In the news in January was a story about Alan Guilbert, conductor of the New York Philharmonic Orchestra, stopping a performance because of the interruption of a ringing cell phone. It was a quiet part of Mahler’s Ninth Symphony and the cell phone ring tone was a Caribbean Marimba. The contrast by all accounts was very stark. The audience helped him locate the fifty something man in the front row that had the ringing cell phone in his pocket. Only when confronted by the conductor, did he reach into his pocket and turn it off. The audience started shouting at the man, to leave and for Guilbert to take his tickets. The director using his microphone asked if it was off now. He nodded yes. Guilbert then apologized to the audience for the interruption. They rose to their feet clapping wildly.
I have a couple of thoughts. First, I understand the spontaneous reaction of the conductor and the audience. The musicians have worked hard in preparing and presenting this concert. The audience has purchased expensive tickets to enjoy this hard work. The ringing cell phone was ruining the concert for both. Plus, we have all been in meetings, movie theaters even churches where a ringing cell phone has ruined our concentration and distracted our appreciation.
However, I wonder what happened to empathy. It turns out the man who had been a season ticket holder and philanthropist for the orchestra for years, had just received the new IPhone 4 that day. He had turned it off at the beginning of the concert. He did not realize that the clerk who showed him how to use it had set an alarm as part of that demonstration. The alarm goes off even if the phone is turned off. He was at first unaware it was his phone because he had turned it off. He was horrified when he realized it was his phone about the time the music had stopped and the conductor was standing over his seat.
Judging and condemning people is hard, which is why we should leave it up to God as often as we can. When we unpack stories, we find they are much grayer than they first appeared. The reaction of the audience and the conductor at this single incident is likely a reflection of past incidents they have encountered. Yet, this man in the front row was not the same man in the movie theater, the woman swerving while chatting on her phone on the highway, the teenager using profanities on his phone while in line at Krogers, the visitor to church last Sunday whose phone went off during the prayers. When we make examples of people, as this conductor decided to do, we force them to bear the weight of all the irresponsible and irritating cell phone users we have encountered in our life.
However, as people of faith we have another option, to simply forgive. We can ask ourselves would Jesus embarrass this man in front of thousands of people so we can make a point. From our own experience, of leaving our phones on when we should not have, we can understand the likely horror this man feels when he realizes his awful mistake. We can see this mistake or even intentional rudeness in the scope of our lives, and realize at the end of the day, it really is not that big of a deal. We can decide next time, we will make a public announcement at the beginning of the symphony to turn off your phones, then smile and say you don’t want to be the guy that ruins the concert for everyone else. My hope is that a person of faith in Christ will choose to with grace, forgiveness, humor and empathy. Peace, Pastor Karl