I still remember most of stories I heard from catechists when I was a little
boy though it was more than 35 years ago. Through the stories, either folklore,
life stories, or stories from the Holy Bible, my faith of Jesus Christ grew. At
that time oral tradition was still very powerful. A catechist built his reputation
through his competency of telling stories and his work in Kampong’s. It seemed
that, stories and a catechists’ figure (his/her good reputation/leadership) played
a very important role for faith/religious education. This conviction was confirmed
since I joined Crec-AVEX, Lyon-France courses in 1992. In this article I want
to share my experience and reflection on the challenge of television era for religious
education in the Indonesian context.
Today we have switched to the second oral tradition, a television era. We have
to admit that television has become part of our daily life. In 1996, there were
already 90 millions people in Indonesia who has had a television set. Since 1994,
the number of television has increased around 650,000 units/year. So, it can be
calculated that in 2007 there are 97,150,000 people of Indonesia has a television
set. If one television set is for two people, the amount of people watching television
will be around 190 millions people or 86% of the total sum of Indonesian population.
At the same time, television stations are also increasing either in national level,
in province, and in regency. However, I do not put my attention on the quantity
of television, but emphasize on the fact that “television” has structured our
mind, life style, and also communication style. This is the context that should
be considered if we plan to conduct an evangelisation. We should really understand
the language of television.
In this article, I will focus more on the language or the way of communication
we should apply in our evangelisation so that it will affect our followers adversely.
In particular, there will be an explanation of reasons to choose stories and picture
in this television era. This is what Fr. Ruedi Hofmann SJ called as “narrative
experiential”. In line with my work in audio visual/television, evangelisation
in television era is the focus of this article. I propose kind of stories and
pictures to be used to evangelise the crucified Jesus. At the end, I will also
describe audio-visually how I organize a symbolic way as process of formation
The Nature of Evangelisation as Communication
According to Black Jay and Frederick Whitney, communication is a process where
each person is involved in exchanging meanings. In this process, an individual
(communicator) conveys a stimulus to change other’s attitude. Communication is
happened if information moves from one place to another place. Communication is
not only about conveying messages verbally, directly, and with intentional meaning,
it is also a process where people influence each other. Communication activity
among individual should be understood as a process which needs at least two elements,
namely an incident outside the individual (stimulus) and an individual who will
react. There is a message sender and a message receiver. Reaction from the receiver
is called feedback.
Mass communication can be defined as a means whereby mass produced messages are
transmitted to large, anonymous, and heterogeneous masses of people. Television
is an example of mass media. Each audience, regardless of its size, is composed
of many individual persons, each of whom is a separate thinker reacting to the
medium’s message in a different fashion and viewing the message through his or
her own separate lens. Each person lens is ground from personal experience, educational
background, and pre-disposition. Based on symbolic interaction, meaning is created
and sustained by interaction in which participants assign meaning to their own
and other’s actions by the use of symbols. Though television is instrumental,
ideas and information actually is disseminated through words and interpersonal
networking. Meaning dissemination is not simply sending or receiving information,
it is a result of receiving and sending activity through social interaction. Thus,
evangelisation as a communication process is an activity of managing messages
(happiness/salvation) aimed at creating meaning (religious).
The Coming of New Era
Indonesian people now live in the newest communication era which brings with
it permanent effect on the way they are listening. John Killinger, a professor
Homiletic at Vanderbit Divinity School of Nashville, Tenese, stated that:
“For one thing, the world has become a mediaville. We live with television, stereo,
video tape, recording machines, computer, camera, projectors, synthesizers, printing
machines, duplicating machines – every imaginable mechanical extension of the
self. More than anything …… they have changed the time which we live.”
The statement was based on the context of United States of America in the year
of 1975, but it has been applied to Indonesia for 32 years later.
Michael Rognes, the author of Preaching to a TV Generation, said something similarly:
“The predominant feature of this revolution is television, which in the latest
40 years has become the primary medium for public communication. It is a vastly
different medium of communication from reading, and it is even quite different
from person-to-person speaking.”
Our previous society has the characteristic of oral, spoken. History and culture
are inherited by story tellers and poets by directly speaking to the audiences.
In oral tradition, languages are poetic, as rhythm made people easy to remember.
The development of print media was initiated by Gutenberg almost 500 years ago
has changed oral tradition to a predominantly print tradition. Poetic languages
and pictures was changed by prosaic languages which emphasize on logic and linear.
Nowadays, sophisticated technologies provides new wide possibilities of communication.
