Part 2 (look here for part 1)
If Marshall McLuhan’s dictum, “the medium is the message,” is helpful (as Shane Hipps argues), then we must go all the way down; we must dig into the materiality of the medium. We must investigate the conditions that make possible the process of production. Hidden powers are physically remembered in the pieces of technology we use.
Most popular discussions of technology and worship fail to explore the realities of material production–the where, when, why, and how of invention and assembly. From reading these books on media and worship, one would assume that technologies magically appear–created out of nothing. Since electronic devices are available, we have to figure out ways to make them liturgically productive. The problem, according to Eileen D. Crowley, is that “Most churches lag at least twenty years or more behind the art world in the kind of media art they create or purchase and in how they imagine that media might be integrated within worship” (32). Our churches are not on the cutting edge of media. Our liturgical media is passé. We have failed to encourage the development of artists who makes use of anything at their disposal to lead us into an “experience of the Holy” (32)
The best books on media and worship call us to create ecclesial cultures of creative cooperation. Media should not be imposed from above by consultants and experts. Rather, our use of technology at church should arise from the discernment of the people. In Liturgical Art for a Media Culture (Liturgical Press, 2007), Professor Crowley offers such an argument, typical among the most helpful books on liturgical use of media. She engages in a discussion of the dangers and positive possibilities of our media culture for worship and offers reasoned “tools [that] can help a church decide whether this new media and new ministry are appropriate for their circumstances” (90). While Prof. Crowley wants to situate our modern use of liturgical technology in a long history of multimedia liturgy, she doesn’t engage the history of technological production. Since church has always been a multimedia performance, Crowley argues, then we deceive ourselves when we think that there is a kind of worship that is not already multimedia. “Adding today’s new media to these old media does not make worship multimedia. Liturgy has always been multimedia” (8). She exposes the false distinctions that underlie our usual ways of thinking about using multimedia in worship. We already do! We have done so for centuries.
The problem, according to Prof. Crowley, is that we lack a theologically informed process of ecclesial discernment. She proposes a highly participatory liturgical use of technology that invites as many people as possible to the planning table. Her model “includes all the faithful in the creative process, and encourages the creation of locally produced liturgical media” (90). The problems with technology in worship happen when a select few of experts and consultants impose change from above. They force technological changes to worship without any engagement with the people.
While her model describes a healthy egalitarian and communal decision-making process, Crowley never digs into what matters most: the economic, political, and social realities that make technological production possible. All those factors remain hidden. Her readers are left with the impression that pieces from technology exist creatio ex nihilo. Speakers, screen, computers, and microphones magically appear in catalogs and box stores. Where does the LCD monitor come from? Best Buy or Circuit City. End of story. The shear existence of technologies warrants our use. It’s at the store, so we think through what it will do to our worship and community if we use it. It’s a utilitarian argument.
Thomas Friedman begins to open our eyes to the reality of the conditions that make technologies possible. In The Lexus and the Olive Tree (2000), he writes, “The hidden hand of the market will never work without a hidden fist… And the hidden fist that keeps the world safe for Silicon Valley’s technologies to flourish is called the US Army, Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps” (pp. 464-475, quoted in Gorringe, p. 88). Our electronic devices receive their life-blood from weapons of mass destruction. Sophisticated weaponry and well-trained soldiers make possible our technological arsenal for worship. And our indebtedness to Silicon Valley provides the cultural legitimacy to our military machine–they defend our technological way of life. The hidden power of our liturgical electronic art is violence. To repeat Friedman’s line, the assembly of U.S. armed forces is “the hidden fist that keeps to world safe for Silicon Valley’s technologies to flourish.” How can we worship God with devices that reverberate with effects of violence? Our church sound booths are awash with the blood of victims.
Crowley is right to say that “the creation of media for worship raises social justice issues” (83). But she doesn’t expose the fibers of the dead that hold together our liturgical electronics, nor does she unmask the clean surfaces to show how they are infused with violence. She does not help us listen for the voices. She isn’t haunted by their cries echoing in the microphones and reverberating through the amplifiers. Attempts at redeeming technologies through ethical use simply ignore the issue. Our self-justifying attempts at redemption aid our convenient forgetfulness; we wash our hands and move on. But God is not fooled by our trickery, nor does God absolve our sins of omissive memory: “Listen; your brother’s blood is crying out to me from the ground” (Gen 4:10). God want us to listen with penetrating ears. Can we tune our senses to penetrate through the manufactured technological sensations and hear what technology wants us to forget? Electronic media has a lot to hide in order to make its way into our spaces of worship.