October 31, 2017

Dear Robot Priest

Dear Robot Priest,

I have to confess: I began laughing the first time I watched the above video of you. And by laughing, I mean the embarrassing sort of full on, tears-streaming-down-my-face laughing. The kind where people around you wonder what on earth you’re laughing so hard about.

And so now I’m writing to apologize for that initial laughter. And also to let you know that I’m starting to think the joke is on me.

I was in an airport the first time I watched you raise your robotic hands, light emanating from your metallic claws, and utter a traditional blessing in a masculine German voice. Honestly, my first thought was how ridiculous this seemed. I couldn't imagine a world in which people would go to a robot for a blessing.

But shortly thereafter, I walked from my departure gate to the food court, where I ordered my coffee and lunch from a propped up iPad. I continued to giggle about the video even as my iPhone alerted me my plane was boarding and that I needed to use the swipe drive on the table to pay the restaurant. By the time I was boarding the plane, my immediate laughter had slowed a bit as I realized how few human beings I’d actually interacted with that day.

In the months since, my laughter has become even more subdued as I’ve reflected on the way my iPhone plays an incredibly pastoral role in my life. For in addition to using my iPhone to answer emails and take photos, I also use it to pray most days on my morning commute.

My technology-dependent spiritual routine is as follows. I put on my ear buds the moment I step out of the door and find meditative music on my walk to the subway. I journal for about 20 minutes once on the subway, tapping thoughts into my iPhone. Afterward, I’ll either listen to Pray as You Go or open the Forward Movement app and say morning prayer. Then, in order to complete my one hour commute, I’ll open my Kindle and read a bit - these days, theology - before my ride ends.

This is all to say that while my Sundays involve an in-person attendance at worship, my everyday spirituality is very much being fed by a glowing screen of a Robot Priest like you.

And while I’m not so certain that the future of pastoral leadership will involve robotic hands that raise and light up (and why the multicolored nose, I wonder), I do believe you’ve served your purpose. Insomuch as you were created by German Lutherans to spark a conversation about what the future of clergy leadership looks like on the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, I wanted to let you know that you really did provoke a lot of thought on my part. And also, truly, a little bit of laughter.

Your friend,