Today Apple hosted one of their (seemingly) increasingly common Special Events in California. This time the announcement was a slightly smaller iPad, a slightly thinner iMac desktop, and a slightly higher resolution for their 13-inch macbook pro.
This post is not about any of that. I really don’t care that much about it. A few years ago I would have cared a great deal. I have always loved technology, and to this day Gizmodo.com is one of my most-visited sites. The latest trend became a big deal to me, but over time I have lost a great deal of interest, especially with Apple. They haven’t really been innovative for some time, and in the end, I just want a computer that works. If that’s a mac, fine. If it’s not, it’s not going to break my heart.
This is not what Apple wants. Apple wants me to love my mac, to cherish my phone – it’s even in the name: iPhone. mine. my precious. Not only does Apple want me to cherish their products, they want me to tell other people to cherish their products. In short, Apple would be overjoyed if I (along with everyone else who owns an Apple product) became an evangelist for them, spreading the good news of Mac.
While the content of the Apple Special Event did not interest me, the delivery did. As I watched, something strange stirred within me. Tim Cook, Apple CEO, came to the stage wearing a collared shirt and black slacks.. There was a small cheer, which he quickly quieted. He then began to talk about how amazing the launch of the iPhone 5 was last month. The inflection was on amazing. He gestured with his hands, and gave a very precise and practiced monologue on the virtues of the iPhone 5. As I watched, I began to have deja vu. I had seen this before, somewhere, but could not put my finger on it.
Mr. Cook then introduced a video with some highlights of the iPhone 5 launch weekend, set to a catchy song – Run Run, by The Rival. My jaw dropped. I got it. I knew where I had seen this before. I turned to my wife.
“It’s a sermon.” I said. She nodded in agreement.
Watch it for yourself (you’ll need to download Quicktime if you’re on a PC). Watch the hand movements. Listen to the cadence of Mr. Cook’s voice. Then watch the video he introduces a couple minutes in. Is this not just like any high-powered summer camp promo you’ve seen? Here’s one I found on the web, a promo for a summer camp in the UK. This is just one example, but there are many, many, many more. Watch it here.
Here’s a couple sample sermons, in case you don’t get what I’m talking about. Here’s one by Mark Driscoll, at Mars Hill Church. And here’s one by Greg Boyd and Bruxy Cavey, two very experienced pastors as well. And finally, here’s one by Jeff Bucknam at Northview Community Church in Abbotsford. Coincidentally, and completely by accident, Mr. Bucknam’s random sermon that I linked to is about preaching, or proclaiming the gospel. Listen to the cadence, watch the body language. I’m not talking about the content here, but the delivery. They say that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery… but who is imitating whom here? What’s going on?
Maybe there is simply a good way to speak in public and a bad way. Good speakers, regardless of content, speak using an open body posture, by talking with their hands (just a little, not too much), by placing inflection on important words and terms. They talk about past successes (300 baptisms! 200 million iPhones sold!) and future plans. Bad public speakers do none of these things. Perhaps that’s all that’s going on here. They’re all using the same medium (public speaking), and so the message (Jesus, or iPhones) is a moot point – it isn’t affected by the medium.
Prior to moving to the Downtown East Side, and prior to going to Bible School, I went to school and received a two-year certificate in Applied Communications. During those two years I studied video and radio production, desktop publishing and photography. While many of those skills are non-transferrable into my current line of work, they did help me develop a critical eye towards media, and introduced me to a very, very important phrase: The Medium Is The Message.
This phrase was coined by Marshall McLuhan, a Canadian media critic and philosopher (and devout Catholic, incidentally). McLuhan was alive during a fascinating time for media, the mid-20th century. He watched radio and TV take hold, and predicted how media would impact the future (there is a fascinating clip of him predicting the fundamentals of the Internet in the documentary ‘McLuhan’s Wake – worth seeing if you can find it). His most famous phrase was the one I just mentioned: The Medium Is The Message. What this means is that the method of broadcasting information actively changes the information being broadcast. The two, the method and the information itself, become intertwined, inseparable. It’s easiest to explain this using an example.
