Previous Challenge Entry (Level 3 - Advanced)
Topic: Valley (08/10/06)
- TITLE: Crazy Annie's Uncanny Valley
By william price
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When I first came to town a month ago to pastor my first church, a deacon warned me about an eccentric old woman who goes out of her way to call most Christians, fake.
“And she’s not bashful about it. She’s crazy. She even takes ads out in the newspaper.” His eyes were wide and frantic. He said she ran the last pastor off. I grinned and told him not to worry.
I met her a week later while shopping. I was in the feminine hygiene aisle trying to remember what my wife asked me to get. I had lost my store list, was perplexed, embarrassed and a little irritated. I had just wanted to sweep down the aisle, throw the package in the cart, and move on. But I had to stand there, trying to recollect if it was maxi, mini, with wings, or what. At the height of my frustration I noticed this smartly dressed, silver-haired, very short, elderly woman, walk up to me.
“You must be the new pastor in town. I’m Annie Stewart.”
I couldn’t believe she found me buying unmentionables.
“Don’t see many men on this row. You’re probably buying those for your wife. My guess is though; you don’t know the difference between a feminine napkin and a box of Kleenex.”
That’s when it happened, I smiled. Maybe it was out of habit, or just years of training, but I turned my confused frown into my Sunday morning “meet and greet” look, as my wife calls it.
Annie’s expression saddened.
“Ah, shucks. You had my attention at first and got my hopes up. You looked so real, then wham-switcho-bam; you pasted that big toothy smile on your face. I was praying you’d be different.” She spun around and walked away.
I just floated there, adrift in the rippled wake of her rebuke, with my toothy smile still in place. I had just met Crazy Annie.
A few weeks later, my brother was visiting. He’s a robotic engineer. I told him about my encounter at the store.
“I don’t like that smile either.”
“I mean, I don’t ever remember seeing that much of your teeth.”
I just grinned with my mouth closed.
“Have you ever heard of the Uncanny Valley?”
“It’s a term in robotics we use when plotting a person’s psychological reaction to something they see as less-than-human. The more comfortable they are with what they see, the higher it plots on the curve. The more eerie, or disquieted they feel, the deeper the plotted line drops below the acceptable comfort level. The dip in the graph is called the Uncanny Valley. Are you following me?”
“It’s like this, when we design prosthetic arms and legs, we don’t want people looking at our patients like they’re Frankenstein. The more real we can make them look, the higher it rates on the Uncanny Valley curve.”
“What would rate at the bottom of the valley?”
“The way someone would respond to a moving corpse.”
“Hey, this isn’t about your smile. Not-So-Crazy Annie views some Christians as less than human, or robotic. All believers have to deal with that chasm between where they are in the Lord and where they know they should be. She probably feels too many believers create shortcuts to bridge that gap. You know, using the big smile, or saying whatever the popular God-speak phrases are. I think she might have something there. I feel the same way sometimes.”
Later that night I prepared my next sermon, “The Church of the Uncanny Valley”. The following morning I had my secretary invite Annie to the service.
Just before I was ready to preach that Sunday, I heard a collective “gasp” from the congregation. In walked Crazy Annie who sat next to my wife on the front pew. I smiled at her. She winked and gave thumbs up. Her eyes were glistening as she whispered something to my better-half. Afterwards, my wife told me Annie said she had been praying for me, and that she hoped I had bought her the right feminine napkins.
I might have fallen into my wife’s doghouse, but at least I started climbing out of the Uncanny Valley.
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