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Pastor’s Blog: Are We Entertained?


Summer’s here!  At least it feels like it.  93 degrees in June?  This past week I took a little time off and it really felt like summer vacation.  And, accordingly I took some time for summer reading… accordingly for me.  Whenever I get some time one of the things I do is read books.  I watch movies too, but I believe that each medium carries its own meaning and power.  These days we are inundated with pictures – movies, TV shows, YouTube, etc.  And you all know how much I love photography – it is a vital means to express oneself.  But printed words and reading have a value too; one I fear we may be losing.

One of the books I read recently was a novel by Alix Christie entitled Gutenberg’s Apprentice.  Johannes Gutenberg is attributed with the invention of the moveable type printing press in the 1450s; prior to that all books were copied by hand.  A scene in the book I found humorous and interesting is when the “apprentice” secretly showed the press and printed pages to his intended and her response was shock!  Not just that, she believed that it must be of the Devil and she broke up with him.  For her it must have seemed like magic.  Imagine someone from a century ago (or less) coming into our world with our cell phones; visiting our home in which we have Amazon’s Echo, a voice activated computer named Alexa with whom one can talk… well, not have a conversation but one can ask Alex just about anything from the best way to cook squid to the capital of Bulgaria (do we know this?)  Imagine us walking into the house and saying, “Alexa, could you please turn down the temperature to 66.”  Knowing no one else is home how would that person from the past respond?  Possibly by thinking Alexa’s a ghost?  I think so.  New technologies, particularly communication technologies not only change how we communicate but how we think and live.  One thing that the invention of the printing press did is to focus attention on words, rather than on liturgy and ritual, for example.  And the result of that was an increase in critical thinking.  Both the Reformation and the Enlightenment have Gutenberg to thank.  I enjoy all the images we now have in our world, but I fear that if we are not reading we may not be thinking.

Another book I read this past week is Life: the Movie: How Entertainment Conquered Reality, by Neal Gabler, published way back in 2001.  Gabler chronicles how entertainment has come to supplant rational thinking.  We have come to trust our senses rather than our minds.  We seek what entertains us rather than what edifies.  And we mistake what entertains with truth.  In his discussion of celebrities he says that the media instead of reporting what people did report of what people did to get media attention. (Everyone dreams of his/her 15 minutes of fame!)

Can we believe this campaign?  What was happening in those debates?  Was anything reasonable being said, or were they all simply trying to see who can entertain the best.  Gabler calls the president the “Entertainer in Chief.”  Gabler even mentions Donald Trump:

The one with the most perspicacity about celebrity and the one most representative of the new celebrity businessman may be Donald Trump… To the media, the brash, bloviating young Trump was the perfect symbol of avarice, rapaciousness and ostentatiousness of new business wealth… Trump understood that in an entertainment-driven society celebrity was among the most effective tools of salesmanship and that consequently a businessman’s job was not only the management of assets but the management of image. 

 Remember, this was back in 2001!  I’d say that Gabler was prescient and prophetic.

Religion doesn’t avoid critique by Gabler either.  He says a couple things in its regard.  First, that worship services have become more entertaining – actually, more like going to the movies.  This I think we are aware of.  Just watch the worship service of a mega church on TV.  The other thing he says is even more alarming – that for many in our culture entertainment has become its own religion:

Entertainment promulgated a set of values and had even become, arguably, the single most important source of values in late-twentieth century America…. Entertainment is the primary standard of value for virtually everything in modern society.  Those things that entertain are, with rare exceptions, the most highly prized.  In t he second place, as is becoming increasingly evident, the movies made entertainment the new measure of individual worth as well.

Must the church too become entertaining to be meaningful?  Are pastors also to be evaluated based upon their entertainment value?  Have we read any good books lately?  My challenge to us all is to become knowledgeable and aware, to think critically about what is going on in our church and the world, and to share about it with each other.  Don’t let the shallow sweep on all that entertains send us down the current to wreckage and ruin.  Watch movies critically.  Read books that edify.  Take time with each other to question and gain perspective.  We are in a dangerous spot here – I think we all know it. And also, enjoy your summer reading.   P.Jim

*This phrase comes from one of my favorite movies of all time, “Gladiator.”  The “General” who had become a gladiator after killing an opponent against the odds looks to the Emperor as well as the crowd and asks, “Are you entertained?”



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