By Ben Disney
It was Seth Godin who first introduced me to the word “skeuomorph.” Yes, it’s an actual word, and it’s been around since 1890. Definition: “A skeuomorph is a physical ornament or design on an object made to resemble another material or technique.”
Think woodies - those infamous cars popular in the 1930s, 40s, and 50s - that had simulated wood-grain siding as part of the design. It was a vinyl overlay made to look like wood; but, of course, there was no actual wood used in the design. That’s a skeuomorph. The term is now commonly used to describe computer interfaces. It’s a design element taken from an old thing and added to a new one; like putting a knob or a button on a virtual computer screen. You don’t actually push it or turn it, but it looks familiar and feels comfortable; which is why it’s there.
It occurs to me that we wrestle with a similar idea in the ongoing work of the church. Balancing the old and the new; holding onto the familiar while venturing into the unknown; maintaining the essential traditions of the church while staying open to wherever God is moving in this world; staying true to the core values and beliefs and yet being willing to let go of the clutter that detracts us from our primary mission to make disciples for Jesus Christ.
Jesus said you can’t put new wine into old wineskins; or, as Eugene Peterson translates, “you don’t put wine in old, cracked bottles; you get strong, clean bottles for your fresh vintage wine.” So the next time you notice something in the church that may look and feel wonderfully familiar and comfortable to you but in reality doesn’t serve a purpose, you may be looking at a skeuomorph. Vinyl siding that looks like wood paneling on a car is nice to have, but it has nothing to do with the function or purpose of the car itself.
If you’re still wondering what a religious skeuomorph is, let me put it another way. If we’re constantly focused on the one familiar thing that makes us feel comfortable in church, perhaps we’re missing the bigger picture.
# # #