Culture At Large

Binge-watching TV and seasons of the church

Bethany Keeley-Jonker

I grew up in a worshiping community that was big on church seasons.

Our sanctuary and children’s ministry rooms were decorated to match the color of the season and we aligned our worship and programming around those seasons. I remember the excitement of Pentecost, with the flame symbols and bright red décor, and then the seemingly unending season after Pentecost, or “growing season,” that stretched all the way to Advent in the late fall.

Though the purple seasons of Advent and Lent signify waiting for the big events of Christmas and Easter, the summer season seemed, at least in childhood, to drag on with little change or excitement. Now, as an adult, I enjoy this church season for the same reasons I grew bored of it so quickly as a child. It’s a flexible time we might use for specific purposes, or a break for busy leaders trying to make the big Sundays meaningful another time around.

Maybe because of this background, I was immediately intrigued by a recent piece Robin Sloan posted at Medium about season structure and media. While the old seasonal model for television is getting complicated by various approaches (such as Netflix’s dump-it-all-at-once strategy), Sloan observed that media that do not usually take place in a seasonal format - books and video games, for example - are adopting a season structure. One reason other media are adopting season-style pacing is because we actually enjoy schedules, rhythms and anticipation, even though we sometimes also enjoy the occasional TV binge-watch.

We enjoy schedules, rhythms and anticipation, even though we sometimes also enjoy the occasional TV binge-watch.

Previously on TC, Kory Plockmeyer wrote about how God’s special revelation could work like a whole season of TV all at once. We don’t have to wait for God to reveal Himself; He already has in His word, which we can read whenever we want. Kory’s right, God’s word is there for us and we can understand the whole story of grace without having to wait until the next installment. But there are some advantages to spreading it out too, as church seasons do. It helps us feel the emotions of each movement without getting overwhelmed. It helps us work the story into our daily lives.

I think that’s something I enjoy about a season structure to media stories as well. I get a little bit, I can think about it, listen to some other stories, talk about it with my friends and then come back. And the stories become part of my life and habits, especially as they stretch over months and years.

Our church tradition seems to understand this. Certain elements of God’s story are available to us all the time, in tracts, summaries, stained-glass windows and Stations of the Cross. But we also come back to the story, in different parts and as different people, over time, across seasons of the church year and Sunday after Sunday. We let the story comment on and interact with other stories in our lives - maybe even the prestige television drama that airs on Sunday nights.

This year, as we head toward Pentecost and then that long season after, and as I no doubt binge on a season of something with the DVR (Orphan Black is a strong candidate), I’ll also appreciate a God whose word and community walks alongside us, giving us both a rhythm of storytelling and a way to see His story all at once.

Topics: Culture At Large, Theology & The Church, Worship, News & Politics, Media