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Hoosier Musings on the Road to Emmaus

Thursday, May 15, 2003

Ethics - Life in the Magic Kingdom

Though it doesn't seem like it, I do continue to plow through stuff outside of what's required for writing papers. With the ethics dissertation (all 14 pages) off to my peer reviewer, I've turned back to the regular reading for the class. In particular, I've been caught up in Michael Budde's The Magic Kingdom of God: Christianity and Global Culture Industries. Budde argues that our current culture, and the industries that support it (media, entertainment, advertising) in the lifestyle to which we have become accustomed, make living a life of Christian discipleship incredibly, and increasingly, difficult. So pervasive is the influence that the church has in many areas succumbed to its insidious effects. It is struggling to survive by playing the game by current cultural rules, rather than taking on the role of subversive "countercultural alternative," as portrayed in the Gospels.

I can see his point. In fact, one quote that really resonated for me is Budde's observation that "the speed and intensity of contemporary life work against the development of prayer. 'Whatever our walk of life, we move through our days at breakneck speed... So who has time to pray? We live in an unrelenting atmosphere of busyness.'" (p. 88)

Now, Budde is referring here specifically to our love affair with multimedia saturation, and he's right. Television, movies, radios and computers take up enormous chunks of our days. Even if we're not simply sitting and watching something, there is continual background noise-- even to the MP3 files currently playing on my laptop as I type.

And this habit of busyness is hard to break. Even here at school, where I have no television, and rarely hear the radio outside of its function of waking me up and telling me the weather, I still get caught-- loads of homework, books and papers, meetings and services. It feels some days like a merry-go-round that won't stop. And, while the work (most of it, anyway) is directly related to my formation for ordained ministry, I find that I have a real tendency to let it take over, to the detriment of my prayer life. Formation is about balance, and that's awful hard to grasp, sometimes. How much more is this true in the world outside of Seabury, where there's little secular interest in even suggesting the importance of connecting with God, let alone allowing space for it?

So here's the question, then: where do we draw the line? How much use of the media (Contemporary Christian music? Advertising parish functions? Powerpoint in the sanctuary?) is good for building up the body, and how much crosses the line from helping to hindering? How do I begin to say no-- and then lead others away from the glittering temptations that are so "normal,"-- without using the very tools that I am railing against as overused?


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