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Sponges, Funnels, and Sieves

I’m doing a three-week media discernment series with our high school students this month, and I’ve found one great illustration that really captures the different ways to consume media. The illustration is adapted from a quote by a Jewish rabbi, we discern what is healthy and unhealthy, life-giving and life-draining, glorifying to God and detracting from God.

We can consume TV, music, movies, the Internet, or any other form of media in one of three ways:

  • Sponges: A sponge soaks up everything, taking in both the good and the bad, not really thinking about whether or not the media they’re consuming is God-honoring. It’s mindless consumption of media, the careless “I do what I want” attitude that is more friends-driven, commericial-driven, or just self-driven rather than God-driven. A sponge assumes that “all things are permissible” without thinking about whether the media is beneficial or harmful to themselves or others. This is the mindset that leads teens to just watching whatever their friends watch, going to see a film on opening day “just because,” or listening to music but not really listening to the words.

  • Funnels: A funnel lets all media pass them by, retaining nothing either because a) they are avoiding all media, or b) they are opposed to the limited media they are exposed to. It’s mindless evasion, pointing out only the flaws in media or becoming a sort of media hermit. This is the mindset that leads teens to destroying all their “secular” CDs, only watching “safe” Christian TV programs and films, or making hyperbolic judgment calls on other Christians who see any R-rated movies.

  • Sieves: Otherwise known as a strainer or colander, strainers are careful to filter every media they consume. They are mindfully engaged with their media, holding fast to everything good and avoiding every kind of evil. They have a filter in place–Scripture–to be able to think about the messages in the media and how this leads them closer to or further away from Jesus. Strainers are never apathetic about their media, nor do they simply consume everything in order to critique it. Instead, using Spirit-given wisdom, they make conscious choices about the media they consume and think carefully about how the messages are affecting their mind and heart.

When I teach this, I use an actual sponge, funnel, and strainer. I have three glasses of water–representing media–filled with bright yellow plastic BBs–representing truth. As I share about each way to engage media, I pour the glass through the sponge, funnel, and strainer. The sponge catches both water and BBs; the funnel lets it all pass through; the strainer catches the BBs and lets the water pass. It’s a great illustration of using Scripture as our filter for how we engage the media we consume.

So what are you: a sponge, a funnel, or a sieve?

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Joel Mayward is a pastor, writer, youth worker, and film critic. The author of three books, he has written for numerous ministry publications, including Christianity Today, Christ and Pop Culture, Leadership Journal, YouthWorker Journal, Immerse Journal, The Youth Cartel, and LeaderTreks. You can read his musings on film, theology, and culture at his personal blog, www.joelmayward.com. For his film reviews and essays, check out www.cinemayward.com. Follow Joel on Twitter: @joelmayward.