Tuesday, 4 June 2013

Big Screen - Small Return

The Festival of Homilects was held in Nashville last month.  About 2,000 preachers – and nothing says “Festival” like Homiletics!!  (Homiletics is a world of Latin origin, essentially meaning “Preaching”… and by Latin, I mean the language of the Popes, not the music of Ricky Martin)
I attended.  
I drank American Beer (I think... it's kinda hard to tell that it's beer)
I went to the Johnny Cash Museum; the Country Music Hall of Fame.
I went to Hooters for the first time.  (but, all the other ministers were going...)
I went to Church. A lot.  (probably trying to make up for Hooters.)

I was overwhelmed by some remarkable preachers and speakers… but I was also overwhelmed by irritation.  I’m not talking about a rash (my rashes are none of your business) – but by the use of the Big Screen in worship.

So, consider this a rant:  I’m not partial to Big Screens in church!!!
Or, a more Canadian rant:  
   I’m sorry, but I’m not partial to Big Screens in Church… if you don’t mind, eh?

Please understand that I’m not anti-technology.  I have a digital thermometer and a Netflix account!   Actually, I do use Powerpoint and (the vastly better) Prezi for lectures and events; I have never stopped anyone from tweeting during a service – I have set up Hashtags and encouraged tweeting at funerals for young people – I’m not afraid of tech and make an effort to engage where I can. 
BUT you are not likely to find me the church of Big Screen, and I feel the need to tell you why.
(can we let the Hooters thing go now?)

The first reason is that we often do it badly.
I have been witness as the preacher projected a joke on the overhead screen that was funny and had nothing to do with his actual sermon  - I was so taken by the joke that I completely lost track of his words.  At the Festival of Homiletics, I was witness to an expert in the field project yellow words to a hymn on an orange background… none of us could read the words, there wasn't enough contrast.  I have also been witness  to song lyrics projected without any sense of poetry, presentation or ease of understanding.  For example:

Don’t be afraid,
my love is stronger
My love is stronger than your fear.
Don’t be afraid,
my love is stronger
and I have promised,
promised to be always near.
Is preferable to
Don’t be afraid, my love
Is stronger than your
Don’t be afraid, my love
Is stronger and I have
Promised, promised
To be always near.

You kind of think that I’m joking… but you also know that I’m not… my bad experiences number in the hundreds.  We've all see it and it’s terribly distracting.   So are images/slides out of order.
When you think about it, most Big Screen presentations done in church a little more than the Slide Shows of 1970s or the Flannel Graphs of the 1950s.  (oooooohhhhhh.... a slide carousel!!)

Okay, so enough of my being bitchy about it. 
Even when it is done well… I still am not a big fan. 
People’s lives are inundated with screens today.  In elevators, on transit, in cars and vans, on smartphones and tablets.  Maybe, every now and again, it would be nice to have a time and space free of the ubiquitous projection of ideas and content.  One could argue that our contemporary language is one of video screens… and if I had something important to tell people who spoke Gaelic as a first language, I would learn Gaelic  (An bhfuil Gaeilge agat?)   However, I also think the we call our worship room a “Sanctuary” for a variety of reasons… one of which should be a place where we get a break from the world and tyranny and onslaught of images being pushed into our brains).  Seriously, most of what I choose to look at in the real world, are not aglow with inner light, but the more calming reflected light.  (with the exception of pregnant women and the Dalai Lama... who do seem to glow with inner light).  Give my eyes and brain a rest!

Projected images are also at least one step removed from reality.  I would rather have live music than recorded music; I would rather have a potter throw a pot in a service, than see a picture of a potter… images on the screen tend to make me lazy as a preacher/liturgist and not ask a potter to come and share her art with us, because I can get a picture or Youtube video; it tends to encourage me to play pop music instead of supporting and honouring musicians within my community.  Granted my laziness maybe to blame, but I'm not alone..
Further,  and it might be just me… but television makes me drowsy and encourages me to turn my mind off.  The opposite of my worship goals.  Somebody’s images projected up on a screen to not tend to spark my imagination or tweak my sense of wonder and awe.  A good story does…  
I come home at night, get comfy and fall asleep in front of the TV.  Do we really want a congregation filled with people, hand in their pants, nodding off…? 
Television is passive and images projected on a screen tend to put me in passive mindset.  (but that might be just me… show me a picture and you might be able to talk me out of it)

Finally – and perhaps most importantly.  Projected images are in control of the worship master.  When I lead worship, I usually provide a bulletin with poems, prayers and images.  It’s in your hand and it’s your property.  You can refer to it during worship as you choose and you can take it away with you when the service is over.  You might read a prayer or consider a picture that I've included in the service… you might share some words or images with another person.  Whatever you decide to do, you have the power.  A prayer projected on a screen doesn't leave with you… it doesn't invite later contemplation. If you want
to share it with another person, you need to go and ask somebody to make you a copy.  It’s not yours – you need someone’s permission to look at it later or share it.  I don’t think that the power dynamic is particularly helpful – but instead is a turn back to a time when the leader/priest/minister/teacher had all the knowledge and would dole it out as he/she felt was appropriate.

So, that’s my rant…
That’s why we don’t have screens at my church.
It might change tomorrow… it might not.
But whatever happens next, it won’t simply be because it’s available… 

                                                                                              (it’ll be because it’s cheap).


  1. Will this change Definitely Not Church back to just live music? Screenless live music?

  2. Nope... I'm not against all screens, I just like to have a worship time that offers an alternative. Definitely NOT Church - is not worship; it's NOT even Church - so the Powerpoint will remain : )
    (Prezi makes some people nauseous)

  3. Ok, I'm almost afraid to ask, but what are Flannel Graphs?

    Agree totally about the monitors. Although they are a powerful tool, it is almost overused these days and can be very distracting from the main message trying to be delivered.

    And don't think we're gonna let you off so easy on that whole Hooter's escapade...

  4. Flannel Graphs were those great big swaths of Flannel that the Sunday School teacher would use as background... then she (let's face it, it was usually "she") would bring out Flannel Cut Outs of Bible Characters and create the story for us... A wonderful teaching tool with all the visual finesse and smooth presentation of a SouthPark Cartoon.