The transfer of oral tradition into printed tradition took several centuries,
whereas television has bullied its way past all other forms of communication in
a very short time. Now, television has become the predominant means not only for
giving information but also for entertaining for almost people in the world. In
other words, television has resulted on a massive change on the way people listen,
learn, and think. Television combines vision and sense of hearing, in such a dynamic
way so it is very different from speaking and reading activities.
Father Pierre Babin, OMI, a professor on audio-visual communication at Crec-AVEX,
Catholic University of Lyon, France, in his book The New Era in Religious Communication,
explains that television mainly emphasizes on symbolic language to conceptual
language. Symbolic language is a language of temptation before it is a language
of explanation. Symbolic language vibrates not only soul, but heart and body also.
Symbolic language is a language full of resonance, rhythm, stories, imagination,
suggestions, and connections. Whereas, conceptual language is a form of language
which provides abstract, limited, and fixed mental representation of reality.
According to Babin, television works based on symbolic way principles. Television
using imagination, pictures, intuition, stories, songs, and experiences which
is being shared. Evangelisation, according to Babin, can be actualised in two
ways, namely catechetical (instructional) and symbolic way. However, in this television
era, if we plan to do the evangelisation by means of television, we should apply
symbolic language. The approach of symbolic language is full of colour, imagination,
and stories which deeply impress our emotion. The main goal is not intellectual
understanding, but participation of the heart and conversion. Faith in this era
should be met with the realization of the importance of eyes, or human personal
interiority. Only faith that are built on the based of personal interiority will
stand and grow. The symbolic way is the most appropriate for giving ground to
the word of God in our modern society, a TV generation.
To emphasize the importance of symbolic way, I would like to refer to the theory
of Narrative Paradigm Walter Fisher, a professor at Communication Arts and Sciences,
University of Southern California. Fisher stated that all forms of human communication
should be viewed as story which is composed by history, culture, and human characters.
Basically, human being are “animals” who like to tell stories. Most of religious
traditions are inherited from generation to generation through retold stories.
From the view point of narrative, however, values are the essence of a story.
This statement is also supported by William F. Fore in his book Mythmakers: Gospel,
Culture and the Media. Parable is a common story which contains extraordinary
and important truths. Metaphors is words that help us to see common things by
using extraordinary ways. According to Fore, human being make a decision based
on good reasons which can be formed through history, biography, culture, and characters.
Rationality of stories is determined by coherence and the nature of being trusted
of a story. Stories coherence is related to how the story seems possible for the
We often judge the coherence of story by comparing one story to another stories
we had heard that deal with the same theme. That a story is considered as reliable,
is closely related to the capacity of the story to make words in it to vibrate
“the string of life” of the audiences. A story is reliable if it is similar to
the experience of the audiences, in accordance with the story of life which is
possible to be told.
Fisher believes that a story is reliable because it is consisted of logic reasons
to guide our future actions. When we enter into a story, we are stepping characters
that ought to be our characters. If communication is considered as narrative,
we do not need special training to judge whether a story reliable or containing
truth. Intuitively, human being understand how to use and judge a story. Stories
are very strong to convey public morality arguments which is related to basic
questions of good and bad, life and death, ideas about personhood, and the way
human being experience their life.
Television performs a lot of stories. This fact is emphasized by Sarah Kozloff
in her article “Narrative Theory and Television”. Most of television programs
– either sitcom, action films, soap-opera, and short-series films – are programs
with narrative style. Even programs which are not categorized as fiction entertainment
and have other purposes such as instructional programs, education, or debates
tend to apply narrative method to reach its goals. Advertisements on television
are also performed in narrative forms. The advertisements are usually short with
perfect pictures and sound and broadcasted many times. They are expensive, but
very effective and succeed in pushing the audiences to buy the products which
are being advertised. Also video clips are often performed by following the plot
of the lyric. Documentary films about nature tend to follow the stories of animals
lives (as usually can be watched on National Geographic Channel and Discovery
Channel). The above considerations inspire us how to apply television and the
language of television if we want to do religious education or evangelisation
in this era.
Evangelisation in Television Era
The activities of faith proclamation is included in evangelisation. The essence
of evangelisation which is intended by Catholic Church is proclaiming Good News
of resurrection that Jesus Christ is the Good News from God. Jesus Alvarez Gomez
in his book, A New Evangelisation For the Third Millennium, formulated the meaning
of evangelisation clearly. According to Gomez, evangelisation is announcing to
all people of all times and places in a comprehensive and believable way, what
God’s Words, became man in Jesus of Nazareth, reveals to us about God and His
loving relation with humanity.
