We don’t go to the movies much, preferring to stay at home and rent DVDs. But on occasion, when there’s something we simply must see on the big screen, we plop down our cash and go sit in a darkened room with strangers to experience some director’s vision. Our latest was the current Indiana Jones flick.

Unfortunately, our enjoyment was marred by some jerk who felt his right to talk loudly on his cell phone outweighed the right of the fifty so other people in the theater to watch a movie in peace. I spotted him when he came in and knew he would be trouble. He had his phone lit up, despite the prominent “no cell phone” signs everywhere. Every now and again the glow of the LCD on his mobile would distract me from the images I wanted to pay attention to. Finally, it happened: he got a call and proceeded to speak at FULL VOLUME from right there in his seat. The person in front of him called him down, but he kept on for awhile.

Of course, there is really nothing the management can do about such rude people. Back in the day, there were ushers stationed to call down talkers or even escort them out if they persisted. But now the quietness of a theater depends on patrons policing themselves. And most people in such a situation do that just fine. But inevitably, there’s some selfish person who believes the rules don’t apply to him or her.

I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised at such arrogance. Rather, I should be surprised when people behave decently. My theological tradition (“Reformed”) particularly emphasizes that we are at root fundamentally flawed by sin, which not only separates us from God but from each other and from our environment. Our first and consistent thought is for ourselves. Given power in government or family or church, equipped with tools like a cell phone, a car, money or a bomb, we will most likely use the power or the tool to advance our own agendas, and to hell with everyone else. We will indulge our own desires, spending whatever it takes, doing whatever we can, to satisfy our longing or feel superior.

We have to be taught to care, nurtured in the ways of community and sharing. Obviously, the guy in the theater had never learned (or was never taught) how even to be courteous, much less be genuinely interested in somebody else’s enjoyment and needs. He was probably given no boundaries as a child and teen. All around me, I see his selfish and self-indulgent behavior becoming the rule, rather than the exception, at every level and in every context. And if that is true, I despair for our society.

Kyrie eleison.

© 2008 by Tom Cheatham