A man and a woman, let’s call them Bob and Jane, walk into a bar and sit down. The bar is crowded and noisy, so the two sit close to one another. Bob says to Jane, ‘I’ve had a busy day, but I’m glad I get to talk to you now. How was your day?’ Bob looks into Jane’s eyes with care and attention; Jane smiles back. Jane replies, ‘My day was fine, but I’m tired.’
Let’s try this again, but different.
Bob is in his car, Jane is at home. Traffic is bad. Bob calls Jane on his Cell, and she answers. ‘Jane, I’ve had a busy day, but I’m glad I get to talk to you now. How was your day?’ Bob is looking ahead, watching the road, talking on his hands-free device. Jane is sitting on the couch, phone to her ear. ‘My day was fine, but I’m tired.’ He can hear a smile on her lips through the inflection of her tone. This makes him happy.
And again. Bob is in his office, Jane is walking home from the grocery store. Bob opens up his email and types.
Subject: Long day
Jane, I’ve had a busy day, but I’m glad I’ve got a few seconds to write. How was your day?
Jane, walking home from the grocery store, gets the message on her phone. With one hand, while walking, she replies.
Subject: re: Long day
Fine, Tired now. 🙂
As you can see, the perceived information being sent and received (both had a long day, both were glad to hear from each other) was the same in all three cases. However, due to the change in medium (a crowded bar, a cell phone, an Email message) the message is changed and distorted. In the email response, not knowing Jane’s context, Bob could assume that she is being short with him for some reason. Hopefully you get the idea. The change in medium actively changes the message – in fact, the medium is the message – the message could not exist without the medium.
The same is true here. The medium actively alters the message. We adopt certain media because we believe that they help us convey our message, or because they give us power, or reach a wider audience, or have more convenience, or because it’s the way things have always been done and we just haven’t thought about it. Personally, I think the last statement is the most true when it comes to sermons and presenting the Gospel through a sermon.
Which brings me to my point. I don’t want to be a Christian who spreads the Good News of Jesus Christ through a medium developed and perfected by corporate America. The single-presenter-plus-powerpoint may work perfectly for hyping iPhones or selling computers, but Jesus Is not a product to be sold or hyped. I am not about to go onstage and tell the world how great my wife is… but if you asked me, or if you and I were talking together, I would surely tell you that she’s incredible. I think the same is true about my relationship with Jesus.
This makes me think about a post my friend Chris Lenshyn posted the other day (Chris is an associate pastor, by the way). I commented on his post about Mennonite Megachurches that we must decide what church is for: Is it information distribution, or is it relationship development? For a long, long time, we have treated church as an information-delivery mechanism, simply an effective medium for transmitting the message of Christ to as many people as possible.
If that is what church is for, how is the church different from Apple? Are we not simply hawking different wares? The question I must ask myself is this: is there something fundamentally different between my relationship with an object (a phone or computer) and my relationship with a living person? If there is a difference, why would I advertise and talk about both in the same manner? Why would I use the same tools to ‘sell’ Jesus as I would to sell an iPhone?
This is especially relevant for me as I am speaking my first sermon at my church in Abbotsford in November. I am going to stand behind a pulpit or a music stand with a microphone, and transmit a message to a roomful of people waiting to receive my transmission. But I’m going to be talking about people! About my friend and saviour Jesus! How do I turn that into a 20 minute information transmission? I could do it by watching Driscoll or Tim Cook – both are masters at information transmission.
If that is what it takes – if being an effective pastor takes being an effective salesman – I’m out. I will not sell Jesus as if He were simply a set of information. I will not trivialize my relationship with him in that way. My relationship with Jesus is not about information transmission – it is about friendship, about trust, about comfort. It is about looking into the eyes of another person and seeing dignity and worth. It is about drinking coffee with a drunk man; it is about playing scrabble with someone who has no home. It is about joy, and peace, love and hope. Is there information involved? Sure. But that information quickly becomes meaningless when removed from the context of relationship. If I introduce you to Jesus, I want to at least know your name first.
I don’t know if any of this makes sense. Let me know what you think – Should there be a distinct difference between the way we communicate our relationship with Jesus, and the way that iPhones are sold? Should we, as Christians, care about the media that we use to communicate? Or am I making a mountain out of a molehill?