Wednesday, March 25, 2009

the medium is the message

I haven't read Flickering Pixels yet, but I'm a big fan of Shane Hipps and his first book, The Hidden Power of Electronic Culture. In fact, that book inspired one of my responses in my dad's upcoming book. First, a few words from Shane:

(thanks to Jonathon at Missio Deo for posting about video)

Now a few words from me:
"The medium has far more impact on the culture than its content." I’m guessing many Christians would disagree with this statement. I certainly found it shocking when I first read it, but after more reading and thinking, it’s beginning to make some sense. So, if you’ll bear with me, here’s what I learned.

With the vast cultural shifts we have experienced in America, many churches struggle to connect with the culture and are not keeping up. I hear things like the church is often decades behind the culture. Churches are involved in many exercises of trying to keep up. Pastors and lay leaders are eager to employ the latest technology, gadgetry, structures, musical styles, fashions, and espresso bars in the search to be relevant.

After reading The Hidden Power of Electronic Culture by Shane Hipps, I think we’ve got it backwards. I think the problem may be a misconception held by almost everyone involved with church and that is that the message should never change, just the delivery methods that will allow the message to "reach" the culture. First, it seems obvious to me that "the message" is not only slightly or very different for each Christian denomination; it’s different for every congregation and every individual inside or outside a congregation. Each of us brings our own interpretative lens to the message. Our faith and our beliefs are impacted by our experiences and our community. Belief and faith cannot be measured or checked off on a list.

Second, we fail to realize that the medium is the message. Shane skillfully identifies and describes basic media inventions that have had enormous impacts upon Western civilization. So all consuming are the resulting cultural shifts that we often no longer recognize their birth was caused, in part, by technology we now take for granted. That is the hidden power behind the medium. One of the pivotal technologies that has shaped faith from Martin Luther’s time on is the mass-produced, printed word. Shane writes that the printed word has "caused a cultural shift and an emphasis on the individual, on objectivity, on abstract thinking, on rationality, that – for better or worse – came to dominate nearly every aspect of social, political, and religious life during the modern era."

So what do we do with this printed word, this Bible that is at the heart of our Christian tradition? As Christians, we are called to be in "the word" daily. Many approaches to studying the Bible begin with the admonishment to "be objective" and not to let our own preconceived notions color our interpretation. I even have a discipleship study that encourages approaching the Bible with a "scientific method" of investigation. There’s this process called exegesis that many pastors and scholars employ to try and peel back the layers until one finds the kernel of "truth." Whose truth is that? We need to understand that this medium of the printed word has caused us to believe we can be far more objective and rationale creatures than we really are.

George Lakoff, Professor of Cognitive Science and Linguistics at UC Berkeley and author of The Political Mind said some amazing things about how the brain works in an interview with Diane Rehm: things like; "people mostly think their thoughts are conscious, however 98% are unconscious" and "we think reason is dispassionate, however reason requires emotion."

So, here's the deal: once we open up a Bible and read from it, we’ve already gone beyond it because we’ve brought our unconscious thoughts and passion to it. Does this make the Bible irrelevant? I don't think so. I agree with Marcus Borg "to be Christian is to be centered in the God of the Bible. This is not a mark of Christian exclusion, but of Christian identity." He goes on to say that "the point is not to believe in the Bible – but to see our lives with God through it." We live these lives in community and so it is with our community of faith that we pray, listen, learn, study, teach, struggle, admonish, encourage, and try to live our lives in God’s way. A way that has been recorded for us in the Bible by our predecessors and continues to be lived out, beyond the Bible in Christian lives today. The medium is the message and we, the people, are the medium for God’s message. - excerpt from Un-American Activities: Countercultural Themes in Christianity

1 comment:

Mos and Nikou said...

Hi there,

This is a great blog of yours, Your site is very informative and I can relate to your posts. I'm also a housewife. I have just started my own blog: TheShanghaiExpat. Please feel free to visit and let me know what you think for a link exchange.