The Medium is the Message

21 May

Marshal McLuen in the 60’s coined a phrase, “The medium is the message.” I’ve been thinking a lot about this lately.

Often the way the church approaches technology is this:

TV? Is it good or bad? That depends are you watching PBS/The 700 Club/MTV?
Then if we deem the television program good or uplifting we say that this form of media is ok. Or at least that is the way that I have understood it. McLuen would say that this isn’t true. Sure we can put good stuff in or bad stuff in and that will effect us but it goes further. Simply the act of watching TV shapes the way that our brain works. I am becoming a different kind of person than those generations before without television.

You could look at even the act of writing. In oral culture’s you find that information was retained through storytelling and demanded community. Once we moved to a literate culture your thought could be written down, stored away, and processed all by yourself. Creating a highly individual type of culture. Not that I am knocking this, because I am currently writing on a computer, so I would be a hypocrite. But media whether good or bad shapes us into a certain type of person.

Take the chair you sit in on a Sunday morning if you go to a worship gathering. Is it like a movie chair or a flimsy gray chair made of plastic? One of them I would suggest whether we know it or not says to sit back and relax and enjoy the show while the other says don’t get to comfortable, this doesn’t belong in a building.

The team that leads during singing. Do they use lights, video, smoke machine? If so expect people to be spectators of your well produced concert and not engage communally in singing to God.

Preaching. Some preachers are very passionate, shouting and screaming, while others are very academic. We might say, who cares as long as they are speaking the truth. I would agree and not look to be too picky but these very teaching styles (medium) are what people decide they can or can not emulate in their place of work or with family.

At work I cannot stand on a soap box and ask people for an amen. I cannot expect people to agree with my preconceived notions. I can’t shout and cry great big crocodile tears about how we all got to get right with God without alienating those around me. While it may be good and true what a pastor is saying, if a teacher can’t embody his words in a culturally aware way it will be hard for the community to take that message into their workplace.

So I guess this is where the church comes in on a bigger level. The church is the body of Christ. We would do well to understand that “the medium is the message.” We are called to embody the words and teachings of Jesus. The church’s problem I don’t believe is necessarily our stance on things it is that our words get ahead of our actions.

The poet Emmerson said, “Do not speak. Who you are thunders all around you so that I cannot hear what you are saying.”

I wonder if sometimes people walk away from the church not because of their disbelief alone but our disbelief. I wonder if they think, “How can they expect me to believe something that they obviously by their actions show that they don’t believe.”

The church was supposed to be this alternative community/kingdom that displays what God is like. What does love look like? Look at the church as the people within it forgive each other and even bless their enemies. What does justice look like? Look at the church how they care for the widow, orphaned and oppressed and you will see what justice looks like. What does Christ look like? Look at the church.

While the church will always be a place that accepts the broken, addicted and those who have a whole lot of baggage it has no place for the hypocrite. Jesus’ harshest words were for the Pharisee’s. You will not find a single place in the Bible where Jesus disagrees with their belief. What you do find however is that he rails against them for failing to live out this message that they demand others submit to.

Mother Theresa during a presidential breakfast spoke about abortion. A pretty controversial subject if you didn’t know. She spoke of the evils that a society must have reached that the strongest would not protect the weakest. She didn’t hold back. But next, what continually blows me away is that she said, “if you don’t want your children…give them to me, I will take them.”

The crowd stood up to applaud. President Clinton at the time came up and said that it is hard to argue with a life well lived.

While her words on the subject probably weren’t much different than what were heard on many Sunday mornings there was a certain weight that her words carried. I think it was because those people in the audience realized that she was willing to be the answer to what she demanded of the world.

So Church…please speak and keep on speaking…
But please…be the answer to what you are demanding of the world…


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