The Church in a Media-Saturated Society



I grew up in the days of the encyclopedia salesman. I clearly remember the day when a clean-cut well-dressed man knocked on our apartment door to sell the 26-volume World Book Encyclopedia.

We were recent immigrants and could not speak English fluently. We had few worldly possessions and the last thing we needed in our house was a 26-volume encyclopedia.

After the hour presentation during which we flipped through the volumes full of exciting information, my dad said no. The salesman looked sad and pitiful as he packed his sales kit. As he exited the door, he gave one last pitch and, suddenly, my dad changed his mind and we bought the whole set.

Either the salesman was good or my parents had this strong desire that their children needed to know “everything there is to know about the world.” Maybe it was a bit of both.

In 2014, long gone are those 26-volume encyclopedias that once filled the bookshelves of many of my childhood friends’ homes. Now we have everything that we need to know at our fingertips through iPads, computers, cell phones, or other gadgets.

Gluttony: Battling a Culture of Convenience

Media consumption illustration, violetkaipa /

Media consumption illustration, violetkaipa /

I tend toward the “eat, drink, and be merry” life philosophy, popularized by the Bible, and also Dave Matthews Band. Growing up in a very large, very loud, very food-centric family in South Texas ingrained this in me, as we gathered many a Sunday around the table(s) to celebrate that month’s birthdays and talk politics, family businesses, and, mostly, the last Seinfeld episode. What you might call gluttony, I call Sabbath — and I’ll quote Scripture at you to prove my point.

So smug was I at my “breaking bread as Jesus did” epicurean lifestyle that I probably should be writing about pride instead. But a few weekends ago, while finishing up season two of House of Cards three days after it released — and also a bottle of Zinfandel — and taking eye-attention breaks to check my Facebook and Instagram feeds (that adorable photo of baby girl only garnered 64 likes?!), and to see how many steps my Fitbit recorded for the day (so much for that post-dinner Skinny Cow), I paused to reflect upon the concept of gluttony.

When does our reliance upon a constant stream of multi-channel entertainment and instant gratification become harmful?

Have Churches Abandoned the Elderly?

Hands of senior citizen, HixnHix /

Hands of senior citizen, HixnHix /

In an evangelical Christian climate obsessed with change, cultural trends, and trying to stay up-to-date and relevant, it's easy to undervalue the elderly. The bestselling authors, the hottest worship bands, the superstar conference speakers, and megachurch pastors are all youngish, or at least certainly not elderly, and they’re mainly marketed towards younger to middle-aged audiences.

In many ways, Christians have suffered from the sin of apathy, being guilty of ignoring a large segment of believers — the elderly — who are continually forced into the shadows of our ministries, leadership structures, publicity campaigns, vision, and dialogue.

In an era where fast-paced technology rules the world, elderly Christians are losing their platforms for communication — and the rest of us are too busy to reach out to them. Social media, blogs, websites, tablets, and smartphones continually shrink access to an elderly population that is unable to keep up — and we aren’t waiting for them.

Are the Media Giving Pope Francis a Pass?

#16 – Illustration by Neal Campbell, Vilonia, Ark. (Digital). Via RNS.

Are the media pulling their punches when it comes to Pope Francis?

Whether it’s because he carries his own bags or cold-calls troubled Catholics who write to him, or because he so clearly loves interacting with crowds or drives a beat-up Renault around the Vatican, it’s hard to tell. But at some point, much of the world’s media fell for the new pope.

Now an increasing number of Vatican insiders are asking whether the largely positive view of Francis affects the way the media cover the Holy See.

Combating a Culture of Exploitation

Sex trafficking illustration, ChameleonsEye /

Sex trafficking illustration, ChameleonsEye /

Eight years ago I left my dorm room, humming the hook to “Till I Collapse” on my walk to the bathroom. When I returned a new song was playing on my laptop. Ludacris’ “P-Poppin’” pierced through the thin walls and echoed down the hallway. I bobbed my head along and then sat down to finish my homework. I looked at the screen, and I thought I saw my sister.

One of the women on the screen in the strip club swinging around a pole trying to seduce Ludacris looked like Jennifer – my older sister.

And something began to shift.

Screen-Free Week and the Still Small Voice

Serene pier, Eugene Sergeev /

Serene pier, Eugene Sergeev /

“Be still and know that I am God.”  - Psalm 46:10a

From April 29 to May 5 individuals, households, and communities will celebrate Screen-Free Week by disconnecting from their screens — TV, computers, games, mobile devices — during their free time and reconnecting with relatives, neighbors, the natural world, and the quiet voices that may be drowned out by the constant barrage of electronic noise. My neighborhood celebrated early so we could offer a variety of cost-free and screen-free family activities during the school's spring break week. I organized the celebration, as I've done for the last six years. It was satisfying to see kids slow down and engage in gardening, carpentry, music making, nature exploration … 

I also observed Screen-Free Week myself. Seven days of fasting from electronic media showed me how much time I spend using then mindlessly and forced me to confront my idolatries that are fed or masked by this mindless use. I'm using Michael Schut's definition of idolatry:

"An idol is anything we put before God, a partial truth mistaken for the whole Truth, a lesser good elevated to the ultimate good. … Idols [promise] what they cannot deliver."

Don't Worship the Monsters

Broadcast studio, udra11 /

Broadcast studio, udra11 /

I’m not offering this as consolation to those who have lost someone they love, but as a warning. What’s true of those we love may be just as true of those whom we hate and fear: we become like what we worship, and we worship what we cherish in our hearts. 

When people commit monstrous deeds, it is hard not to turn and stare in horror. Think about how hard it is to pull your eyes from the television even when none of the news is new, just the same breathless commentary about what we don’t yet know, what we still don’t understand about the latest act of terror. 

When the monsters and their violence become our focus, they grow and become our gods. We’ve become very good at hurting one another, so of course we need to be vigilant. But it’s possible to take our fear too far, to let our natural reaction to sudden violence become a permanent policy of suspicion and terror. Then we are in danger of worshiping our would-be enemies. We don’t worship them joyfully, but we worship them anyway, the way we might worship any vengeful, unstable, wrathful gods: looking over our shoulders and fearing their power. If the best we can come up with is invective against immigrants, suspicion of people unlike us, and perpetually heightened security measures, it starts to look like our hearts are full of fear.