PASTORING: Media Mirrors Heart of Darkness
A funny thing happened on the way to our cable television studio. We were talking about lining up guests for our new fall programs and the main topics that kept coming up were sex and violence. Oh, we covered it over with program titles like Religion and Sexuality, Sexual Child Abuse, Dealing with Family Violence and so on. But the bottom line was that we knew, and were acting on, what everyone else acts on – that sex and violence are good television. Even good religious television. Good in the sense of good for business, good for drawing and/or holding an audience. They sell. Whether on television or even from the pulpit.
What strikes me is that the pastoral opportunity in the current glut of sexually promiscuous violence in the media and in real life, is its revelation of what is going on inside of us individually, and inside the people we are called to serve and minister to. As a parish priest for years, what I have found most functionally useful for preaching or counseling is what's popular. Things get popular– at the movies, or on television or in records– because they touch deep inside. The religious issue is not whether the items themselves are "decent conversation" but whether the assumptions they represent about what is going on in life and the way it works are consistent with, or essentially dissonant from, the lessons of faith.
That we are sexual beings and that sexuality can get mixed up with, used, and abused for power purposes is no surprise to the biblical tradition. If you can't see a touch of yourself in even the darkest of these psychosexual corners then you haven't been looking very hard. But having said that, and looked the beast straight in the eye, comes the moment of human grace. What do I do with this? And this is where the learnings of scripture and tradition touch the existential condition. To explore with our parishioners why we want to hear about and see promiscuous or sexually violent material– at this point in time and place– is to get in touch with the battleground of the spirit in our current culture.
It is no accident, I believe, that much of the offensive/attractive material has an overt or thinly veiled religious component. We've long known that the realities of sexual intimacy and vulnerability touch deeply into the power at the heart of Power. The concomitant "I want it-it terrifies me" may be as primitive as the relation to the "other"– to God– per se. It is both a delight beyond delights, and a true terror, to fall into the hands of the living God. In our computerized, sanitized, rationalized age we humans have come back, if in an odd and darkly stumbling way, to a primal experience of existence. Preaching and teaching in our mediated world is to help ourselves and our people know the true identity of Whom it is we both seek and flee.