“I am who I am.” – Exodus 3:14 (NRSV)
For Halloween I am going as Alexa. You’ve met her. She is a disembodied voice, and she does everything you tell her to do. My grandkids love her. “Alexa, hide my brother’s shoes.” “Alexa, get me a cookie.” Alexa can’t do all these things but if she could, she would. That’s why they love her.
My British friends first introduced me to Alexa when I was staying with them. Perhaps it was their English accents that made the mornings so humorous—or that we could just lie in bed until the tea kettle whistled. “Alexa, turn on the water under the tea kettle.”
I was not amused by her behavior when I stayed in someone’s rented house. No one on the rental site mentioned that the teenage kids had told Alexa to lock all the doors and not reopen them even if some stranger had the code. They kept switching the code from afar to dis-amuse their parents, who were apoplectic that Alexa had gone rogue on them.
What is so funny about a robot? Because it is as far from the divine as you can get. The divine doesn’t ever do exactly what you tell her to do. The divine doesn’t play tricks on people or even on parents.
Alexa is fundamentally a disguise, one set up to give humans the power we think we deserve. God is fundamentally not a disguise but a self-directed something or someone who likes to connect with us by choice, not on command. Happy Halloween!
I’d like to be who I am too. Thank you, God, for showing me a way. Help me use robots well or at least be in disguise as a God only so very often. Amen.
Donna Schaper is Senior Minister at Judson Memorial Church in New York City. Her most recent book is I Heart Frances: Letters to the Pope from an Unlikely Admirer.