Letter from the Editor: The Sense of Being Alive

Sight. Smell. Hearing. Taste. Touch. Our five senses work in conjunction to inform us of the world around us. Research shows that when one faculty is damaged or lost, the brain rewires itself, putting those areas to use for the remaining senses. The result? Super senses (of sorts). Sensory input is so vital to life experience, our brains find a way to compensate.

Most of us, however, move through life with the basics—not to diminish their role and power. Our senses help us interact with both the material and immaterial world, ever gathering and storing information, often without our awareness. But when all the senses are on alert, working together? It’s transcendent. Perhaps this is why instructions for worship in the Old Testament engaged worshipers in all five aspects.

When all the senses are on alert, working together? It’s transcendent.

Something crucial happens when our senses are captivated: We know we are alive. God’s life courses through our spiritual veins, allowing us to fully experience that moment, in tune with ourselves and our surroundings, and it demands a response: We sing. We dance. We weep. We give. We bow down. We repent. We act.

Conversely, something dreadful happens when our senses are dulled: We feel only half-here, only half-alive. This zombie living causes us to search for life elsewhere, apart from the all-important worship of the Living God. Our responses suffer.

In this issue of Christ and Pop Culture Magazine, the articles explore the ways we might be sleep walking through life. Seeing this drudgery on-screen is a helpful mirror to our souls, especially in films like Birdman. Michael Graham’s feature, “Birdman and Sorokin on Our Sensate Culture,” explains:

“The film is an indictment of the narcissism embodied by both low-culture celebrity click bait and high-culture super-realism. The sensate culture that drove Riggan Thompson into a desperate suicidal search for relevance, fame, and attention is in fact our culture—one that is seriously in need of meaning, love, and intimacy.”

When our senses are not engaged properly, in worship of God, we become desperate like Riggan. I know I’ve felt the drive to obtain a feeling of life and wholeness apart from worshipping Jesus, and it never works.

You might think safety would be found within our churches. Sadly, the dulling of our senses has infiltrated our worship practices as well. In “How the Hillsong Cool Factor Changed Worship for Good and for Ill,” David Roark raises concerns we cannot ignore:

“The church now looks more like a ‘concert hall,’ where churchgoers operate as passive observers and critics, rather than a ‘banquet hall,’ where they participate and commune together. For example, throughout church history, Christians sang hymns and praises as a way of proclaiming the gospel to one another and modeling the understanding that they are ‘one body’ in Christ. However, based on today’s concert hall approach—the approach modeled and championed by Hillsong—the volume levels in churches are so high that they drown out the voices of the congregation, diminishing the communal aspect of worship and making it more of a private affair.”

Engaging our senses in worship together as one Body is a powerful thing. Current worship trends do wonders for engaging some of our senses in fresh ways. We would do well to consider how we might enhance our experiences to ensure that we do not leave church sleepier than when we arrived.

Waking up and experiencing life to the full is what the Gospel is all about. Our culture may idolize certain aspects of our faculties, but it’s not inappropriate to engage the senses. It’s actually needful if we are to become the true worshipers God longs for.

—Erin Straza

Illustration courtesy of Seth T. Hahne. Check out Seth’s graphic novel and comic review site, Good Ok Bad.