hereafter referred to as “the dealer,” who sold me my first smartphone.

“You’ll want to buy insurance with that,” the dealer advised. “That way if you lose your phone, you can get a new one immediately.”

Being an idiot, I declined the extra expense, telling her if I lost my smartphone, I’d just go back to using my flip phone.

“No one ever goes back,” the dealer warned. “Not ever.”

I didn’t notice the hint of foreboding in her voice, the standing-before-the-abyss-preparing-to-jump tone, so I waved off her warning. “It’s not like they’re addictive,” I said, which in hindsight are probably the dumbest words I’ve ever said.

Now leery of the smartphone, young people are returning to the flip phone, the kitchen wall phone of their generation. When I stop shaking and sweating, I plan to join them.