Today in the theology and culture class I showed this talk by Jonathan Harris. He’s an incredibly creative thinker and has found some pretty interesting ways of collecting and telling other people’s stories. You can check out his own website here. Our conversation today brought together a couple different threads regarding theology and media. We dealt with the standard Marshall McLuhan stuff and had some lively talk regarding his quote that “the medium is the message.”
A lot of the people in class are either currently working in or have extensive experience working in church ministry and so these conversations often lead to questions on how the issues discussed can be used in a practical way. So the issue today was if the medium is the message than what do we do with the gospel? There is a palpable fear among church leaders of “compromising” the gospel in order to market it or make it more accessible to non church-goers. My friend Peggy would always warn of throwing the baby out with the bathwater when trying to recontextualize the message of Jesus. What I think we came away with is that we are not to negate the content or dismiss it but we must understand the medium (or container) that the message is being conveyed through or the message becomes compromised or rendered pointless.
Jon Harris has come up with a couple very interesting forms to storytelling and I believe that are a great example of the medium being more important than the content they carry. He has built a couple tools in order to share the stories of individuals as well as gather the global stories that are occurring. What I really appreciate about his work is the challenge to embrace a modern mythology that demands our exploration. Even though the Christian narrative is part of our story we are also shaped and defined by other (maybe more collective) narratives including language, race, age, gender, sexuality, wealth, education, etc. The task that I am trying to wrap my head around is how to live in the intersections of all the story lines of my life. Any spiritual practice or idea that I feel is worth hanging on to needs to be put through these different intersections. Hopefully they will both shape each other and I can make a little more sense of the world I’m living in.