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Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Flickering Pixels, image and reformation

I am currently reading 4 books...well actually I just finished one, one is half way through and the other two I am seriously looking at!!!   Flickering Pixels, by Shane Hipps; An Anthropologist on Mars, by Oliver Sacks; Hidden and Triumphant: the underground struggle to save Russian Iconography, by Irina Yazykova; and The Reformation of the Image, by Joseph Koerner.   All these books have something to do with the power, history or physiology of image...the visual.   Images have the power to evoke feelings and are not neutral.  What we see and the media or medium we use to show it are equally a part of the message.  Advertisers have learned long ago that Image has the ability to trump the rational part of our brain and sends us acting on nothing more than intuition or feeling.   Take the Carls Jr. Teryaki Burger commercial featuring the bikini clad swimsuit there really any connection between a young women in a bikini and a burger...No.  But I'm willing to bet that sales of Teryaki burgers have gone up. 

We are rapidly moving away from being a print based culture to being an image based culture.  Not so long ago Sunday sermons were at least an hour long.  In fact the Great Awakening--a huge spiritual revival in America--was fueled by 2 hour sermons.  People not only found it easy to listen for two hours, but spiritually moving as well. (And trust me the sermons were deep, heavy, not exciting and full of intricate theological thoughts and ideas)  Today we no longer have the patience for hour long sermons, but we want our spiritual food wrapped up in a tight little package, preferably with an image or two that can stir our feelings more than our minds. why does this matter.  This shift has a big impact on faith.  Shane Hipps reminds us that increasingly people of faith in America are not interested in right belief (thinking, reasoning, discerning between good and bad theology, interested in sound doctrine) as they are in doing, following and being.   There is a shift from right belief (this is the work of the left side of the brain and the stuff of print culture) to right following or right ethics (this is the stuff of the right side of the brain and fed by image culture).    Have you met people who have been influenced by this reorganizing of their neural pathways?  Sure you have!!  "It's not so important what you believe as how you act."  "What Would Jesus Do"  not "What Would Jesus Believe."   We resonate toward right actions because of the new dominance of image and what it does to our brain.  In the Reformation--the dawn of print culture--Luther and others stressed right belief!  What you believed was the most important, this was a product of the print culture.

Here's a little quote from Shane Hipps:  "The shift from emphasizing our intellectual beliefs to the ethics of following is a direct consequence of the influence of images.  A belief is located frimly in the realm of the invisible and abstract.  A belief is something that happens in teh mind.  But following is located in teh world of the visible and concrete.  Following is what happens in daily life."   Here's the kicker... "We are what we behold."  Your TV, the very screen you are using right now, the media used to share this with reorganizing your neural pathways to value feelings and intuition over reason and dicernment.   So what your church 'believes' isn't nearly as important as their having an exciting youth group or entertaining preacher.

Heavy stuff!!!  And you thought Sabbatical was easy!!


  1. Very cool and interesting thoughts Pastor Jeff. Thanks for letting me borrow, "Flickering Pixels," I enjoyed reading that book a lot and your blog. I have heard some people say that the old way of doing church was to: believe, behave, then belong - in that order. The "new" way of doing church is to: belong, behave, believe. Do you think this is similar to what you are talking about, i.e., thinking is not emphasized. Hope the sabbatical is enjoyable!

  2. Howdy Wes, good connecting last night. I think the shift in order is a great way of looking at what we are seeing. How many new families join OSLC because they really reasonate with our theology? Usually it is: "We felt so welcomed." "There is a good spirit of hospitality here." Next they get connected into what we are doing and how we do it....and after awhile they come to a way of looking at God and the world (theology) really makes sense to me. I think the old way was: "Let's sit you down for an 8 week session on Lutheran Theology...then if you concur, you can join." The model that I'm now using is: Come and show that you want to Belong, if you feel that you belong, then let's invite you join with us, trusting that the 'theology' will come alive through praxis. Definitely a shift even from the short time I've been in ministry. Peace! pj