the stroom effect

In a recent conversation here it was pointed out that if you place the text in front of someone the majority of us cannot help but read it. That is true whether it is in a book, on a pew sheet, or up on a projected screen.

Even if people know the text by heart, they regularly have their head in a book. Even if the words are clearly being addressed to each other – we end up addressing them to the book. I regularly see presiders address “The Lord be with you” to a book! I regularly see congregations address “and also with you” to a projector screen!

Sure; for long, complex texts the person proclaiming that text will need to have the printed text in front of them: the readings, the collect, the Eucharistic Prayer. But the things we say to each other should be said to each other. By heart. There’s a reason we call it “by heart”…

And for many (most?) of us, having the printed text in front of us means we cannot help but read the text. It’s called the Stroop Effect. Don’t read the text in the image at the top of this post. As quickly as possible say out loud the colours of the words, left to right: red, blue…

Most of us are unable not to read a text if it is in front of us!

We live in a culture that ignores, devalues, and deprecates memory. But even we are not checking our cell phone or note book to see what the appropriate response to, “Good morning” or “Good evening” is. Once a community is comfortable with addressing each other by heart, one might start memorising other texts (there’s plenty of memory room – it’s not used for anything else!). I was recently speaking to a Christian who has a discipline of memorising 200 verses of scripture a year. Sound a lot? That’s 4 verses a week.

Psalms. Hymns. Great prayers…

With texts we know, especially those we address to each other, let’s have the self-discipline of closing the book, putting down the pew sheet or booklet. If your church uses screens – good luck stopping yourself from not reading the text there. Then it is up to your community to have the self-discipline to limit what it puts up.

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