This was first posted at Alan’s blog, “Downshore Drift.”
I was thinking recently about how much we simulate the experiences that we would like to have and the life that we would like to live into something that can be approached, bought, sold, and consumed. We often do not want the real thing, but we are happy with a facsimile of what we think would be nice. For example, my favorite Italian restaurant in town is made to look like Tuscany on the inside and has trees growing on the roof on the outside, but in reality, it is in a parking lot in front of a Best Buy on a bypass. I like to listen to the music I like and pretend that I am in a coffeehouse or cafe in Europe when I go to my favorite coffee shop in town, but in reality, I am sitting in the middle of a parking lot in a relatively small building off the side of a road in Montgomery, Alabama. I pipe in music that evokes a mood and wear clothes that I like and try to surround myself with things that make me think of other places, all the while missing the “real” that is right in front of me.
When we were in New Orleans last week, we were walking through the French Quarter and my friend, Matt, said, “It is amazing what Disney has done with this place.” I laughed and we started joking about how in a world of pretend and counterfeit, when you see the real thing, you try to make that pretend too. We aren’t used to the “real” since almost everything that we encounter is a knock-off of something else far away that is real. We have bought the “echo” so much that we don’t know what the real sound is.
I have been to Tuscany and the Italian restaurant I like in town really isn’t much like it except for the feel. It does evoke a certain emotion, which is the goal, I guess. But, at the end of the day, you are still in Montgomery. I have sat in coffeehouses in Seattle and San Francisco and in Europe and Starbucks really isn’t that similar, except that you can have the same emotion for a moment if you play the right music and don’t look out the window at the parking lot that you are sitting in the middle of.
There is real life to be found, though. On our trip to Louisiana last week we ended up visiting a Citrus grove to visit with a farmer whose farm was flooded from Hurricane Isaac last year. Our church sent some money to help with recovery and some of it made it to this farmer. So, he had us walk around the citrus grove and pick oranges and grapefruits. There was a swamp there and mosquitos and an alligator in the swamp, even though we couldn’t see it. We picked ripe oranges off the trees and bit into them and juice ran down our arms and across our cheeks and we were sticky and hot and laughing and it was all quite real. There is no way that we could have created a counterfeit of that event. I will remember it for a long time.
This brings me to my point. Starbucks is packed every day and real things happen there in conversation and relationship. I meet people there all the time. But, the environment isn’t really real. It is meant to evoke an emotion. But, how much damage do we do to ourselves when we are missing what is native and true to the place that we live and the people we live in community with when we are always grasping over the feeling that comes from being someplace else – perhaps someplace more exotic? Maybe God is HERE in THIS place and He wants us to stop trying to create emotions that will make us feel better and instead embrace what actually IS. How much emotion do we try and create in church? How much do we try and create ambiance or a sense that we are someplace else when we gather in worship? How much do the lights and technology and music and videos and all of our bells and whistles seek to create an escape for our senses into another place that is not quite false but is not actually real, either?
Jesus put on flesh and blood and walked a real earth. He lived in a particular place and time and ate real food and “used the bathroom” and slept and did everything else that real people do. He didn’t escape it or try to create or weave a fantasy that would appeal to people. I am all for beauty and telling stories and for weaving tales. I am all for sitting back in my chair on a Monday afternoon and thinking of the Italian coast or London or the Himalayas or San Francisco and wishing that I was there. But, we have to snap out of the daydream and actually embrace the life that God has given us. Our worship should reflect that reality as well – that God is Here right now and He is not silent and He wants us to embrace Him and THIS place as the place of His activity and salvation.
When we live plastic lives we end up projecting a plastic faith and plastic worship and we promote a plastic Jesus that can make us feel good for a moment, but who doesn’t really change things. The real Jesus would have been in the parking lot waiting for you to join Him.
Or, perhaps in a citrus grove with orange juice running down his chin, laughing.