Fitbit, Garmin, Misfit, Jawbone, Moov, NuYu, Strava.
These are all brand names of devices collectively known as “activity trackers” and “wearable technology”, or as I like to call them—“wife low-jacks.”
These devices track your activities, such as how many steps you take—or didn’t take, distance you ride your bicycle, how many calories you consume, and your heart rate—all to help you be healthier and live better.
Rabbi David Wolpe, of Sinai Temple in Los Angeles, upon learning from his daughter that his iPhone would count his steps, says that knowing this information has given him “an entirely new field to uselessly obsess over.”
Wolpe now not only checks his steps obsessively, but also wonders whether he should have more steps and worries on the Sabbath about how many steps he is “missing” since he does not carry his phone on that day.
It all led him to think about that which cannot be measured. Writing for his synagogue’s website, he says, “There is no scale for tenderness or affection. You cannot calibrate kindness. No matter how sophisticated our instruments and technology, there is no computation for creativity, for love or for the depth of a human heart.”
He’s right, though. It’d be pretty cool if we did have a device that could measure depth of love. It would mean guys would not have to sweat Valentine’s Day and birthdays hoping to find just the right card and gift to express their depth of love. We could simply consult the tracker, and act accordingly.
But then again such “wearable technology” would be the end of romantic poetry and love sonnets. No more expressions like “I love you to the moon and back.” The ability to measure love would mean the end of country music and skywriting marriage proposals.
So really, in short, it would be a disaster. Which means we need to find a better way.
The prophet Samuel could have used such technology and application when God sent him to the household of Jesse the Bethlehemite to anoint Israel’s next king from among Jesse’s eight sons.
Samuel thinks he’s supposed to use an “activity tracker” when assessing the candidates for future king of Israel.
Samuel thinks outward appearance, apparent capability, and stature are that which God is looking for, because after all, it’s what looks good to him.
But Samuel soon learns God does not see as we see. God has a better way.
In our text, Samuel is looking for the new king, and he has some impressive candidates.
Samuel tried to gauge the merit of the sons— some of whom were tall and good looking—by their outward appearance. But God quickly quashed that line of thinking telling Samuel “Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him [from being King]; for the Lord does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.”
The eldest seven were not God’s choice to be king. It’s the youngest son, David, whom God wants for king. The unlikely one—unlikely only based on outside appearances.
Samuel had to be taught this lesson. And it’s a lesson we still need to learn today because we are still using metrics that don’t always work—that don’t reveal how God sees others.
Sure we, like Samuel, have tried, and continue to try, to see as God sees. There are tests conducted by psychologists that attempt to measure a person’s character. You can go see a psychologist or find any number of them online. The problem is such tests aren’t very useful when you’re trying to decide on the spot whether to trust a pushy salesperson, interview a potential new employee, grill the suitor who has come to pick up your daughter, or decide if someone is “marriage material”.
It’s not at all appropriate to ask someone to get a psych evaluation and then share the results with you. Unless that person wants to be a pastor—then apparently it is appropriate to ask. (I still can’t believe I passed!)
So of course, psychologists developed measurement metrics more readily available, crafting indirect ways to measure character and social behavior because a subject’s awareness of direct methods—interviews, questionnaires, and experiments—can distort the results.
Researchers call these indirect ways “unobtrusive measures”, which includes looking at: public records, security-cam footage, social media postings, and even a person’s garbage.
In short, an unobtrusive measure is a method of making observations and comparisons without the knowledge of those being observed.
But we are already familiar with “unobtrusive measures” because we do it all the time. We watch people; look at what they are doing; what they are wearing; listen to what they are saying—or not saying, and decide…well, what we decide.
Playing with your kid at the park—good parent.
Looking at your phone while your kid dangles from the jungle gym by their shoelace—not a good parent.
Driving the speed limit—good driver. Annoying to be behind, but still, good driver.
Driving while texting—awful driver.
Dress as expected, wear your hair as expected—good person.
Don’t dress or wear your hair as expected—they’ve got issues.
We have the “unobtrusive measuring metrics” down to a social scientific art form, and we can, in a second, assess appearance, capability, stature, and character.
Except we often get it wrong.
And we get it wrong because we fail to see as God sees.
Looking on the heart, as Rabbi Wolpe indicates, is not something wearable technology can do for us. Neither can online evaluations or even “unobtrusive measuring metrics”.
But what can, is seeing as God sees. It is hard to do though. And so few will take the time to even try.
After Samuel wasted a lot of time evaluating king candidates using external measuring rubrics, God stepped in and called a halt to his limited, naïve, and fruitless evaluation process.
It’s worth noting again, God said to Samuel, “Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him [from being King]; for the Lord does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.”
The key then, is to endeavor to see as God sees. To see others as God sees them. To even see ourselves as God sees us. And why? Because if we don’t, when we don’t, then the creative order for which we were created falls further and further apart. And we are seeing it happen more and more.
Sarah Giffith-Lund, pastor and friend of mine, writes about a new report out this month from the Center for Disease Control explaining that suicide rates have increased in almost every state. In 2016 nearly 45,000 people died by suicide, making it one of the top ten causes of death in the country.
Rev. Griffith-Lund writes, “With the high profile deaths of Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain within the span of a couple days, suicide is trending on social medial. I wonder if we are waking up to a suicide culture. What does it mean to be part of a culture where suicide rates are on the rise? How do certain aspects of our culture contribute to the increased deaths by suicide? And more importantly, what can we do as a culture to save lives, to prevent deaths by suicide?”
Lund then goes on to cite the CDC report that outlines seven suggestions for what communities can do to change this culture of suicide.
1. Identify and support people at risk of suicide.
2. Teach coping and problem-solving skills to help people manage challenges with their relationships, jobs, health, or other concerns.
3. Promote safe and supportive environments. This includes safely storing medications and firearms to reduce access among people at risk.
4. Offer activities that bring people together so they feel connected and not alone.
5. Connect people at risk to effective and coordinated mental and physical healthcare.
6. Expand options for temporary help for those struggling to make ends meet.
7. Prevent future risk of suicide among those who have lost a loved one to suicide.
All of these are excellent means to help change our culture of suicide—especially number 4. Perhaps that activity could be inviting people to church, or to our upcoming Ice Cream X-treme or Pancake Breakfast, or invite them and their children to come to Vacation Bible School.
Yet there is one more suggestion we as people of faith must add to this list… We must begin, again, seeing others as God sees them. We must begin, again, seeing ourselves as God sees us. Holy. Beloved. Worthy. Filled with the divine breath of God.
For when we do, then lives are changed. Lives are saved. And the kingdom of God becomes on earth as it is in heaven.
While Rabbi Wolpe is right—there is no scale for tenderness or affection, and no
“wearable technology” for calibrating kindness, creativity and love— we can, nevertheless, get at least some clues about how we’re doing in those areas by looking at the trail we leave behind.
Are we endeavoring to see as God sees? Or are we using human metrics to see only what’s on the outside, like Samuel did before God intervened? Are we allowing technology to tell us if we had a good day of active living? Or are we allowing our spirits to tell us we did good today? Are we using social media “likes” and “retweets” to tell us we are loved? Or are we listening to the people who actually say, “I love you”? Are we actually saying, “I love you” to those we love? Or are we just assuming they already know?
God modeled for Samuel, and us, how we are to look at a person. We are to look beyond what’s before us, and go deeper. We are to stop seeing as mortals see—looking at the outward appearance—and instead look as God looks—at the heart.
May it be so, as lives depend on it. Amen.
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline
Call: 1-800-273-8255, Text: 741-741