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Yesterday in my Gospel and Global Media Cultures class we did a fascinating exercise that our instructor, Mary Hess, describes in her book Engaging Technology in Theological Education (139-142). Called the “Video Reality Game,” the idea is to watch a series of 3 minute video clips and place each clip on an open ended “reality spectrum”. It is a generative tool to stimulate discussion about our perceptions of reality and what we consider “real.”

For our class yesterday, Mary used a series of clips about prayer. Some came from television shows, some came from news stories, some were videos of worship services, and some were short films. It was a great exercise that really challenged me to think about both prayer and my understanding of “reality.” What I found most interesting was the debriefing question about the criteria we used to place the clips on our spectra. I realized that my criteria shifted some during the exercise. Listening to the criteria and experiences of the other students also helped me reconsider some of my first impressions and the discourse each clip suggested for me.

Of all the clips, I found the following from American Idol to be the most challenging. I had a very strong first impression. After hearing other students describe quite different impressions, a whole new set of questions occurred to me.

In some ways, I think this clip might function as something of a Rorschach test that reveals what we think about worship. Take a look at this video and leave your impressions in the comments section. After others have had a chance to comment, I’ll post my own thoughts.

John W. Vest

John is a "church hacker" attempting to overcome the limitations of church as we know it. To connect with him and learn more about his work, please visit

Reader Interactions


  1. While the performance is very good, I am troubled by the fact that the choir was made up of all African-Americans and there was only one black in the main singing group. To me it reflects how segregated most worship services are, as well as how the dominant culture will only easily accept one or two exceptional minorities within its ranks. Giving the black woman singer a duet with the brunette woman at the end did little to assuage my concerns. Was the back-up choir the hired help?

  2. A tightly-choreographed made for prime-time TV performance, possibly lip-synched, is none of real worship in my book; pretty much the opposite of congregational singing. It was heavily larded with cynical tropishness, but must admit that as mass entertainment, it seems to be what people “really” like, a fact in the world. So what “real” do you mean?

    • That’s a good question. The exercise intentionally lesves “real” open ended and ambiguous. The spectrum has “Real” on one end and nothing on the other end, leaving it up to the participants to figure it out for themselves.

  3. I have a basic visceral dislike of that song to begin with, so….

    My reaction is based primarily on the fact that it’s just a performance. Why is that the song chosen for American Idol finalists? Why do they feel the need to hire a gospel choir for the staging? Is an episode of American Idol now worship? And if so, wtf are we saying in our religious/cultural world? Would those 8 go lead worship in a church in the same way (same outfits and makeup, same “dance” moves, same emphasis on them and who they are and their vocal abilities)?

    All around, I find the whole thing incredibly disturbing. And if that’s the primary witness of the church’s 21st century worship experience, I’m even more disturbed. That song is so musically vapid and theologically shallow that it would be more a turn-off than a curiosity pique. so….yeah. I hate the song (and the show) even more now than I did before.

  4. When I saw the clip in class, I was not very moved by it at all because I experienced it as a performance. I was also turned off because I was frustrated that American Idol was producing an obviously Christian piece, when I doubted that the show would do the same with other religions. When I ranked the clips, what I saw as “performances” were at the far end of the spectrum (the least real).

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