In Neil Postman's indictment of the Age of Television, Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business, he makes some interesting comments about the church -- particularly television preachers. He says that church is not transferable to television. First, of course, there is the fact that church is much more than watching or listening to a preacher. As Postman says, "Christianity is a demanding and serious religion. When it is delivered as easy and amusing, it is another kind of religion altogether." This alone is a provocative enough statement, but the more interesting one to me is his argument that we cannot invest the television screen with a sacred use, given that the screen is so saturated with our memories of profane (non-sacred) events and the reality that with one click we can change the channel and be watching MTV or football.
I thought of this statement because of a recent conversation among some in our church over whether to have a movie night in the sanctuary of our church. To be sure, we would be doing a bit more than entertaining. We would select the movies carefully and use them as tools to fuel a discussion of the worldview evidenced by the film as well as how to be discerning partakers of popular culture. All well and good. But I wonder if we risk desacralizing a sacred space?
I admit that this whole notion of sacred space has, until recently, been foreign to me. I generally have viewed church buildings as nothing nothing more than brick and mortar multi-use space usable for congregational worship, concerts, conferences, and, but for the fact that we have immovable pews, for fellowship dinners or any other church use. However, if I view PG-13 or R rated movies in the sanctuary, I wonder if that profane (non-sacred) use will impinge on my worship, that is, if during worship I will think of what I have seen there, a movie that may have sexuality, violence, or profanity? If so, how will that impact my worship? I don't know.
There is great power in images and the associations we make. Here's an unfortunate example for you: When I was about 14, I was attending worship in my family's church. An older college kid I knew brought his girlfriend to church that day. Thirty-three years later, I remember the provocative and suggestive way in which she was dressed. Now, when I think of that church, that image inevitably flashes briefly into my mind. Sure, some of that's inevitable, some of it my problem, but it does effect my worship there in that place. Association is powerful. Images are pervasive and long-enduring.
I am not sure this is a biblical concern as much as a prudential concern. It may not be a problem for everyone. Something tells me, however, that I don't want my place of worship to be like every other place. I want it to be invested with a scared use, to be set apart, to be something other than a mult-use building.