One of the books which I read for my Eucharist comp was Graham Hughes' Worship as Meaning: A Liturgical Theology for Late Modernity. He examines the theories of the semiotician Charles Peirce and applies them to worship. I highly recommend it, even for those of you who hate semiotics or have never studied them—he explains Peirce's theories well, and the conclusions he draws regarding worship are thought-provoking, even if you might not agree with all of them (just try to ignore the fact that his sentences have an average of about 60 words in length).
Some of the themes Hughes establishes are especially interesting. First, he establishes that meaning is produced in the interaction between the sign producer and the interpretant. Regardless of the giver's understanding of meaning, the interpretant's understanding, based upon what understandings are available to him or her, will affect the meaning intended into a third meaning, one different from the producer and the interpretant's original ideas.
Second, Hughes spends some time discussing the notion that humans like to go to the edge of chaos. He notes people's proclivity to enjoy roller coasters, horror movies, extreme sports, etc. He then calls upon the designers of worship to make the worship service such an experience—bringing people to the edge of chaos in that they are approaching the holy God.
Third, Hughes draws upon Peirce's understandings of meaning production to say that abduction produces the most meaningful meanings, as opposed to induction or deduction. By abduction, he means that some information is given, but not enough to know for certain what is truly the meaning of a situation. Therefore, imagination is necessary to create meaning, since not enough information was given to induce or deduce the meaning. In a given situation, for this purpose a worship service, thousands of tiny signs lead the worshiper to create meaning based upon them, whether consciously or not.
So, we see that worship leaders should be mindful that the worshipers might interpret a bit differently the signs that are given in worship; that worshipers like to be brought to the edge of chaos; and that the best method of giving meaning is allowing for the imaginative, abductive process. What that indicates could be different in different places and situations, because meaning can only be produced based on the cultural situations which produce it (one critique of Hughes is that he seemingly leaves aside the work of the Holy Spirit, instead relying on human agents for meaning production).
However, can we rely on contemporary people to be abductive in their thinking? An examination of recent Hollywood movies seems to indicate not, yet, many forwardthinking churches are using movies to outreach to their congregations. The church which some of my family attends just had a couple of services in which they watched the Johnny Cash biopic Walk the Line—an enjoyable movie, but interesting to show in worship.
Amy and I watched 16 Blocks last night, and it seems fairly representative. No room was left for abductive thinking, in which every tiny plot detail was spelled out in excruciating detail. The entire plot was fairly obvious from about minute 15 of the 102-minute feature, but, the filmmakers felt it necessary to be doubly sure that everyone would be able to comprehend the straightforward, clichéd story. I would fault them for my boredom, but, going to movies in the theater makes me wonder about our moviegoing public.
In Lady in the Water, what had been explained fairly well, although not fully, was finally mostly spelled out in the last few minutes. Some was new information, but some of it had been left for our imagination—although with much guidance. However, what had seemed fairly obvious left the lady behind me gasping in shock. Further, when Amy and Amanda Drury saw The Devil Wears Prada, a movie with much less to reveal, one of their fellow moviegoers was left in shock at the revelation of another obvious plot detail that had finally been spelled out.
Other movies that leave much unexplained have been unpopular, such as Unbreakable, which apparently I and three people I'm friends with liked. However, too much left undone is unsatisfying to me, such as Winter Light, part of Ingmar Bergman's "faith" trilogy.
So, is the simplified spelling out of every detail, like in 16 Blocks, really all we can expect of people? If so, can we depend on the abductive reasoning of worshipers? And, what could we do to encourage abductive thinking? How can we bring people to the boundary with chaos?