Monday, June 21, 2010

The Limits of Technology in the Church

Recently AP reported that the Rev. Paolo Padrini, an Italian priest, developed an application (or "ap" as my iPod savvy son would call it) that will allow Catholic clerics to celebrate the Mass via their iPad on the altar in place of the usual printed Roman missal. For some this development will undoubtedly feel odd and perhaps even improper as technology makes yet another intrusion into our lives. It did, however, make me think about the place technology plays in the worship of the church, and what, if any, limits one might want to impose. For the mega churches with their gargantuan video screens and auditorium sanctuaries (there's an oxymoron), technology in this case already displaced all that was once familiar within the church, or much of it. Lutherans, always a bit behind the trend curve, are slowly catching up as they transform their own sanctuaries into "worship spaces" with cutting edge equipment brought straight from the world of entertainment.

Having just updated our own sanctuary with a brand new sound system (complete with those nifty Madonna headset units), it should be known that I am certainly not anti-technology. In the last year I have even incorporated Powerpoint into my instructional repertoire (although I still need my son's expertise for those cool animation things!). That having been said, I do believe there are limits to the use and implementation of technology in the church.

Pastor Tim Rossow over at the Brothers of John the Steadfast put into an economy of words what I believe I wanted to say. He noted that we "use new media where it does not get in the way of the Gospel and also keep from letting the media becomes the message." So how do we put this into actual practice? Consider the point of worship itself, to proclaim Christ and deliver the gifts of God. Worship does not fulfill this goal when it attempts to entertain and amuse, which, unfortunately, I believe the use of too much media does. Attention is taken away from Christ and, as Rossow points out, the "media becomes the message." Our new sound system was needed in large part because the purpose of worship is to make sure people hear the living Word of Christ. Those iPads on Catholic altars may seem odd and out of place at first, but I suspect that done right, they probably won't be seen by too many from their vantage point in the pews and thus should not detract from the hallowed nature of the service.

Technology should always serve the Gospel. Now I know that many will argue that the transformation of churches from those old stodgy medieval sanctuaries into the bright new media worship centers brought a breath of fresh life into the old bones. Young people relate to this, they will will argue. Yet my fear is that the trip to church will seem, in the end, little different than the trip to the local mall or theater. Where do we find the "other worldliness" that long characterized worship and pulled our gaze heavenward and our mediation deep within the mysteries of the faith? Entering church should feel a bit uncomfortable in the sense of traveling from one world to another. Time in the presence of God as revealed in Word and Sacrament brings us to the hidden edge between heaven and earth. I'm sorry, but a slide show of pictures downloaded from Google images or a video clip from a recent movie fails to capture this mystery.

Technology remains, therefore, a mere handmaiden to the Gospel. In light of that if CPH should develop an "ap" for the Lutheran Service Book and I'm lucky enough to acquire an iPad, I'll seriously consider the possibility of adapting - maybe. Let me think a little more about this.....


Anonymous said...

As a former media specialist at a community college, I wish my congregation was more behind in the adoption of technology. Our recently completed church is more like an auditorium, albeit with pews. Two large video screens (my wife refers to them as billboards)are at the front for projecting announcements (run prior to the "worship service" as well as during the offering, for those who arrived too late to see them before the service began, and who are obviously incapable of reading those same announcements in the bulletin. The words and sometimes the music of the liturgy and hymns are projected as well as the scripture readings and slides to illustrate the sermon. I find it mildly amusing and disturbing when the pastor, while holding the hymnal open to the correct page, gazes up and reads and sings from the screen. Why even bother with the book? I leave feeling like I have been somewhere other than church. The screens become the object of our gaze, our worship, our icons if you will. Ugh!

Jeff said...

Tim Lovelace has a good song called The Wall Song which talks about that very thing. In our church if the screen is down the cross cannot be seen.