To a degree, using secular media in an Episcopal church seems non-controversial. Preachers quote TV shows and song lyrics frequently in their sermons. The Harry Potter books are considered appropriate for study for a number of age groups.
On the other hand, it is possible to limit oneself when considering mass media. It's easy to consider most mass media as purveyors of moral choices contrary to ones a typical Christian (if there is such a person) would support.
I began the session by challenging the group to define the term "secular" in relation to the common antonym, "sacred". This discussion seemed to engage the group, and some were challenged when I asked them to give examples, or go deeper in their examples.
Once the terms had been defined, and we agreed that both "secular" and "sacred" might both address ethical issues and deep, existential, questions (e.g., who am I, where have I been, where am I going).I then listed examples of things that have been done, or could be done:
- Dante's Inferno and Purgatorio from the Divine Comedy
- The Brothers Karamazov
- The Canterbury Tales
- Paradise Lost
- Huckleberry Finn (to be studied during Lent 2007)
The discussion of these five books were lead by a classically educated member of our congregation. Whether this could be replicated in another congregation depends on its members.
- The Secret Life of Bees
Which is a discussion group I lead in the summer of '05. The book may be best suited for a women's group, unless your community has a healthy proportion of "sensitive new-age men".
- To Kill a Mockingbird
- The Mission
- The Life of Brian
- Field of Dreams
These are suggestions
I noted that many people interpret this as a variation of Purgatory. Episodes reveal errors made in the past that the character may be atoning for on this island. The show also explicitly explores issues of faith through the characters of Locke and Mr. Eko.
- My Name Is Earl
Also addresses questions of seeking forgiveness and making amends. Could also talk about Earl's concept of "Karma" and how it compares to our concept(s) of God.
- Night-time "soaps", such as One Tree Hill
Couple of ideas here: cite Biblical laws that are broken in each program; discuss whether consequences suffered in the program match consequences that might be suffered in reality.
- With books, set realistic assignments. Depending on the difficulty of the reading, 200-300 pages a week might be realistic.
- With movies and TV shows, create time people can watch it together. Unless you are only showing brief segments, 40 minutes between services is not realistic.
- With movies and other long presentations, take at least one intermission. During this time, have a brief conversation about themes noticed up to this point, and suggest things to watch for in the remainder.
- Allow at least 30 minutes for discussion following the presentation.
- Have several questions in mind, but don't restrict the discussion to those questions. You'll often find new ideas and questions arise from the discussion.
- Entertainment Weekly often this somewhat edgy weekly will recognize a spiritual element to some presentation. When it does, I take note. I've agreed more often than not with their assesment in this regard; one example is "Lost".
- Parabola explores world myth very much in the tradition of Joseph Campbell. This quarterly journal can be helpful to see the big universal questions in new ways and from new perspectives.