Friday, January 19, 2007


The God/Nintendo analogy: my Christmas sermon

I had the fabulous privilege of preaching at our local church on Christmas Day this year. I thought for quite a long time about what to do, exactly - ironically, Christmas tends to be one of the least spiritual services of the year, and I wanted to avoid that situation if at all possible.

While thinking about it, I kept coming back to the same idea - an idea which some colleagues thought I wouldn't be able to get away with, and which I had doubts about. In the end though, it was the only really interesting idea I had at all, so I went with it. So, here it is: the God/Nintendo analogy.

One of our customs at Tilehurst Methodist Church is that on Christmas morning, some of the young people (and some not so young) bring a present still wrapped up, and unwrap it in front of everyone. I stuck to this tradition, and then revealed my main Christmas present: a new Nintendo Wii. For those of you who aren't interested in video games, the Nintendo Wii is one of the latest generation of home video gaming machines. There are two others, but the Wii is a bit different. For a long time gaming has been getting prettier and prettier, in terms of the visual effects and so forth. However, it's still been very complicated. If you take a look at the controller of any of the other consoles, there are lots of buttons, and they tend to all be used. In the gaming community there's a lot of talk about "hard-core" gamers, and you get the feeling that for any one game there will be someone who has virtually dedicated their life to that particular game, and finding out every nook and cranny. In short, gaming has been hard to get into, which is why relatively few people do it.

Nintendo are hoping to change all that with the Wii. The main controller looks very much like a TV remote control - except much simpler. [I took the Wii and a controller to church to show everyone - along with a Gamecube controller to show the difference between the too.] It's got a total of 8 buttons (although one of them is an up/down/left/right button) and most of the time you're playing (at least in the games I've got) you don't use many of those buttons. There are other controllers that can be plugged in to add more capabilities, but the message Nintendo are pushing is that it's simple. The Wii comes with a game bundled in - "Wii Sports". As an example of how simple gaming can be, you can play the tennis part of Wii Sports without using any buttons at all - you just wave the controller around as if it were a racket, and the game will respond appropriately. The Wii knows when you move the controller, twist it in any direction, and when you're pointing it at the screen - to go through the menu systems, you just point at the item you want to select and use the "A" button.

So, as a result of this clever controller, the Wii can be played by anyone. You don't need to learn vast numbers of rules - you can just pick up and play, at least for things like Wii Sports and Wii Play. There are numerous reports on the net of people (adults!) showing the Wii to their parents, and then only getting a go themselves after watching said parents playing on it for hours. Instead of trying to gain a large proportion of a small market, Nintendo are trying to make that market massively wide, appealing to anyone and everyone.

So, what has this got to do with Christmas? Well, Nintendo effectively gave the world the Wii for Christmas. God gave Jesus. Jesus cut through all the details of the complicated Judaic laws, distilling them into "Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength" and "Love your neighbour as yourself". Those are instructions which are simple enough for anyone to understand. Similarly, instead of only the high priests being able to have direct contact with God, Jesus made himself available directly - and not just to Jews, but to everyone. While this obviously misses out a lot of the nature of Jesus (and the crucifixion/resurrection in particular) it's still interesting. The Wii is taking the world by storm, just as Jesus did - it's just a shame the modern day church isn't always as enthusiastic as Wii fans often are.

Holly and I were both worried that this message would be lost on a non-games-playing congregation, but fortunately it went very well - they appeared to be with me at every step, as it were. Furthermore, it may be pretty much my only sermon which comes close to being genuinely original - I suspect there weren't very many Nintendo-based sermons preached on Christmas day...

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