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You Never Know What Will Prove to be Controversial

I gave a talk last night to a Jewish group here in Seattle about my current book, a collaboration with Joe Lieberman, The Gift of Rest: Rediscovering the Beauty of the Sabbath. Before I spoke, the organizer implored me not to say anything "controversial."

A reasonable request -- where's the advantage to her and her organization in alienating people? I hadn't planned on saying anything remotely combustible anyway. Though you never can tell! Who would ever expect, for instance, that some Christians and Jews would find it controversial to say that nature gives evidence of design? Yet of course some do.

So I made only the briefest and mildest allusion to the design theme, feeling confident I had fulfilled my mandate of not arousing anyone's ire. But then came the Q&A afterward and it turned out I was wrong. A lady in the back rose against me in a fury and she went on at some length before I had a chance to respond and try to pacify her.

What was her beef? Turns out, it wasn't anything to do with Discovery Institute or intelligent design at all.

I had said that taking a day off from electronic communication is one of the Sabbath's chief blessings. Cell phones, computers, email, texting -- these are all at the same time compulsive and obsessive and isolating. The woman in the back was very upset at me for saying such things, and no, she doesn't work for Microsoft.

So then? She explained that her mother lives on the other side of the country. She and her mom talk every day, seven days a week without fail. She herself might find it a relief if, say, her phone broke for a day and she couldn't make the call. Her mother, however, would be devastated.