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Slide Show Semantics

I do try to keep in mind that, other than the muted but increasing presence in the large southern churches I attended a half-dozen years ago while I was in college, I only have one frame of reference for the use and abuse of slide shows in evangelical Christian worship because, unless I have some compelling reason such as a friend or family to visit, when I visit other churches I visit places with high church liturgies which make them more skeptical of this sort of change.

The projector is still new in my church, and each effort to incorporate slide shows into both liturgy and pedagogy is a test. There have been unforeseen consequences. I suspect my church, for a number of reasons unnecessary to lay out here, also represents a peculiarly free use of the media. The projector is the baby of one man, and he has no limits but what his sensibility and doctrine impose upon him. He is, moreover, our primary liturgist. He is the one fond of free images and shallow visual metaphors. So far, it has been unfortunate accidents and choices made in his slide shows about which I’ve written.

But habits are changing. As casual as the reading from scripture tends to be in Church of Christ worship, it nevertheless has its customary form. Scripture must be attributed by book, chapter, and verse, Jesus might as well have commanded; time must be allowed for congregants to find the place in their own Bibles so they may read along. This practice of reading scripture aloud is a practice most suggestive of our primitivism: it is an appeal to the congregants to verify the truth of the Word being spoken aloud by its printing. It is also often a reminder that the Church of Christ makes no distinction between priesthood and laiety: all (Ahem) men both practiced and unpracticed are priests who speak, and the Lord’s Word is true on all men’s tongues. This practice of reading aloud indicates another history, too, that of reading from a book, which is a practice so old and culturally engrained that to see someone holding a book open is to attune us to the act of reading and, for that matter, of listening. Today that practice was interrupted. With the text of the reading projected on the screen, the reader approached the podium. There, he opened no book. He then announced no text. As he read aloud, his eyes remained glued to the screen. When he finished, he said nothing more, not even to commit us to the hearing of the Word nor even to say what text he had just read. Certainly what the reader did can be curtailed with training. But it’s a testament to the sheer difference of the media that it caused him to change his habit as fully as he did.

Another side effect of the media’s presence also appeared today. The minister used Powerpoint in his sermons at his previous congregation. There, apparently, he had help acquiring his slides. Here, though, he is on his own. He has free reign of what he chooses. Study the image below carefully. Imagine it 30 times its current size, too. It is like one of those the minister chose today.1

What I saw in church today, inadvertently on the minister’s part, but gleefully on the part of the several marketing departments: I saw an ad for TDS, Culver’s Cafeteria, American Family Insurance, Menard’s, Coca-Cola, Alliant Energy2, M&I Bank, US Cellular, Nicholas, and whatever the ad on the bottom right is. What I saw was an unfortunate coinciding of the prevalence of advertising in our culture and the ready availability via the Internet of what appear to be free images. Another image splashed onscreen, of a map of the United States, featured a half-transparent advertisement for the map company from which he took the image.3 I’ve sometimes felt that our minister was overly enthusiastic about consumerist culture, and the fact that he’s less concerned about the ways that things are sold to us than he is about the ways that kids are taught about sex (never mind that the two often go in hand) suggests that he’s not attuned to notice—or worry—about the ads on display. And this image also suggests that he believes the images he picks are innocent. They illustrate x, and because they do, the fact that they also speak y and z does not occur to him. But images are often not innocent, and—as the marketers who paid a lot of money to advertise on the border of that screen know—very few are in fact free.

1 Right, right. What was the point of the image in the first place? It was tied to a rhetorical question: “Do you want a jumbotron to replay slow-motion highlights of your life?” In context, I swear it made sense.

2 Had this been the actual image, the Alliant Energy ad would have proved an awkward conflict of interest: the congregation as late as last month owned stock in Alliant.

3 In another way almost as atrocious, he also started using animated gifs today. I shudder to think of it.



i want to be there when he starts using the bells and whistle function in church, so that the rotating cross gif is introduced by a whiz.

i’d also love to be there when he turns towards the screen and shows a movie clip in the middle of the sermon… then we could say you’ve come a long way baby!

our church has resolutely resisted such media… but that is because the ministers (with the exception of the one that wants to start a contemporary worship service complete with third day songs and ppt (despite his techignorace) and blatantly structured as a business casual kind of affair) idolize our building. so that this sunday, we were all encouraged to come in and study each of the stained glass windows on our own time.

But I could live with architecturolatry. It at least has milennia-long precedent in the spiritual formation of people.

So I went through the whole reading-aloud thing Sunday, and realized what I think may be the key problem: the guy who prints the bulletin/liturgy (and prepares the slideshow) doesn’t tell anybody what passage is to be read. There’s no indication anywhere, so anybody who didn’t call him during the weekend to find out what was what has no idea what might happen. I didn’t call him this week—I had thought I was responsible for something else, and I contacted him about that; when he said he asked somebody else to do it, he didn’t tell me he had slotted me elsewhere. So I showed up (late) and blammo! I’m reading, and I had no idea and no way to know what text I was supposed to read until I stepped up in front of the computer to stare at the screen.

The problems of planning, however, don’t negate what I said above, but they do exacerbate it.

showing up to church late, though… where does that fit in? :)

:) That’s nothing compared to next week, when I forego going at all so I can run a 10K!