Returning to The Office

 

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Streaming services like Netflix and Hulu have reinvented the way we watch TV and engage with media.    Decades ago, Cable TV gave us hundreds of channels to browse, but now that seems archaic when we can summon exactly what we want to watch from thousands of different options.  When given complete control and essentially unlimited options, a curious thing happens.   There are a number of people who just keep re-watching the same thing over and over again.  While I am sure there are all kinds of shows with devoted fans, the one that might have the best known following is The Office.    The Office has gained a reputation as being a show that is worth binging again and again.  

Other people, myself included, return to the same movies time and time again.   For me, it is the Star Wars movies.   I have lost count of how many times I have watched a Star Wars movie, but that number is high, very high.   The phenomenon of doing this, whether it is The Office or Star Wars, is called “re-consumption.”  Social scientists have researched why we do this, and have found two compelling reasons.  First, we re-consume media content because it is comfortable to us.  This is what has some Office fans essentially watching The Office non-stop.  The show is highly relatable, it is funny, and in general the more familiar we are with something the more we enjoy it.   We return to TV shows, movies, or songs that connected strongly with us because they help give us a sense of grounding.  When we re-consume the media we are reminded why we like it.   As a personal example, when life seems unsure, chaotic, or stressful then knowing that the final trench run in Star Wars still makes me smile is something that my brain finds comforting.   It provides an orientation point in our lives.  

Another line of research has found that we often subconsciously re-consume our favorite media as a form of self-appraisal and introspective.   When we re-consume the media we evaluate how we think about it differently now than the last time.  This process helps us figure out just how we have grown and changed as a person over time.   Both lines of research show that re-consumption is not just a waste of time.  It does serve us a practical benefit.  It seems that repetition is truly good for the soul.  

Our Christian ancestors realized this.   Fairly early on in church history, a liturgical calendar was established.  Certain events, like the death and resurrection of Christ, would be marked and celebrated every single year.    Many churches especially Catholic and mainline Protestant churches use a lectionary.  The lectionary gives a cycle of when the same scripture readings are repeated every so many years.  The reason for a liturgical calendar and a lectionary is simple:  repetition is good for the soul.    Remembering and celebrating the same thing once again, refreshes our souls, re-energizes our hearts, and reminds us why Jesus is a savior worth following in the first place.  

This is true for our own spiritual devotion as well.  We should not treat the bible’s table of contents like a check list to conquer.   Just like we can get a lot out of watching the same movie or show, we can get a lot out of reading the same scripture again and again.  We can learn to appreciate it in new ways, and we can be reassured of the truth the scripture first revealed.   This is why anyone who takes seriously the challenge of reading the bible is never done.   Like The Office, the bible has been perfectly made to re-consume time and time again. 

Re-consumption has merit on the corporate church level as well.  There is a big temptation in church life to always chase the next new thing, to implement the flashy new sermon series, or introduce the congregation to cutting edge songs.  It is thought that only by pursuing the new hotness do churches have any chance of reaching younger demographics.   The truth is that this demographic is not consuming the newest of the new, they are too busy re-watching The Office.  

Change and new risks are worthwhile, but it is worth remembering that something about our human psyche finds re-consumption satisfying.  We should never get so caught up in trying to do the new thing that we lose sight of the most meaningful aspects of corporate worship.   Just like the Death Star trench run is always a thrill to watch, the words of invitation “Christ our Lord invites to his table all who love him” is always a joy to hear.  In trying to contextualize the biblical truth for modern generations, we should not lose the old, old story of Jesus and his love.

There is value to having a pattern to our personal devotion and corporate worship.  There is a refreshment to our soul when we re-consume the same scriptural truth.   May we not be so quick to move on that we forget that.   In our faith may re-consumption provide you with an orientation point to your faith and help give you a marker to evaluate your faith growth.  

Conclave