Then Jesus said to them, “Suppose you have a friend, and you go to him at midnight and say, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves of bread; a friend of mine on a journey has come to me, and I have no food to offer him.’ And suppose the one inside answers, ‘Don’t bother me. The door is already locked, and my children and I are in bed. I can’t get up and give you anything.’ I tell you, even though he will not get up and give you the bread because of friendship, yet because of your shameless audacity he will surely get up and give you as much as you need.
“So I say to you: Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.
- Luke 11:5-10
“Elevators are weird places. You’re crammed in with folks you’ve never met, so you try really hard not to touch them. And nobody talks, except for an occasional ‘Out, please’ or ‘Oh, I’m sorry’ as somebody clumsily steps on someone’s toe. You don’t look at anyone; in fact, you don’t look anywhere but up, watching those dumb floor numbers go on and off.
“It’s almost as if there’s an official sign that reads: NO TALKING. NO SMILING. NO TOUCHING, AND NO EYE CONTACT ALLOWED WITHOUT CONSENT OF THE MANAGEMENT, NO EXCEPTIONS!!
“In a strange sort of way, an elevator is a microcosm of our world today: a crowded impersonal place where anonymity, isolation, and independence are the norm. In fact, our lives are being diluted, distorted, and demeaned by this ‘elevator mentality.’ …
”The only escape from indifference is to think of people as our most cherished resource. We need to work hard at reestablishing family fun, meaningful mealtimes, people involvement, evenings without the television blaring, times when we genuinely get involved with folks in need – not just pray for them.
“Stop the elevator. I want to get off.
- Charles R. Swindoll, The Finishing Point
“Speech is civilization itself. The word, even the most contradictory word, preserves contact – it is silence which isolates.”
- Thomas Mann
Rev. Swindoll published this book in the mid-90s. He quoted Thomas Mann, as an afterword, so I did the same. But I wonder what Rev. Swindoll would say today with people sitting around the dinner table, texting to one another. With the chance of making eye contact and even touching one another, they prefer the impersonal screen.
But thinking of elevators, I have had my fun with the elevator at my old workplace. About a year after we moved into our new building in the nice industrial park built throughout a golf course, I exited the elevator on the upper level. The company’s president had just relocated to an office directly across from the elevator and his administrative assistant had her huge desk outside his office door. She said, “Mr. Rackley, you look confused.”
I replied, “I just realized that the only safe place, away from…”
She interrupted by finishing my sentence, “the elevator music is in the elevator.” I would have said “infernal elevator music,” but we both had a good laugh.
Our music was provided by a cable television channel. I liked the music at first, but when you realized that it was the same songs at exactly the same time every day, everyone was going crazy, but the person in charge of the intercom system refused to turn it off or change the channel. (Never trust the manager in charge when they have their speaker in their office turned OFF.) By the way, although the incident was over twenty years ago, I think “Baby Elephant Walk” started at 10:03am, but don’t quote me. Yet, in the elevator, there was blissful silence.
On several occasions, I had to set up demonstration equipment in the upper level conference center. (To clarify, the company offices are on a hill overlooking the second green of the golf course. The entry level is at the same elevation as the company parking lot. The lower level is underground on the side with the parking lot, but open to a patio on the other side. We often took a break during celebrity golf tournaments to cheer for the sports stars (mostly Steelers, Penguins, and Pirates) that passed by. Jerome Bettis seemed nice. He started conversations with anybody – holding up play on the course at times. That only leaves the upper level. Thus, the elevator has no numbers, just UL, EL, and LL – thus, visitors get lost easily.)
Back to the demonstration equipment, the set up required large compressed gas cylinders containing oxygen, nitrogen and propane. I stored these cylinders on the lower level with the oxygen and nitrogen on a welding cart. To get them upstairs, I took the elevator. Almost with no exceptions, the elevator would stop at the entry level and the door would open. The person wanting to get on would hesitate long enough for me to pretend to belch and look a little ill. I would then say, “You should probably take the stairs; I’ve got gas.”