The above definition is not in line with the concept of evangelisation in local
context, like in Indonesia, as the definition is exclusive. Based on this, Local
Churches can develop their concept of evangelisation based on the concepts which
has been formulated by universal Church. In a more inclusive meaning, evangelisation
is all kind of efforts to proclaim and realize values of God’s Kingdom as has
been taught by Jesus Christ by means of His words and actions. Evangelisation
is a mission, and a mission is considered as a pilgrimage which exploring creativity
to find God who works in this world. In this context, evangelisation as a communication
activity is sharing (managing) experiences about God who save us (message) aimed
at creating meaning (faith that God save human being by giving even Himself).
If we read the Gospel completely, we will find how Jesus was very communicative
in proclaiming God’s Kingdom. Jesus did not talk like the teachers of Law. “The
people who heard Him were amazed at the way he taught, for he wasn’t like the
teachers of Law” (Mark 1:22). Jesus did not ask the teachings of the teachers
of Law. Jesus admitted their power. Their teachings were also true. “The teachers
of Law and the Pharisees are the authorized interpreters of Moses’ Law. So you
must obey and follow everything they tell you to do; do not, however, imitate
their actions, because they don’t practise what they preach” (Matthew 23:2-3).
Though their teachings were true but it meant nothing. Jesus said, “ I tell you,
then, that you will be able to enter the Kingdom of heaven only if you are more
faithful than the teachers of the Law and the Pharisees in doing what God requires.”
In other words, the teachers of the Law and the Pharisees did not experience
fully their own teachings. They did not share their experiences. It meant that
they did not communicate appropriately. Jesus communicated to many people by preaching
and doing His holy works. Jesus comprehended His teachings fully, and at the same
time also shared His experiences. The ways Jesus communicate were correct. When
Jesus used the Holy Bible, He did not use His knowledge about the Holy Bible as
teachings which created dependency among His audiences. On the contrary, Jesus
asked them to see and think, so that they would make decision based on their consideration
Jesus gave chances to His audiences to make his/her own best choices. “Jesus
used parables to tell all these things to the crowds; he would not say a thing
to them without using a parable” (Matthew 13:34). The principles of using parables
has also been used by electronic media, particularly on television. On television,
there are a lot of parables or stories from the Holy Bible, life stories, folklores,
and also fictions.
Heinrich Krauss in his article, “Holy Bible’s Stories for Television”, explains
that bible stories contain a lot of religious and human experiences. These experiences
are indeed very useful for modern society if they performed on television creatively
without loosing its spiritual truths. If we are now using television as evangelisation,
it is suggested that we do not teach our audiences, but tells them a story. Why?
Because the parishioners now are very much influenced by images or pictures and
not by words, oral language, or written expression. That’s why, story as television
language is more interesting than instructional languages.
The using of television for evangelisation has been recommended by Catholic Church
with the document of Aetatis Novae (1992). The priests and catechists are asked
to broaden their understanding about communication media including television
and realize their understanding in the form of practical policies and programs
which are possible to be carried out. Aetatis Novae also emphasizes that it is
not enough to just use media to disseminate Christian messages and authentic Church
teachings. It is necessary that we integrate the message of Holy Bible in a new
culture which created by modern communication (television, for example). According
to Mgr. I. Suharyo, Pr. (Bishop of Archdiocese of Semarang, Indonesia), if Holy
Bible is proclaimed in an usual away, it means nothing. That’s why, it is suggested
to find the ways of touching the sensitivity of this modern society.
Stories and Pictures: of what kind?
If we are to hold on to narrative experiential methods, we can use three kind
of stories, those are Holy Bible stories, folklores, and life stories. The questions
arise is what kind of stories or pictures should we use if we want to proclaim
Jesus that has been crucified. It should be noted that stories and pictures in
television language serve as the most important element and cannot be separated
one to another. At least, there are three possibilities. The first, we can tell
our stories about Jesus Christ inspired by the Holy Bible. The second, we can
tell the stories about the oppressed poor people as the actual manifestation of
Jesus who has been crucified in this era. The third, we can tell the stories of
lives of Christian communities who suffer for the people they are served.
