Sunday, May 17, 2009

How's the reception?

We have a Christian television channel, TBN maybe, in our cable package at my apartment. Every once in a while I stop there. T. D. Jakes and Joel O are two I enjoy getting riled up listening to. I certainly don't endorse a regular diet of them, but I've come to realize that they are lightning rods for criticism, often without honest consideration. Christians are good at doing that, myself among them regularly.

I was flipping through the channels today. I came across a preacher I've never heard of. I had no intent to stop and listen. But what he said caught my attention. He was preaching on "Seven Secrets to Victorious Living." In today's message, he was talking about being available to God in prayer. The first thing I heard him say was this: "If there were just a few who were willing to turn off their TVs to listen and be available to pray. . ."

I didn't catch results he promised. The irony--absurdity even--of what he said distracted me. If I turned off my TV, then I wouldn't be watching this program, listening to this sermon, I thought. This left me with two possible interpretations of what he actually meant.

The first possibility was that he meant that I should turn off the TV after I'm done listening to him. If this is the case, then he doesn't actually mean turn off the TV no matter what. He means turn off the TV under certain circumstances. But he leaves those circumstances open for me to figure out. He's not saying, "Don't watch TV." He's saying, "Watch the right kind of TV programming." Taken too far, I could conclude that I don't actually need to turn off the TV if I simply find enough of the right kind of programming.

The second possibility was that he meant that it would be worth my time to turn the TV off--even his sermon--and pray. If that's the case, then I wonder why he's on TV in the first place, if nothing on TV is really as important as prayer. Again, taken too far, I might conclude that spending time alone in prayer is more valuable than listening to a sermon--including one heard in church.

The contradictions between the medium and the message simply baffled me. It's like preaching one thing and practicing another. We have labels for people who's words and actions don't line up. I'm not saying this preacher doesn't absolutely believe what he's saying about turning off the television, whatever he's actually saying. I'm saying that he's failing to see how the way he's communicating it contradicts what he's saying. His medium and his message are in conflict.

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