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Sunday, December 04, 2005

The Media and Economy of Faith

Have you ever played word association games? You know-- I say a word and you say the first thing that comes to your mind? Or, have you ever done an inkblot test?

Last week, Dave (my buddy and fellow pastor) thought it would be a good idea to throw out a message title and have the three of us—Dave, Randy and I-- speak based on our own experience and reaction to the title. The title was “The Media and Economy of Faith.” Here are some of my random thoughts:

We use the word media to refer to a variety of communication/art forms and tools—t.v., video, audio, print messages, computers, newspapers, etc. Media usually describes those collective sources. Media is wrought with artistic expression to season—to bolster and augment— the message.

Economy is a term we usually use in relation to money. We talk about crashes in our economy; which gas station is the most economical; the influence sever weather has on a region’s economy; the economy of downtown Jackson in comparison to Ann Arbor or Lansing, Folsom in comparison to El Dorado Hills, etc.

When I think about the two terms coinciding however, I get a different nuance.

Associating media in relation to my faith conjures up new thoughts. As a follower of Christ, I tend to approach media with a few questions: What is the message they are selling? Do I buy the message? Are they militant with the message? Is the message subtle? Do they say what I believe in a better way than I can convey to people? Does the world around me enjoy this particular piece of media? Can I use this media to spawn conversation about my faith? What does God think about this media message? How can I use this media to tell others about Jesus?

Most of the questions I have about media are regarding the method of God’s involvement and activity in our world. Another way of explaining God’s involvement and activity in the world is what theologians refer to as “God’s economy.”

I tend to look at media in regards to my faith as both a source of information and/or education, a source of entertainment, and a tool—all in one—though I may exercise one of those above another at any given time depending on my frame of mind and purpose.

There is often talk in the church about media and how it is impacting our culture. We have questions about what to watch. We have questions about how we can use popular media to promote the message of the Bible. Etc. These are good questions to ask. We even have a group that meets regularly around Westwinds called “Reel Scrutiny” where the group gathers to watch popular film and ask questions of the media in relation to living out our faith and a biblical perspective on life.

It is wise for the church to understand the language of the day and be able to speak it fluently. The combination of image and sound in our culture IS where the power to communicate lies.

And, new mediums rise up all the time which requires us to remain sharp. The motion picture industry has realized how it needs to adapt to shifting trends. For instance: The money made from the sale of video games has eclipsed the profits of the motion picture industry in recent years. The motion picture industry—wise to this current trend has made adjustments to win their portion of the market share. Which is why in March, 2005 - Disney Interactive announced plans about its action/adventure title, "The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe," for the PlayStation 2 computer entertainment system, PSP handheld entertainment system, Xbox video game system from Microsoft, Nintendo GameCube, Game Boy Advance, Nintendo DS and PC. The video game commercials as well as the movie commercials have blitzed t.v. in recent days in anticipation of the release of both. I've seen more commercials for the game than the movie.

Good storytellers understand the media of their day and use it to their advantage. Plato once said, “Whoever tells the stories shapes society.”

God is no idiot. He knew this truth about the story before Plato took a breath. God has and is revealing Himself through story. And in very creative ways. This has always been His modus operandi.

Take for example the creativity the biblical authors used in writing scripture. Scripture is alive with imaginative and creative literary device.

Hebrew poetry was a literary device used by biblical writers to make the message attractive and convincing to an audience that was well versed in the medium. They infiltrated the popular media of their time with artistic communication.

The Hebrew writers sometimes used Acrostics. An acrostic poem is one that begins each line or each group of lines with a successive letter of the Hebrew alphabet. Psalm 9-10, 25, 34, 37, 111, 112, 119, 145; Proverbs 31:10-31; Lamentations 2-4; Naham 1:2-8 are all examples— with Psalm 119 being perhaps the most popular.

Chiasm is also a poetic device used in scripture. This is where you find a thought in one line repeated in another line with a reverse word order.

Psalm 121:6 By day the sun will not strike you
nor the moon by night.
Chiasm comes from the “X” pattern that resembles the Greek letter “Chi.”

You can also see chiasm in the large context of a stanza or a whole poem.

