Sunday, November 22, 2009

God, Life, and Everything - Robocall

I write a biweekly column called "God, Life, and Everything" for the Hudson Valley News. The title reflects the broad scope I want to take. Everything in life falls under the eye of God, and if we watch carefully, we can catch a glimpse of God in it all.

Today is Veteran’s Day, and I want to say “Thank you for your service” to every veteran. I’d also like to wish them a peace-filled day.  They deserve it.


But there is another event in American civic life that affects us and came into focus last week.  I am of course talking about that hallowed American right called voting.  Or, to be precise, the robocalls that afflict us the night before elections.  I’m sure I wasn’t the only person to receive those annoying calls with recorded voices that tell you whom to vote for.


No one really knows how long robocalls have been around, but the federal government has regulated of them since 1991.  As far as I’m concerned, they haven’t regulated them enough.  Regulating them out of existence might be enough.  Last week I slammed down the phone after the fiftieth such call and said, “The next one who calls me, I’m voting for their opponent!”


Instead, I just hang up the moment that blasted recorded voice starts with its shtick:  “Hello, I’m Joe Candidate.  Are you tired of the other party ruining our country, your life, and the very essence of humanity?  Then vote for me tomorrow!”  They lost me at “Hello.”


My friends say the same thing.  They hate the calls and hang up.  Which makes me wonder, if everyone hates them, why do candidates bother?


The answer?  Because some of us are lying.  Some of us DO listen to them.  And we believe them.  In 2008 seven candidates pledged to respect the Do Not Call list (political robocalls don’t have to pay attention to the federal Do Not Call list -- they can call you on either your home or cell phone if they want.  Regular annoying telemarketers cannot).  Only one of them was elected.  Candidates with widespread robocalls won.  Robocalls work.




If they work for candidates, maybe they could work for the church, too.  Granted, the church would have a smaller list of people to call upon, but who could resist being greeted on their phone by angelic music and a message of hope?  Just imagine:  “Hello, I’m Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams.  Are you tired of the [Catholics, Lutherans, Baptists, Methodists, Buddhists, Jews, Muslims, Zoroastrians -- pick your favorite religious entity] ruining our faith, your life, and the very essence of divinity?  Then come to the Anglicans!”  


Heck, you could localize it for special events in your church.  “Hello, I’m Pastor Bob of Bob’s Church down the road.  Are you tired of church craft fairs that don’t sell what you want, ruining your shopping experience and the very essence of the church fundraiser?  Then come to our Fall Craft Fair tomorrow!”


I am sure these things could bring more people to church or at least our youth group car washes.  Still, something about the very concept bothers me.  Perhaps it’s the invasive quality, like a door-to-door salesman barging into your home.  Perhaps it’s the unwanted nature of the calls.  To the best of my recollection, Jesus never forced himself on anyone who did not want to talk to him -- demons excepted.  


Jesus attracted people by being himself and speaking words of hope to those who longed for them and healing those who sought it.


So maybe this sort of intrusive self-promotion is best left to the self-promotion crowd -- telemarketers and politicians.  In the end, the churches can do the work they are here to do without robocalls.  Besides, I’d never be able to figure out the technology.