Yesterday’s New York Times (October 7, 2007) carried an article about churches sponsoring Halo video game events as a way of bringing youths—especially young men—into church. The article can be found at http://www.nytimes.com/2007/10/07/us/07halo.html?em&ex=1191988800&en=4db9da4caaef0870&ei=5087%0A.
I have not played Halo. I’m so far behind on the digital revolution that I’ve only recently given up looking for the “Any” key. I wouldn’t even know how to install and play Halo. Not that I wouldn’t want to, I’m afraid. From my brief experience of having Chessmaster on my computer, I quickly recognized the addictive power of video games (for me, at least) and took it off, as a matter of self-defense. That I know how to do. And I didn’t need any more humiliation, even at the Easy level. I confess, as a human being of the same substance as everyone else, to the appeal of exercising power by blowing things—and people—away. Digitally, of course. All my Christian life I have been struggling to trust and cultivate another type of power than the destructive, fear-based one that the world recognizes and even worships: the power of life, love, light, the power of nurturing and embracing, even the power of simply letting things and people live, be and grow.
I have been told that Halo has relatively less graphic violence and more noble, even spiritual, elements than other shoot-em-up video games. That doesn’t say lot. Something tells me I’d better not spend time checking it out to see if that is true or not. I have people and places to nurture and only so much time to do it.
But another question comes to mind: What’s so great about getting people into a church building? Especially if all they’re doing is what they’d already do at home? If we’re sitting around blowing things and people away, even if they’re just digital things and people, how does that make it “church?” To me, its just as important to get church out to people as it is to get people into church. Christianity is at least as much about what we do in our homes, at work and in the world, as it is about the few hours a week that we spend inside a consecrated space, important as those hours are. There we gather, in part, to scatter, renewed and empowered for love.
Slowly, and only by the grace of God, are my soul and body getting rewired to experience the rush and thrill of peace and compassion that people experienced around Jesus. It amounts to swimming against the cultural current. And don’t forget, such video games were first pioneered by the Defense Department, in order to “program” soldiers to overcome their natural reluctance to shoot to kill. Now tell me that such games don’t do anything to us, other than release some pent-up aggression. Why spend any more time “hard-wiring” ourselves for destruction, vengeance and fear, when they seem to come so easily anyway? Are there not other ways to know and feel that we are truly alive, I ask, as I admire the bright yellow maple tree in my backyard, glowing in the mellow sunlight of an autumn afternoon?
Rather than telling anyone, though, not to play Halo, I will simply ask: Are there not better ways to spend the short time we have here before eternity, where we’ll see in full what we became, and live with the results forever? Look around yourself to see the answers in living faces. And are there not better things to be making of ourselves? Until the answer to both questions is No, the gatherings of Emmanuel Mennonite Church will remain Halo-free zones. Especially since we rent our space and want to stay on good terms with our gracious landlord (Luther Seminary). Now you know at least one time and place where you can come to get away from all the murder and mayhem, the shooting and the explosions.
Mathew Swora, pastor