Saturday, November 11, 2006

The Medium and the Message Pt. 2

If I say the name "Jesus," that name possesses only one meaning. I am quite sure that most of you would agree that many different definitions are attached to that name, and all because of the context in which the name is used. Why is that? For an answer, first consider the meaning of "word": "a speech sound or series of speech sounds that symbolizes and communicates a meaning." Words are nothing more than a series of speech sounds. These speech sounds symbolize a meaning. Again, I think you would agree that the meaning of words change depending on how they are used.

Let me give another example: Bill Clinton. What does that name mean to you? To some that is a hero. To others it is a villain. Some think liberal. Others think conservative. People will tell you it is a pervert. Another group of people see it as a knight in shining armor. Bill Clinton is interpreted based upon the context or setting in which it is placed.

We get reports back from Iraq. We hear about a car bombing. Could the meaning of a car bombing change if it were regularly read by Ronald McDonald in his clown suit and make-up? Could that affect how serious we view car-bombings? At a funeral what if the man with the trumpet, instead of playing Taps, plays Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy? Does anything change? Instead of military honor guard, what about the characters from Wizard of Oz?

The word experts know that the meanings of words are affected by the way they are used. Most words already have denotation, "a direct specific meaning as distinct from an implied or associated idea," and connotation, "the suggesting of a meaning by a word apart from the thing it explicitly names or describes." A particular medium by which a word is communicated will first change the connotation of a word and finally its denotation. The meaning of words do change.

The name Jesus should mean "holy," but it could mean "fun" if it is associated long enough with "fun" instead of "holy." Our culture has finally persuaded people that "Jesus" has more to do with comfort and convenience than any kind of sacrifice, and much of that has to do with the media by which His name has been channeled. A particular medium can misrepresent the meaning of a word until it actually will change its definition. Our understanding of God and His will is dependent on maintaining the meaning of words as God intended them. We can change true doctrine to false doctrine.

Words themselves carry feelings, some of which should never lose their own distinct mood. Memorial. Party. Tombstone. Righteous. Gettysburg. Hiroshima. Iwo Jima. Abortion. Suicide. How about the tour of Gettysburg to Elvis? Elvis is tame now, so I'm sure it would fit. Right? And if not him, then how about rag time? Or with all that extra space and green grass at Gettysburg, why not a bowling alley or putt-putt course? What's your problem? Shuffle-board then? Could we have done the Vietnam memorial in hot pink? Does even mentioning that make you angry? What would be the difference between that and Crucifixion by Salvador Dali?

Music is a language of its own with a sequence of notes with varied pitch and rhythm. Every human being is made in the image of God with certain root similarities in design, chemistry, feelings, and function. A person hits his thumb with a hammer and he what? He screams. Studies have shown that combinations of sounds cause certain emotions or feelings. Certain pitches are pleasant only to certain dogs. God programmed every human being the same to a large degree. Sure, everyone can become desensitized to the effects of particular notes to a certain extent, and that isn't even good normally, but the music sends different messages not entirely dependent on context.

Associations of music do also make a difference. I've heard it said that you can't listen to the William Tell Overture and not think of the Lone Ranger. As a medium, music itself has a message which is incongruent with the content of a certain series of words, either naturally or based on its affiliation. Over time, music with a particular message, when accompanying terms and phrases with a denotatively contrasting or conflicting meaning, will change the understanding of those terms and phrases. In other words, the medium alters the meaning of the words. And as this applies to worship, the inappropriate music might blaspheme God rather than please Him.


Don Johnson said...

Hi Kent,

You might also want to consider the amount of exposure we have to certain connotations. Things become more 'normal' the more we hear them. When I worked in secular jobs where bad language was rampant, I had much struggle with thinking appropriate words myself. You become desensitized to evil the more you are exposed to it.

The constant barrage of popular music everywhere we go requires similar spiritual disciplines. Some of the lack of discernment from Christians comes from the fact they are living in an audio cesspool and don't realize it.

Don Johnson
Jer 33.3

Bro Tim said...

I enjoyed the post I haven't been here in a while but this is a great post. Very well done.
Bro Tim

Anonymous said...

"Words are the coins making up the currency of sentences, and there are always too many small coins."
.....Jules Renard

" for and in God's institution is to please, represent and glorify God...."

Kent Brandenburg


Charles Whisnant said...

I have four grown adults now. From 35 to 21. The difference between the oldest and youngest are major in their thinking and how they receive information.

Fundamentalist I believe fail in this area of thinking. To reach the new generation like we did in the 50's or even the 80's are not very likly to work well.

Its not sinful to use the iPod to communicate, even if I don't know how to use it.

Words that I use has a different meaning with my children.

Music that I would think would not bring glory to the Lord, would not have the same thinking with my children. I hate Rap, but my children would say, "What is wrong with Christian Hip Hop Rap." If the medium of music is performed by a true born again believer doing rap (is that possible) and the music gets the attention of the youth!!!!

To some the new music is apropriate and does not seem to be a blaspheme to God in their sight.



Juan Carlos Asmat said...

Hello Pastor, this is Juan. Today, Wednesday, is my first day free and I was able to access a computer. During my basic training time, I was not able to use the computer at all.
On another note, last Sunday, I went to the church service that they have available here at the base in Fort Benning. All it happened during this time was that a group called "Emmanuel College" sung about three different songs and for each song they repeated the same words every time. At the end, they gave an invitation for people to come to Christ. During all this time I was feeling very, very, upset to my stomach and very sad because of what was happening. There was NO PREACHING AT ALL. I saw with my own eyes how music does have an impact in people.

Kate said...

This is excellent! Music is such an important medium for sure - it can make or break a church service. It's amazing how the devil has infiltrated christianity and duped it. :-(