Wednesday, March 10, 2010

All Senses GO

It would be generously reductive to describe South Beach as anything other than sensory overload. It's impossible to shut out everything that seems to be happening all at once and all the time, everywhere we go. A walk down Ocean Avenue comes with the agreement to deal with restaurant employees forcing lunch and drink coupons into our hands, and an afternoon lying on the beach comes with the constant encroachment of insipid conversation and a continuing parade of greased up beach bods. There's nowhere safe to rest your eyes, and sound is pumped in from all directions and sources.

Though it may sound like a stretch, the same basic exhaustion-by-stimulation happened to me during the service at Christ Fellowship - it just had more to do with rapid video editing and inconsistent subject matter than the reggaeton and shouts of "6.99 MARGARITAS AND FRIES!" we've encountered on South Beach. In light of all this, our visit to the New Birth Baptist Church had a refreshing effect, and the things we learned about the principles of the church from our tour guide seemed entirely antithetical to everything we'd come in contact with before.

I noticed that the significantly more low-key (yet still accommodating, and frankly, huge) chapel at New Birth had the same broadcasting technology as the other churches we've seen, and I asked about the different ways that the sermons were recorded and broadcast. Our guide said that aside from the usual internal projections, sermons were usually broadcast on (a host site that broadcasts sermons online), but due to cutbacks tied to the economic downturn, they'd been forced to put their broadcasts on hiatus; this was one of the first things to go, to ensure that jobs at the church would be maintained.

Where the pastors at Christ Fellowship had made sure to emphasize the importance of continued giving in the face of economic adversity (not to mention the necessity of increasing the size of the congregation, in what felt like a grab for a larger economic pool), our guide at New Birth made sure to tell us that the wellbeing of the community was their foremost priority. If this came at the cost of the expansion of a multimedia project, then so be it.

This tendency to stray from and shrink the power of constant stimulus was also evident in the lack of a snazzy gift shop chock full of STUFF. The kiosk that sold recordings of sermons and speeches seemed to be a bit more honest in it's intentions, in that the sermons were sold on video and DVD; this seemed to speak to a greater attachment to and interest in the message. Instead of being temporally available online, these lasting mementos of particularly affecting or interesting sermons are available to any and all who are interested. Something about this strikes me as more genuine, although it really isn't my place to say.

I don't know why I keep equating the expansion of these churches into new forms of media with a departure from purity in their message, but I think it has a lot to do with the way it distracts me personally. Since I've been having an extremely difficult time focusing on anything in South Beach (case in point: mountain of un-done geology homework), it might be that our visit to New Birth seemed to be a welcome contrast to many levels of this experience.

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