In yesterday’s Daily Herald, they did a nice story on Jerome Bettis (aka “the Bus”) returning home to Detroit for the Super Bowl. They described his whole journey and how he had bought a home for his parents on a golf course in suburban Detroit in his first year of Pro ball. But he didn’t stop there. I quote:
“When Jerome found out we were going to the laundromat, he said that wasn’t acceptable and told us to go get a new washer and dryer,” Johnnie Bettis said. “But I kind of liked the laundromat because you get to meet so many interesting people.”
Mrs. Bettis’ comments reminded me how changes in technology can change the inherent “goods” inherent in basic practices that we may lose when there is no longer any need to go to the laundromat any more. We lose the “good” of meeting and engaging interesting people in our lives. We must therefore discern “whether buying a washer and a dryer is a good idea” with more than just the capitalist normative reasons, “it is more efficient,” “it saves time,” or “it just looks and feels so good.”
The same of course is true of worship. Not every technological enhanced “improvement” is necessarily an improvement of our worship. The flashing of the Lord’s Prayer on the screen with a powerful graphic may disable us from all bowing as a community and saying it from our soul’s memory – in submission together as a Body of Christ.
The brilliant Albert Borgmann in his book Power Failure narrates for us how technology can change a reality that was once a “commanding reality” and turn it into a “disposable” reality” (p.28). The music symphony that took so much time, effort, tuning up of instruments, the staging of a concert hall … is now as handy as a CD player that we can play at our convenience and command. He talks about how that changes us. Borgmann describes how technology can make certain wonderful “goods” in our lives disappear without us even knowing it. Example: how the central fireplace is replaced by the invisible central air furnace. In the process the family no longer gathers round the fireplace to get warm before heading off to bed. The family no longer talks about the day, tells stories or prays together. We lose what Borgman calls a “focal practice” (p.22). We lose a concrete formative simple practice that changed our lives without ever noticing.
The question is obvious. Have we lost worship as a focal practice? By turning it into a “worship experience” have we made it a disposable reality whereas once it was a commanding reality? Last night at the worship/spiritual life meeting we talked a long time about the use of technology, the graphics arts and its use in our worship service this past Sunday. We want to retain the concrete nature of the formative practice of art in our church, as it once was prevalent in earlier times and in Eastern Orthodoxy. Any art that shocks or produces a disposable experience we try to avoid. Art is really important in our church, but we must not produce disposable experiences. We must retain the focal practice of worship.
These are things we lose if we are not careful when we buy a washer and a dryer. These are things we lose when we turn worship into a Disney show for the masses. And so we must be careful with the application of technology in worship, the internet chat rooms. I am not saying don’t use them! I am saying let us be discerning. I believe we need the candles, the wonder and mystery of the concrete embodiment of Christ’s work at the Lord’s Table, we need to kneel (if our knees will hold out) on our hands and knees before God with all our brokenness on Sunday. And we need to use the marvelous technologies of our day in worship and life, in ways that resist making God, community and worship “disposable.”