Thursday, July 30, 2009

The Church and Story Part 2

A continuation from yesterday…

IF the question is, “Should we permit drama (or story) into the church,” the correct and complete answer is:

“Sure. Why not?”

But of course, that isn’t the right question. This question presupposes an agreement that drama has been banned from the church, and now must justify a return; much akin to the dog that peed all over the living room carpet, and now your spouse is asking, “Should the dog be let back in?”

The real question is, “If we use story, how are we using it?”

Alan Noble contributed this to the discussion:

“… I do think that if church leaders want to use videos or drama in their preaching they need to do a lot more thinking about the medium, how it functions, and what it conveys.

“In a (somewhat) analogous setting, in the teaching profession there has been a lot of debate about the usefulness and value of video in the classroom. On the whole I’ve found that it discourages critical thinking, signals to the students that “learning” has ended and “entertainment” has begun, and in general lowers their expectations as to the seriousness of the subject and their obligation to learn.”

Sadly, Alan has seen some pretty poor use of video in the classroom. In fact, much of the arguments out there calling for a ban on use of story stem from encounters with bad drama, or poorly thought out integration, or an improper emphasis on the role of story.

Brian Walton points out such examples in his comments to yesterday’s blog entry (take some time to hike over and read them. Then stay to read the very insightful comments from Linds and David.)

I have been in worship settings where Alan’s concerns are proven true: the drama team trots out onto the bema, and the congregation (smiling) checks out of worship to have a little restful entertainment.

But the fact that there is bad drama out there is not a compelling argument to ban all use of story in church. Heck, I could rustle up a passel of bad preachers without breaking a sweat – have I just put Pastor Piper out of a job?

Maybe not.

Alan also says,

“If we do chose to include them, it should only be after we’ve thought and prayed long and hard about how the congregation will interpret these mediums and how they will or will not honor God. “

And there we have it.

How will the media be interpreted? Will it deepen our congregation’s experience, or will it distract them? Will it bring glory to G-d, and will it bring the people in closer communion to him?

For example, many Catholic churches will not be instituting live sketches in the mass any time soon. The mass is already designed to be a journey into mystery – a dramatic one at that. An actor performing a character would jar stylistically with the mass; and thus distract.

But the mass does use theater – procession and imitative action; communal metaphoric ritual (passing the flame to allow individual candles to combine to dispel the darkness – such a transcendent moment); and it is common for the pastor to use the homily to illuminate the readings, sometimes through story.

Those are drama styles that fit and enhance their particular needs in that particular setting.

Truth is, the Gospel is wider and deeper and more varied than we tend to give credit to it. Every congregation comes to worship with different needs; and they should openly and prayerful consider what G-d might have for them to fulfill those specific needs at this given time.

For some, that may mean drama. For others, not so much.

Tomorrow: Did Jesus really command us to not use parables?

Just my thoughts,



David Goulet said...


You raise a vital point in that much of the challenge is discerning what rituals and spiritual activities can connect the broadest audience.

Since each of us is our own unique context, how God expresses Himself through us is likewise unique.

For example, some of my most intense spiritual experiences have come while listening to Christian hard rock music. But it will be a hot day in Heaven before I hear Disciple or POD used as a recessional hymn in my parish.

When we come together to worship, there's always a spirit of compromise involved. We give up a little of our uniqueness in order to promote community.

The danger is that if a church becomes too rigid in what it allows to be incorporated into its liturgies, people may not feel their individual spirituality is allowed to be reflected in it. But if you allow too much individuality, you risk a splintering of the church and a balkanization of churches and forms of worship.

It's like a rubber band. If it lacks elasticity, it can snap when it is stretched beyond its narrow limits. But if it has too much elasticity it is no longer able to hold anything together.

Robert J Lee said...

There are dramatic/comedic pieces, that, if left standing on their own will leave the congregation confused, even if entertained. Some are designed not to teach, but to set up the pastors teaching. Willow Creek comes to mind as a place that lets the sketch set up the problem, then allows the pastor to come forward to present the solution.

gilliebean said...

If the original argument was against *story* and not *drama*, I wonder where the *testimony* falls since testimony is essentially a story of God's faithfulness.

I always like to throw Revelation 4:11 into the mix.

Gaffney said...

I'm a bit slow here -- how does Revelation 4:11 apply?