“What He Said…” – Pastor Donna Doutt – 7/21/19 – Luke 10:38-42

There’s a woman named Linda Stone. She’s called a “technologist.” She started with Apple and went on to work with Microsoft. Some of organizations she’s been aligned with The Brain Drain Taskforce and the Virtual World’s Group. This lady is brilliant. But she’s most famous for coining the term [1]“continuous partial attention.” She calls it a disease of the internet age. I see where she’s coming from.

Recently, while I was in a state of “continuous partial attention” (in this case that means browsing Facebook when I should be doing other things), I came across a wonderful observation written by George Carlin. How many of you are familiar with George Carlin? I have to say, I liked the guy. In fact, I liked him enough to go see him live back in 1972 in Pittsburgh. We paid what we thought was an astronomical amount of $40 per person for our tickets. Now that’s a drop in the bucket compared to the hundreds you pay for most show tickets.

But anyway, I liked George. I thought his humor reeked of irony and paradox about true components of our everyday lives. The following commentary is representative of that at its best. If you aren’t clear on what a “paradox” is, it is “a situation, person, or thing that combines contradictory features or qualities.

This is “WHAT HE SAID:”

“The paradox of our time in history is that we have taller buildings but shorter tempers, wider Freeways, but narrower viewpoints. We spend more, but have less, we buy more, but enjoy less. We have bigger houses and smaller families, more conveniences, but less time. We have more degrees but less sense, more knowledge, but less judgment, more experts, yet more problems, more medicine, but less wellness.

We drink too much, smoke too much, spend too recklessly, laugh too little, drive too fast, get too angry, stay up too late, get up too tired, read too little, watch TV too much, and pray too seldom.

We have multiplied our possessions, but reduced our values. We talk too much, love too seldom, and hate too often.

We've learned how to make a living, but not a life. We've added years to life not life to years. We've been all the way to the moon and back, but have trouble crossing the street to meet a new neighbor. We conquered outer space but not inner space. We've done larger things, but not better things.

We've cleaned up the air, but polluted the soul. We've conquered the atom, but not our prejudice. We write more, but learn less. We plan more, but accomplish less. We've learned to rush, but not to wait. We build more computers to hold more information, to produce more copies than ever, but we communicate less and less.

These are the times of fast foods and slow digestion, big men and small character, steep profits and shallow relationships. These are the days of two incomes but more divorce, fancier houses, but broken homes. These are days of quick trips, disposable diapers, throwaway morality, one night stands, overweight bodies, and pills that do everything from cheer, to quiet, to kill. It is a time when there is much in the showroom window and nothing in the stockroom. A time when technology can bring this letter to you, and a time when you can choose either to share this insight, or to just hit delete.

Remember to spend some time with your loved ones, because they are not going to be around forever.

Remember, say a kind word to someone who looks up to you in awe, because that little person soon will grow up and leave your side.

Remember, to give a warm hug to the one next to you, because that is the only treasure you can give with your heart and it doesn't cost a cent.

Remember, to say, 'I love you' to your partner and your loved ones, but most of all mean it. A kiss and an embrace will mend hurt when it comes from deep inside of you.

Remember to hold hands and cherish the moment for someday that person will not be there again.

Give time to love, give time to speak! And give time to share the precious thoughts in your mind.

And always remember, life is not measured by the number of breaths we take, but by those moments that take our breath away.”

His words sound like a man after my own heart, but I know that George was raised Roman Catholic and eventually rejected formal religion altogether. However, his words reflect a soul with true conscience and insight. They bring tears to my eyes when I hear the reality of what he’s saying.  

Before Linda Stone named it, George Carlin recognized all these paradoxes as “continuous partial attention.”

Which brings us to our Gospel lesson today.


[2]Father James Wallace, a professor at Washington Theological Union in Washington, D.C. has some interesting thoughts on this scripture. WHAT HE SAID about this scripture is that when Jesus decided to drop in on his old friend Lazarus, who (by the way) he had just raised from the dead) and his sisters, Martha and  Mary, Martha’s first impulse was to get something cooking for their guest. Of course, Martha expected Mary’s to help with the hospitality, but instead Mary’s got herself plopped down on the rug at Jesus’ feet leaving all the work for Martha. Martha was probably back in the cooking area banging those pots and pans and muttering to herself.

Eventually, she blows her top. She says, “Lord, don’t you care…don’t YOU care that my sister has left me BY MYSELF to do the serving?”

Well, as a matter of fact, Jesus did not care. Hopefully he smiled gently to her WHEN HE SAID, “Martha, dear friend, you are worried and distracted by many things.” He’s not speaking to the “busy” Martha, but the “worried and distracted” Martha. He is speaking to his dear friend who has worked herself into a state of anxious distraction (or continuous partial attention as we were saying) over the meal she wanted to have for him. She is focusing her frustration not only on her sister, but without realizing, she is also focusing that frustration on her friend and guest, the man that she calls “Lord.” Jesus is gently calling her to refocus. Hospitality is not primarily about the food. More importantly, it’s about the focus. Was Martha suffering from “continuous partial attention?”


Is it possible that this story of two sisters offers us an ongoing please from the Lord to focus on him, to give him some “prime time,” some full attention. Remember WHAT JESUS SAID: “…there is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her.” Mary gave her full attention, not “continuous partial attention.”

Jesus encounter with Martha and Mary clarified the nature of the welcome Jesus seeks not only for himself, but also for us, his messengers. A community that is hospitable to Christ is a community marked by the attention the community gives to God’s word.

A church “that is worried and distracted by many things” like Martha, is missing what the gospel calls us to do. We need to focus our full attention at Christ’s feet, just like Mary.

We need to be aware and careful that our busy-ness of “being” a church and “doing” church doesn’t overshadow the nature of the church.

When we gather together to read scripture, study scripture, hear the sermons each week, pray and nurture one another, then we are in “full attention.”

Remember our Weslyan means of grace are scripture, prayer, worship, fasting, Communion, holy conferencing, and acts of mercy.

I challenge you to sit at Christ’s feet this week. Select one of these “means of grace” and commit to practicing it this week. Remember WHAT HE SAID…what Jesus said, “…you are worried and distracted by many things; there is need of only one thing.” Let’s get focused and commit our full attention to being disciples in the saving nature of Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.


[1] Wikipedia contributors. "Linda Stone." Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 13 Aug. 2018. Web. 17 Jul. 2019.

[2]James A. Wallace, C.SS.R. Feasting on the Word, Year C. vol. 3. P.265

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