Monday, July 12, 2010
Technology in Worship -- Benefit and Drawbacks
I seriously doubt whether anyone (and we have our share of Luddites in the LCMS) would disdain such things as central heat and air conditioning, or systems to make the voice sound loud and clear in everyone's ear, but there are other advances that have made their way into the Church with less of a welcome. We all cringe at the myriad of wild and unusual cell phone rings that seem to go off at all the wrong times in worship. (I recall a story in which a preacher said he would love to know what the sound of Revelation's heavenly chorus was like -- when a cell phone went off to the tune of "Take me out to the ball game" -- and paused and said, "Now I know...") But these are not the only advances to be considered.
An app for the I-Pad which provides the Roman Missal has been greeted with less than wild enthusiasm. The thought of people choosing an app for a tablet computer or phone instead of a hymnal or missalette gives you the very weird picture of pew filled with people watching a screen with ear bugs hanging off their heads. Ugh!
At the LCMS Convention in Houston a TV screen was embedded in the altar. It had to be a very unfortunate choice and appears to have made technology both the deity and the means of grace. I was not there to see how it was used but the image of that screen in the altar is a most unpleasant wedding of technology and worship -- at least in my viewpoint.
The ever present screens presenting everything from sermon notes on PowerPoint to the images that go with what was happening in the service (instead of stained glass) to a fully orchestrated video presentation to a dancing dot over the words of the songs being sung... and I could go on... Well, I am not sure what to make of it all. I disdain the idea that the Pastor or worship leader controls the experience by means of the video or images (that are often the only visual graphics or art in the building). It reeks of manipulation. I do not like that we have become slaves to video so that we must have our minds spoon fed with images instead of allowing the Word to paint those images upon the canvas of our minds and hearts. I resent the idea that the only way modern people can relate to God is through the technology that shapes and defines too much of modern life (turning worship from an encounter with God in the means of grace to another YouTube video).
Before anyone accuses me of being anti-technology, let me make a few points. I do blog. I have several computers. I do use PowerPoint. I am a fan of YouTube. BUT... the place of technology is as much an issue as the technology itself.
When Bach played the pipe organ, that instrument was one of the most complicated mechanical devices of the age and represented some of the heights of technology for his day. The technology was nearly invisible and the music was center stage. Today's technology is not so invisible and seems to not only demand something from us, but shape how we see things. When technology becomes its own object or distraction, then its place in worship should rightfully be questioned. It is exactly like the music that gets in the way of the text. Worship is not about the experience or the aesthetic, but about the Word (and visible Words or Sacraments) through Christ comes to us, bestows upon us His gifts, and imparts to us the Spirit that we might receive those gifts with faith).
I must confess that we all are in love with our technology but this love affair has not brought with it the kind of critical review that is needful to the Church. One of the purposes of this post is to ask the question -- which technology is bad for worship as well as acknowledging those which may be useful. It is not just a matter of how it is used. It is not like the judicious use of certain technology is salutary and other usages are not. It is not merely a matter of degree here. For example, I am not talking simply about the usage of screens or their placement, but what does this technology do to change worship? What does it do to the worshiper and what does it do to the Word? What is the end result of such technology?
There was a time when it was thought that electronic media would completely replace publishing. It has not happened. Though some said the publishing of a hymnal might one day be obsolete (even with respect to LSB and 2006), we have seen that this is not the case. The question is then whether this day will come or whether we should allow it to come?
St. Paul's advice is good. Not all things possible are beneficial. No more pointed wisdom needs to be said as the Church wrestles with this issue of how much technology is good and how much is bad in worship.