When LCD projectors became popular in the church, I was delighted. Now, I could put my sermon outline before my congregation and when I rambled off track, they could point to the screen and nudge me back. It seemed the perfect cure for my tendency to keep them past lunch.
Soon, I realized that I was doing something that I hated. Going to continuing educational events, I was often subjected to a speaker who had little to add beyond his or her powerpoint bullets, that we could read for ourselves, at home, in our pajamas, on our iPads. If what I have to say can be boiled down to four take-aways and a prayer, then why don’t we tweet the service to social media and be done with it? Wasn’t I putting my own shallowness on display for all to see when I gave a message that clung to the outline on a screen?
Yet there was something about combining worship and the visual arts that just felt right. Indeed, there is historical precedence for giving people something to look at while they worshiped. Stain glass windows have been a key component of church architecture for the last eight hundred years. Before stain glass, there were mosaics and murals. It is said that a picture is worth a thousand words. Actually, pictures often do things that words can’t. Jesus invited people to observe the world around them as they reflected on his message. As they sat in the fields, he said, “Consider the wildflowers. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these” (Matthew 6:28-29). And, his parables were not mere illustrations hung onto his teachings. These dramatic vignettes invited the audience to visualize something. What they saw in their minds couldn’t be reduced to a mere set of bullet points. Images have a way of living apart from whatever text or caption came with them.
So the good news is, modern technology is providing us with new ways to incorporate the visual arts. The bad news is that boring, literal minded, church leaders are using this gift for evil. Jesus expected his ministry to cause people’s minds to jump the track and head off in new directions. His gift was metanoia. The visual that goes with this greek word is a butterfly emerging from a cocoon.
When I speak, I always go looking for great photographs. I put them up on the screen and then talk. Some people will get lucky and see the connection between what I say and what is being displayed. A few, though, will get even luckier and see something I had never intended. Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God. Yea, even in spite of my powerpoint.