Sometimes I wish we used screens in our worship service. Just writing those words might jeopardize my employment in the congregation I serve, but it’s a true sentiment. Television monitors and projection screens are capable of simplifying so much of what takes place on a typical Sunday morning. They can eliminate the cumbersome litany of announcements. They provide an avenue for visual aids and illustrative images. They free us from that awkward experience of unsuccessfully searching for the day’s scripture lesson. Plus, they keep our faces from being buried on a page.
As I said, on some days I wish we made use of screens in worship. Some days. Most days, though, I’m grateful that my Sunday morning experience is free of the blips and flashes, regardless of how helpful they might be.
Thirty years ago, when congregations were fighting the Great Screen War, my community of faith landed firmly in the resistance party. And we’ve remained there through the years. Like other churches in the same antiquated boat, we’ve learned to accept who we are and what we do. Through years of ecclesiastic therapy and weekly support group meetings, we now see ourselves as a legitimate, functional member of church society, despite our obvious lack of digital decor. On good days, we refrain from the predictable snobbery of bucking a trend. On our better days, we desist with needing to justify and explain our liturgical rationale. And on our best days, we acknowledge that we are but one small, imperfect branch in the larger forest — a branch that is trying to blossom in whatever light we have.
It’s unfair to assume that churches like mine somehow arrived at this place through ignorance or poor planning. Despite appearances, we didn’t miss the parade when it came marching past. We just chose to dance an alternative route. In our imperfect fellowship, we make conscious decisions about what happens on Sunday mornings. We take into consideration how our context might foster worship — and we certainly aren’t alone in that. Plenty of congregations contend with the same questions and arrive at vastly different conclusions. For us, yes, it means not using screens. But it also means not having clocks in the sanctuary. It means not lining the walls with promotional posters. It means focusing on theological symbols rather than cultural or civic ones.
Honestly, there’s no part of me that thinks LCD’s are inherently evil. None at all. I love technology. I’m constantly on the lookout for ways to speed up my home network and configure the entire house with CAT5 wiring. I inhale information gleaned from my smartphone. I remain in seemingly constant contact with friends and family through social media. And while I still subscribe to the local newspaper, I receive most of my news from a Twitter feed. Last week I went to Technology Night at my 3rd-grader’s school. I walked away amazed at the opportunities my children have to further their education through countless online resources. And I’m genuinely grateful for teachers who continue to seek and stretch so that their students can be better equipped to lead in a world they will inherit. Besides, I’m counting on my kids to program my nuclear powered hoover Rascal when I’m old. I’m grateful for all this.
But worship is different. It’s a time to turn our hearts and minds, our souls and spirits, in another direction. A time to turn away from consumption and efficiency. To turn away from the rattle and hum of the daily treadmill.
And as a parent, I realize that the last thing my kids need in worship is another screen. I am hoping beyond hope that they will be shaped by a larger presence during that one hour set aside each week — hoping that all their God-given senses will be engaged. That they will absorb the architectural sermons proclaimed in Neo-Gothic design and stained glass. That they will hear the laughter of saints and the timeless hymns of those upon whose shoulders we stand. That they will smell the old oak pews and the freshly cut flowers. That they will taste the bread and wine from the table of grace. That they will feel the warm glow of candles and the touch of blessing from some seasoned souls on a first name basis with God.
For ultimately, the Word did not become pixelated. The Word became flesh and dwelt among us. And this Word dwells still. Sometimes we just have to get beyond the frenzy to see it.
Today I offer a simple nod of appreciation for the Spotify app that allows me to stream the Black Keys through my iPhone to a Bluetooth connected speaker so that my three-year-old and I can make fools of ourselves in clumsy rhythm. But on Sunday, I’ll offer a more prayerful nod that these grand inventions can be put aside for an equally clumsy, yet wonderfully eternal, rhythm of sacred presence.