The Sacred Digital

Does the nature of digital innovation place the church as a religious institution at risk of becoming redundant? These two areas often seem to be at odds with each other. The dynamism of digital media can be disruptive and dissonant in the presence of religion and liturgy threatening to destroy peace and harmony. Younger generations have grown up in a digital age which largely religious institutions have not embraced and as a result there is a perception that the two are incompatible.

We certainly have different ways of understanding the use of digital technology in sacred spaces! The twitter post here looks at the diversity of needs met and some left wanting by differing generations.

There is a reverence frozen in these places that can fill us with awe and wonder. We the feel sacred. That sacredness can affect us in different ways depending on our generation, our experience, our relationships or beliefs. We all love to capture the moment, it is a way of making time stand still. In this age of Facebook, Twitter and Instagram we are constantly collecting moments and curating our lives. But are there some moments that should be just experienced? Is there a point where the instant capture of such moments causes them to be lost? Or are we missing opportunities for engagement if we allow such sacred moments to pass us by undocumented.

“The Fall and Redemption of Man: The Transfiguration” by Albrecht Altdorfer (German, c. 1480-1538) is licensed under CC0 1.0

 

In the Bible  each of the Synoptic Gospels tells the story of the Transfiguration of Christ (Matthew 17:1-8, Mark 9:2-8, Luke 9:28-36). A moment when Jesus was revealed in the shinning light of God and appears with Moses and Elijah. His appearance with such iconic figures of Jewish historical significance in such a dramatic show of light and sound prompted the disciple Peter to suggest that they build three shelters to capture the moment. The word σκηνάς (skēnas) refers to a place to dwell. Could it be that Peter was expressing a desire to  “capture” this moment, to hold on to it or dwell within it because of its significance. Perhaps if Peter had a smart phone, he might have snapped off a selfie and tweeted “hanging with Jesus, Moses and Elijah on the mountain”!

In the introduction of his book Selfies: Searching for the Image of God in a Digital Age, Craig Detweiler explores the twitter story of Princess Breanna @PrincessBMM  and her now infamous “Smiling Selfie in Auschwitz”. Breanna was quickly denounced as insensitive and her smile was interpreted as mocking the millions of lives lost. Oblivious to this rage Breanna further tweeted “I’m famous, ya’ll” as the comments for her post continued to grow.

Certainly, there is dissonance in this image and different generations may respond with disappointment and anger. Detweiler however suggests that often we “rather than taking our dissonance as an opportunity for reflection, we may turn it into an occasion to rant or lash out across the gulf” (Detweiler 2018, p15). He goes on to push the idea of self reflection that our selfies give us, and those that view them, the opportunity to have a good look ourselves and our world view. “Rather than seeing selfies as the problem, I approach selfies as the start of a solution”(Detweiler 2018, p16). To me this suggests that digital media could not only be something that should be tolerated in sacred spaces but gives us an entirely new way to encounter and express them.

In the paper from her presentation to the 9th Annual International Religious Tourism and Pilgrimage Conference in Italy, July 2017 titled  Cathedrals, Hats and Selfies, Maureen Griffiths says “what is viewed as sacred by one group, such as congregants my be seen as culturally interesting by another visitor group.” (Griffiths, 2017). In her conclusion Griffiths states that careful consideration needs to be given to conflicting views on how such sacred spaces can be accessed to accommodate the diversity of sensitivities.

To explore this further in a specific church context I spent some time reflecting on the complexity of creating digital content in the sacred space of St David’s Uniting Church, Newtown.

So as you can see this is a complex issue that divides communities along generational and cultural lines. It calls on each of us to take a selfie of the soul to reflect upon our intent. The real danger here is that if we don’t find ways to collect digital content from our most sacred of spaces then the sacred will be absent from the digital space. The real challenge here is to take time with our selfies and those of others we view, to look behind and within the image to reflect on the sacred truth the image gives us in our ordinary lives.

I would love comments on your experience and even share a sacred selfie or two with me on twitter or Facebook.

Detweiler, C., 2018. Selfies: Searching For The Image Of God In A Digital Age. Brazos Press.

Griffiths, M. 2017. Cathedrals, Hats and Selfies. [online] ARROW@TU Dublin. Available at: https://arrow.tudublin.ie/irtp/2017/visitor/9/ [Accessed 25 Jan. 2020].

One comment

  1. I rarely do selfies (without judging those who do) so I can’t share any.
    However, on my recent trip to New York I did quite a bit of ‘sacred’ tourism. Each time I passed a church I went in to experience the space.
    The one where we were charged an entrance fee felt least sacred, even though it bragged being amongst the world’s biggest. On the contrary, there was one with a beautiful, yet quite small side chapel that even now brings a contented smile because it just felt special.

    And there was one that was roped off, so that we were only allowed to view from a position parallel to the altar. I was saddened that I could not sit in a pew and be in the space. Our visit was designated specifically as tourist, as opposed to sacred wanderer and access to the space was limited accordingly. It certainly didn’t feel generous or grace-filled or welcoming.
    Sometimes I took a picture, sometimes I didn’t. My partner regularly requested I take his photo in the sacred places. His relationship to the church, and to selfies, and to sacred space was different to mine.
    No less or more, just different.

    Liked by 1 person

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