“Reality is the leading cause of stress amongst those in touch with it.”
–from the play The Search for Signs of Intelligent Life In the Universe
I first heard this line in Tabitha Bryant’s theater louisiana college performance of Jane Wagner’s play back in the late 90’s. (Tab’s performance was fantastic by the way.) I’ve thought about “reality” some lately…and it has proven to be a stressful undertaking. What is reality these days…financial collapse, bailouts, unemployment, wars, AIDS (and other diseases), rampant poverty, terrorism, cynicism, shoes being thrown at the President of the United States…weird and challenging times. (I’m still trying to figure out how 2 shoes were thrown before a Secret Service agent comes into the frame…not good…but I digress.)
The subject of “being real” came up as well in a conversation with a friend the other day about church…church in the general sense. A comment was made to the effect of, “[church] would be so much more meaningful if [people] were real.” The observation was being made that actual day to day issues, doubts, fears, relational struggles, etc. were seemingly out of bounds. Kids are to be perfect. Careers are to be meaningful. Marriages are to “work”. Pastors are to mold all of this perfection into a perfect little church in which all members believe the same things and never have to hear anything that might challenge any of those perfect beliefs.
Where is the reality in that? We live in a culture of denial. It hit me last night as I spoke with a good friend of mine and the subject of the shoe throwing incident arose. He really could not understand why an Iraqi journalist might want to throw a pair of shoes at President Bush. (the answer of course is “because those were the only projectiles readily available at the time”…but again, I digress). His reasoning was that Bush represented the United States which had liberated Iraq from the oppressive regime of Saddam Hussein, had spent hundreds of billions of dollars in Iraq, thousands of United States military personnel have been wounded and over 3,000 United States military personnel had given the ultimate sacrifice on Iraqi soil. All of those statements are extremely real.
What’s reality to the Iraqi journalist? 90 to 100 thousand civilian deaths in Iraq as a result of the destabilization. Constant unrest. Occupation of his nation by a foreign power. This power represents many things that directly conflict with strongly held religious beliefs. There are MANY more perceptions that could be added to this list. This is merely quick thoughts compiled by an American sitting safely at a distance typing on a blog. All of this, again, very real to the people experiencing it on a day to day basis.
“Stress” does not sufficiently describe what we feel when we really turn toward these issues and stare them down. Daunting. Overwhelming. Hopeless. ____________ (fill in the blank). But there is another aspect of reality that must not be pushed aside by all of the real problems we are facing: PEACE.
“The state of shalom is the state of flourishing in all dimensions of one’s existence: in one’s relation to God, in one’s relation to one’s fellow human beings, in one’s relation to nature, and in one’s relation to oneself….An ever-beckoning temptation for the [American] evangelical is to assume that all God really cares about for human beings here on earth is that they be born again and thus destined for salvation….[However], what God desires for human beings is that comprehensive mode of flourishing which the Bible calls shalom….God’s love of justice is grounded in God’s longing for the shalom of God’s creatures and in God’s sorrow over its absence.”
Rather than medicating ourselves from the realities we find ourselves negotiating, lets live into a different narrative. Let’s live into a narrative of shalom. Peace. If we look for it, we can see peace breaking out all over the place…be an instrument of peace this Advent season.