Border Blaster’s and Worship’s Use of Video

Radio station XER went on the air across the border from Del Rio, Texas in 1931. It broadcast at 500,000 watts. Clear Channel radio stations in the U.S. were and are only allowed to transmit at 50,000 watts. Those of you old enough to remember car radios and night AM stations, probably remember driving cross country through the night switching from WLS Chicago, to WWL New Orleans, to WOWO Ft. Wayne. Alas, the latter hasn’t been a clear channel station for over 20 years.

Having a clear channel was big. You could broadcast father and with less interference than other stations. But when XER came on the air it blasted everything close to it. It was able to reach all parts of the US but was beyond the reach of U.S. regulators. Watch the Ken Burn series Country Music for how this station was started by an American, John Brinkley, to market the first family of country music the Carter Family. The effect of the 500,000 watt beast of broadcasting was that you could hear it while standing next to a barbwire fence and reportedly children could hear it from the metal braces in their mouth. Think of a boarder blaster like a 500,000 watt light compared to a 50,000. Contra Metallica things don’t fade to black but white.

Contemporary Worship (CW) makes injudicious use of video. The ones I’ve seen have the effect of the boarder blaster. They have high production value and communicate emotion well. But I find in them nothing that I can face the grave with or rise from one for that matter. This is true even for the one I saw in an ELS church I attended virtually. It was a video of Peter and John racing to the empty Easter tomb.

What about Confessional Lutherans and their use of video? I recently worshipped virtually at a faithful, Confessional Lutheran LCMS streaming service. In fact, that’s what prompted me to write this article. It was so good. Too good. Read further.

Confessional Lutherans maintain that if the music doesn’t serve the words, then that music is wanting for Divine Service. Toe tapping, heart-string plucking, or blood pumping (Think Wagner, “Ride of the Valkyries”) overpowers, overcomes the words. Video does this in a bigger more destructive way. I experienced both in the video at the ELS virtual service and at the faithful confessional streamed service. Now I know why.

I read the following in THE FOUR: THE HIDDEN DNA OF AMAZON, APPLE, FACEBOOK, AND GOOGLE. The brain processes images 60,000 times faster than it does text. Furthermore it’s more accustomed to processing images—ninety percent of the information sent to the brain is visual, and 93% of all human communication is visual. None of this is new, recent, millennial, or only true of digital video. The brain has always processed images ridiculously faster than words. I read this information  in the above book, and I found it elsewhere on the Internet. This seems to be the source. “Visual Marketing: a Picture’s Worth 60,000 Words,” Business 2 Community, January 16, 2015 (

No, this ‘truth’ didn’t arrive with digital but I think it is amplified by it. Men’s perennial problem with pornographic images went into warp drive with the arrival of two things: access everywhere and HD video. Read Why Gender Matters. The author laments that millennial men prefer videos of women to live women.

How does this apply to streaming even a confessional Lutheran service? Although the congregation sees and hears the pastor proclaiming the Word of God, the video operates differently on them. I think it’s like mainlining or snorting a drug rather than digesting it. Mainlining or snorting something is intense but short-lived. It’s interesting that the ancient Collect prays that we might read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest the Word.

Video’s don’t serve the Words they blast them not off the page, not out of the ears, but worse – out of mind. Generally, you remember more of what you see that what you hear. Video mainlined to the mind magnifies this.

About Paul Harris

Pastor Harris retired from congregational ministry after 40 years in office on 31 December 2023. He is now devoting himself to being a husband, father, and grandfather. He still thinks cenobitic monasticism is overrated and cave dwelling under.
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