Often times the Hebrew writer/poets constructed an entire passage of scripture where thoughts in the first verse were echoed in the last verse—the second verse paired up with the second to last verse—etc. So many passages of scripture come alive when we spot these patterns. The most fun part of recognizing the pattern is locating the middle verse or verses in the chiasm because the middle of the chiasm is what the writer wanted to draw special attention to.

Think of the Hebraic Poetry chiasm as an ancient hidden message ala The Davinci Code. Those messages are there today for your finding. It’s not rocket science but, it requires becoming familiar with the art.

Within the structure of scripture is a story pregnant with art and creativity. It is so wrought with style, mystery, and expression that this piece of ancient media continues to wow critics as one of the best written pieces of literature ever written.

We have witnessed another trend in recent years for the stories of old—the classics—the time honored stories-- to be retold through the medium of film.

One of the things that makes the retelling of a story successful is when a director captures the essence of the original story and makes it come to life in a way that reflects the imagination of the original readers using the best technology available. This is why, as technology advances even classic movies get remade. When you see your favorite book made into film you judge it based on how it matches up to the picture you had in your head.

You want a prediction? You can write this down. I predict the movie Star Wars—the original—Episode IV: A New Hope gets remade in the next twenty years. Why? The story is fresh but, the media is old. It doesn’t match up to the computer technology and wizardry of its current Star Wars saga installations.

Stories don’t get known by osmosis. To know a story requires intimacy with the characters. It requires intimacy with the author’s style. Understanding the style of an author contributes a huge edge to a story (M. Night Shyamalan, Hitchcock, Speilberg). This is true of the biblical authors. As we are making resolutions this upcoming year, I dare you to pick one biblical author and become familiar with their writings, their style, their literary device, their personality, their use of media.

If we were to be totally daring, dream big, and not limit our thinking: how could we impact our world with the life changing message of God’s Word and stories of His people using the media of our day?

In 1971, Michael Hart had a dream to publish all the world’s most important pieces of literature in digital format for the world to access and read for FREE. He began Project Gutenberg with a passion to reproduce literature in an affordable format using a volunteer army—aided by donations—with lawyers, lobbyists, and copyright gurus biting at his heels. Today, 35 years later—there are over 50,000 titles available online legally, for free by authors like Shakespeare, Edgar Rice Burroughs, Poe, Dante, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, and Lewis Carol.

Imagine what would happen if poets, writers, thinkers who are Christ followers were to have that kind of passion for sharing our life changing story of redemption and love . . .

Maybe that kind of passion would provoke us to take the charge of the ancestors of our faith. When Gutenberg invented his press over five centuries ago, some have estimated the cost to produce a book was about 4 times the annual pay of the average laborer. The cost to purchase a book was the cost of a farm. As costs came down, it was still not unheard of for quite some time for the cost of a book to be equal to a month’s salary. I’ve heard it said that Christ followers in Gutenberg’s day understood the importance of the media, understood how the use of popular media has always been part of God’s economy, and gave away copies of Bibles to those who couldn’t afford them.

How does one month’s salary translate today? About the cost of a laptop computer? About the cost of a Blackberry? A phone? A video iPod? All those things together?

Imagine the church today taking a cue from Oprah—like she did a couple of weeks ago on her annual “Favorite Things” show. Imagine if we were to give every person who can’t afford luxuries in our neighborhood a Blackberry or an iPod or a laptop loaded with Michael Hart’s eBooks, loaded with the Bible in every version available, loaded with study software, loaded with video testimonies of people whose lives have been changed by Jesus.

Last year, over a billion new cell phones were added to our economy. The cost has gone down drastically. Imagine every person who can’t afford a cell phone being given one loaded with media of the same caliber. Imagine giving away cell phones loaded with phone numbers of contacts they could reach when they had questions or wanted to engage in spiritual conversation.

Imagine sending a text message to all those folks everyday on their free cell phone with an encouragement, or an invitation to gather.

We need to know the story. We need to tell the story in fresh, creative, technology savvy, approachable, interesting ways.

We need to invest in the story. We need to sacrifice for the story.

The media and the economy of faith have always been about these things.


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