Thanks to David Frumm for a great line that speaks–media is sacred space. Frumm refers to the words of the late Pope John Paul II that “the use of the techniques and the technologies of contemporary communications is an integral part of its [the church's] mission in the third millenium.”
People are more “present” in media environments today than at any time in human history. If religious organizations realize this and are also present, they have an opportunity to engage people in the environment where they live. If not, then it’s quite possible there will be no engagement because it’s more difficult to make the connection outside the media.
I’ve written many times here that we in the mainline haven’t grasped this idea and continue to function outside the media as if it (they) are too trivial to be bothered with, or worse, they’re too polluted to participate in. It’s easier to criticize media than it is to make media.
(As an aside, I still grate at the use of media in the singular. It was plural when I was taught grammar and that stuck. Medium is the singular form. That’s how ancient I am. But media as singular and plural is common usage today and I’m grudglingly giving in.)
Back to the point. The epochs in religious history where the church was at its best were those times when it was able to communicate with people in language that made faith accessible and that voiced their concerns. This was, by all accounts, a remarkable strength of Jesus who is reported in scripture to be an extraordinary teacher and conversationalist. He used common language and told stories that engaged everyday folks and he did it in public places.
It was the energizing strength of the Reformation as Luther took his tracts outside academia and put them into the hands of a wider audience. This, coupled with the publishing of the Bible in accessible language, fundamentally changed Christian history.
It was a compelling strength of many 18th Century reformers, one of whom, John Wesley, I cite often. Wesley was apparently able to preach to coal miners in everyday language from street corners.
It’s often said Charles Wesley, John’s brother, took bar tunes and gave them religious themes.
This is media as sacred space, the place where the sacred and the secular intersect. The stories of Jesus, the Vulgate edition of the Bible, the street sermons of John Wesley, the bar songs of Charles Wesley are all media as sacred space.
In our day the challenge is to find the words and the media to communicate the sacred in the places where we live. Megachurch pastors such as Rick Warren are doing this in spades. Evangelical entrepreneurs like Pat Robertson have been doing it for years. But the mainline has been absent, and the mainline has been in decline for years.
Will media stop that decline? Not exclusively. But one thing’s clear. If you’re not present in media today, its’ as if you don’t exist. Not being present will certainly assure that decline continues because it takes you out of the conversation and out of mind.
Understanding media use as an expression of the mission of the church, as Pope John Paul said, is to understand that the church belongs in the world, interacting with people on their terms. This is where faith changes lives and it might very well be where the church experiences renewal.