Perhaps you have been unaware, as I was, of K-Pop, the musical phenomenon forged in South Korea. K-Pop is not exactly new—in fact, it has been a multi-million (US) dollar industry for over a decade. Yet, trying to explain K-Pop is probably as difficult as trying to tell a stranger about rock ‘n roll. It’s bright, loud, fast, and, significant for my purposes here, highly-technologized.
Having experienced some limited exposure to K-Pop in my watching of the 2018 Winter Games, I quickly determined that I am as bad at consuming K-Pop…as I am at consuming technology in the liturgy. I get too distracted by the bright shining lights, and don’t really pay any attention to the music at all. The same thing happens to me with technology in the liturgy—bring a screen in the sanctuary and I’m a lost soul.
- We were at Sunday liturgy recently, and the deacon, who had read the Gospel, began situating himself to preach. He did so by pulling out an ipad, flipping it open, and swiping the screen to begin his homily. He occasionally needed to swipe at his screen to scroll down his page. I found myself wondering what would happen if the battery died.
- A different parish we visited had two large screens projected calming (I assume) images on the walls of forests, waterfalls, romping deer, etc. The text accompanying the images made various references to the Easter season. I didn’t notice any typos. And I checkd very carefuly.
- At another worship experience, at which I was accompanist, we had a rather well-known (or infamous, depending on your perspective) visitor come to preach. Before the sermon began, one of the congregation’s elders invited us to “pull out your phones, take a picture, and post it to Facebook! Tweet about how awesome it is to be at N. worshiping this morning!” I quietly sat on my organ bench in dumbstruck horror.
In each of these cases, technology served a specific function which intended to support the worship experience, draw people in to the worship space, and even to evangelize. So, what is wrong with me that I get so distracted? Why is it that I get stuck on the bright shining lights, the scrolling images, or the outright invasion of secular social media into Christian worship?
I have begun to wonder if this is simply an aesthetic preference. Some don’t like the organ, or guitars, or the color blue for Advent. I don’t like electronics, therefore, I find them deconstructive and distracting to my aesthetic worship experience. Yet, I’m reluctant to admit that it is simply a lack of understanding or ability to use technology which makes me find its use in worship distasteful. And, don’t worry, I realize that all sorts of things constitute technology, including sound systems, overhead lights, organs, and running baptismal water. I mean to specify technology which involves screens and emits light.
Screen-centered technology abstracts us from the local and the concrete. Projected images aren’t real; in fact, if there were too much light in the space, the images would be impossible to see. As for reading from an electronic device, I don’t have scientific verification to prove this, but in my experience, my brain gets bound to a screen in a way that it simply isn’t when speaking from a printed text or, better still, speaking from the heart. As for social media in worship…I feel as if this could be a pandora’s box for distraction. Isn’t worship meant to draw in a community to be sent out from that space, not to provide an opportunity for advertising in real-time?
In short, I am unsettled about the rightful place of technology in worship. Can technology, like K-Pop, invite us to energizing communal cultural experiences, cross cultural boundaries, and allow us to interface with the contemporary world? Or, like acknowledging the complexities of K-Pop, should we more critically evaluate how frequently and how deeply we intertwine our contemporary worship with the latest technological wonder?
Or, maybe, in the end, this is just another question of good taste, bad taste, and Christian taste.