If we choose the first, we can make use of films about Jesus which were produced
by famous film directors: The Gospel according to Saint Matthew (Pier Paolo Pasolini,
1964), Jesus of Nazareth (Franco Zeffirelli), Godspell (David Greene, 1972), Jesus
Christ Super Star (Norman Jewison, 1973), The Last Temptation of Christ (Martin
Scorsese, 1988), Jesus from Montreal (Dénys Arcand, 1989), and The Passion of
the Christ (Mel Gibson, 2003). By watching the films, the description of Jesus
who suffered at crucifixion touch people’s hearts.
As an illustration, we can learn from the phenomena of The Passion of the Christ,
a film which functioned as a show and also reflection for millions of people in
the world. Christians watched this film to reflect the misery of Jesus Christ
during the Holy Week of 2004. The film, which is stared by James Caviezel and
Monica Belluci describes the reconstruction of the last 12 hours of Jesus’ life
before He was crucified, invites the audiences to see the history of Jesus. He
who is believed by Christians as Christ the Saviour has in fact lived in a period
of time, with every possible context of certain era and culture.
The film received controversy, however, many people are helped in renew their
faith that through Jesus Christ, God has redeemed the world. Sister Joseph Andrew
Bogdanowicz OP, from Michigan, for example, recommended the film: “This film will
always echo in the hearts of many people, the film is a great Love Story. After
watching the film, I just can only gazed upward full with faith and devotion,
as I know that He is the One who loves me.” Both for the people who believe or
they who do not believe in Jesus the Saviour, Jesus chose peace; faced by hatred,
Jesus chose love, and faced by sin, Jesus chose forgiveness. Besides using the
work of Mel Gibson and other well-known films, we are challenged to create others
interesting stories based on the four Holy Bible, either in the form of dramas,
dance dramas, and other form of arts.
Now, we talk about the second. In the midst of our society there are a lot of
people or groups who suffer from misery and poverty as the result of structural
injustice, either farmers, street children, urban people who are moved by modernization,
or the refugees. In the countries in the third world, these people reaches the
number of hundreds millions. They are the people who by Jon Sobrino and C.S. Song
called as “the crucified people”. With them, Jesus identified Himself (Matthew
Mgr. Romero once also said that the oppressed farmers in El Salvador are the
picture of Divine victims and Jesus identified Himself as one of them. Ignacio
Ellacuría, a Jesuit martyr in El Salvador, has ever said that these crucified
people were the repercussion of the suffer servant of Jehovah. Jesus who resurrect
is the historical Christ. Christ who was born, lived, cured, comforted, died,
and resurrected, not only once, not only tenth time, not only thousand time, but
again and again, as long as there are people who need to be cured, to be saved
from their misery, and to be strengthened to live in the midst of suffer, and
will accept life in front of death.
The life stories of people who suffer and are oppressed can be told in the form
of stories and pictures which are presented in such a way so that it will serve
as discourse which will move people to do something. Aren’t stories and pictures
have spectacular strength? As one example, the stories and pictures of Iraq soldiers
who had been insulting sexually by American soldiers. The pictures has shocked
the world. Also the story about Nirmala, an Indonesian woman labour who was tortured
by her boss in Malaysia. A lot of people have been touched by the strength of
stories and pictures, haven’t they? Contextual evangelisation surely should pay
attention to the stories of the oppressed and alienated. The purpose is to ask
the faith parishioners to know Jesus through the suffer and the crucified people
will be free from their cross.
Besides the first and the second, we can also use the third model. In Catholic
Church there are hundreds, even thousands, Saints and martyrs. Their life stories
can be retold in the form of stories and pictures. Usually, the Saints and martyrs
are they who experienced their lives by suffering as the manifestation of their
love towards Jesus Christ. We can use several good films about them: The Mission,
Mgr. Romero, Mother Theresa, St. Francis Assisi, St. Ignatius de Loyola, St. Francis
Xavier, St. Theresa, Jean d’Arc, and other films. Including in the third is the
stories of the Christians who in this era actualise their faith by serving the
The explanation above presented some ideas to start the discourse of finding
the model of evangelisation in television era. Indeed, while exploring the models,
we have to remember that the effectiveness of evangelisation is also determined
by Church testimonies. As far as the lives of Christians serve as good stories
and build good images, people in this era will believe in the evangelisation.
Besides telling stories, Churches need to work on something. Because those lives
testimonies that will precede stories. The first Christians followers were known
as the people who told stories, and not the people who discussed about the truth
of the stories. On the Pentecost, many of them believed Peters’ message and were
baptized, and about three thousands people were added to the group that day (Acts
2:41) and they became the first followers. What is the meaning of this story for
us? Can it be said that Churches have to continuously learn to tell testimonies
by means of communication which can be accepted by more and more people? ***