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Thursday, September 18, 2014
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Published: Saturday, 8/3/2013 - Updated: 1 year ago

Commentary

Religion as media

BY TK BARGER
BLADE RELIGION EDITOR

What an effect media has in our religious lives. It has changed the way we do church and it has supported our spiritual seeking and our knowledge about our own religion and others' faiths.

Faith-based organizations have knowingly and subconsciously taken media into their religion. Sometimes that includes the terminology—Jehovah’s Witnesses members are called publishers. Religious societies, including spirit circles, covens, sanghas, mosques, temples, and so on, might see the popularity of media and how that media is consumed, and fit some of their practices into the parameters of media. Or, maybe not even realizing they're adapting, they fit the style and rhythms of the media they themselves consume.

One example is the order of service or church bulletin, more and more being called the program, the term used in entertainment media. Another is the PowerPoint sermon, when the minister uses charts and bullet points to enhance the homily (at least, we hope it's enhancement). And the youth section Twitters along.

You won't see religion in the definition of media. The Webster's New World Dictionary of Media and Communications calls media “categories of communication vehicles,” and includes newspapers, books, television, Web sites, and many other vehicles. Media has potentially infinite secular ways of delivering messages. But media also includes public religion.

A majority of Buddhists, including Zen Buddhists, practice in the Mahayana tradition. The English translation of mahayana, a Sanskrit word, is “great vehicle.” “Vehicle” can be another tie to media, with added support that “media” also means middle and Buddhism is known as the “middle way.” But instead of twisting terms to fit, go back before print and broadcast, even back before writing and cave paintings, to when the new communication vehicle was voice, when people were telling stories. Through stories, religion was shared and made public.

If you think of religion as being body, mind, and soul or spirit, media is there. The soul of religion is people’s inward yearning for answers and order. The spirit of religion is the outward influence on that inner soul, the soul’s reaching for some kind of contact with others to try to understand the eternal and our presence in the universe. The body is the way that religion is practiced, how people express their religion, in movement and ceremony and dress and use of artifacts. Then there is the mind of religion; this mind includes media, a way to process perceptions of what the body, soul, and spirit present.

The medium that those perceptions largely are processed through is story. Remember that there are many religions in this world, and most of them have myriad tales. Consider how story can give the many faiths commonalities. And we, like our earliest ancestors, can use stories as we come to comprehend this mystery of life.

It continues to be the stories we tell, from the medium of spoken word, starting with one person to another and going up to the most elaborate and involved communication media, that we make sense of the world, that we both criticize and comfort others, that we carry a continued hope through stories that our passing away does not end us completely, that we deal with our life between birth and death, and that we learn love and compassion. A told story is media, and media not only influences religion, it makes religion what it is today, in its multiple faiths, many denominations, even in the nonbelief or rejection of former beliefs that some who encounter religion choose. The goal, said in the storytelling manner, is to find a way in which we can do good now, we can bless one another, and then, as the best stories say, we can live happily ever after.

Contact TK Barger @ tkbarger@theblade.com, 419-724-6278 or on Twitter @TK_Barger.



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