The strange thing is that I worked for an engineering company, with 90% of the employees being engineers. The engineers never laughed at the joke – just staring at me with a confused look, and not getting on the elevator either. The clerks, secretaries, and administrative assistants immediately cracked up laughing. While laughing, they squeezed around the gas bottles, not worried. Only once did a clerk ask what would happen if the oxygen and nitrogen cylinders started to leak inside the elevator. Ah, a teaching moment! Before we arrived at the upper level – a very slow elevator, I had explained that we would simply make extremely expensive air, since air is 78% nitrogen, 21% oxygen, and one percent other stuff, mostly argon. I refrained from suggesting that if the nitrogen alone leaked, we might get lightheaded due to oxygen deprivation before we reached the upper level. They might not have wanted to ride with me after that, but I would not have gotten on the elevator with a leaking cylinder.
And while we are on the subject of how slow the elevator was, I often taught groups from foreign countries on the upper level. When we returned from lunch, they would press the up button for the elevator, and I would make an excuse that the elevator might be too full, waiting for the elevator to arrive, and then taking the stairs. I would not run, just a steady walk up one flight, around a wall of filing cabinets, and then to the elevator. I even had time to pose, staring at my watch, letting them know that the slow elevator made them late for class. Without saying a word and with no need for a translator, that joke got laughs in any language.
But while I had fun with and in elevators at work, people get really uncomfortable if you try to start a conversation on an elevator filled with strangers. Try it some time. You might get someone to panic and press the button for the next floor, just to get away from you. I have accomplished that feat, unintentionally. Others on the elevator laughed, recognizing the social anxiety in the one quickly leaving, but honest, I only wanted to say “Hi.” Afterwards, we were all silent, in case social anxiety was contagious.
And I didn’t even have a partner in crime to start an elevator panic. Having a partner in crime, nearly cleared the elevator once. As Rev. Swindoll says, everyone is always looking up. My friend made an aside comment – totally unrehearsed, honest, “Is that a spider?” There was no spider that I could see, but I added, “And it’s a big one, too.” A couple of ladies in the back yelped in fear. I felt guilty, but a couple of the strangers snickered. There was pushing and shoving when the doors opened, but the ladies didn’t try to start a stampede – just in an unnatural hurry to leave.
But even with my moments of comedy relief, I am like most other people, most of the time. You either stare at the wall, up at the ceiling, or at the numbers, wherever they may be.
As for the Scripture above, this is the Luke version of the Lord’s Prayer, at least the verses that follow it. Jesus talks about how a friend will open his door to you, even in the middle of the night, if you are persistent enough. Of course, Jesus is talking about how God listens to our prayers. God even listens when we pray once, but to be persistent? God listens ever so intently. After the illustration of the neighbor who had gone to bed, Jesus says Ask, Seek, and Knock. Another of Jesus’ teachings from the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 7:7-12).
Maybe one of the problems with praying these days is that we do not have that practiced skill of talking with our neighbors and friends. Could that be part of the problem? Do we need to create an “App” for the phone so that people can text God their prayers? Is there one already?
But notice that Jesus used the illustration of a friend who came up with any and every excuse not to open the door. He wasn’t a stranger. He wasn’t a neighbor. He was a friend in first century Judah or Galilee. They would not have spoken to one another on the elevator either – that is if elevators had been invented back then.
But thinking of our cellphones these days, maybe the inventions that make life easier, at least in this case, have allowed us to sink to an all-time low, in that we don’t know the art of conversation. It provides yet another barrier to the evangelist who wants to tell someone that Jesus loves them. They must weave past the instant fear from the person they are talking to. “Wait! Danger! Danger! This stranger is talking to me. What do I do? Could we text instead?!?!”
Let’s all learn to set aside the electronic gadgets on occasion and just talk. If nobody is in the room at the time, talk to God. He’s a good listener.
Soli Deo Gloria. Only to God be the Glory.