Anyone who knows me knows that I am not a fan of reality TV. When that particular genre of television craft first appeared on the screen, it revolved around people having to survive together on a desert island or in some such inhospitable place. It has now morphed into all sorts of different venues and challenges. The popularity of reality television obviously reveals that most Americans do not share my disinterest.
When it comes to the popularity of reality TV, it has been my hunch that reality television can only be successful in a society made up of people who lack a great adventure in life; indeed such a phenomenon can only exist in a society itself that lacks a great adventure. I think that Henry David Thoreau was not too far off the mark when he suggested that many human beings lead lives of quiet desperation. In leading such a life we attempt to give our lives meaning by living vicariously through the lives of those we see immersed in a challenge on the television. The couch in the living room becomes more than the place where we sit to watch the adventure unfold; it becomes the indispensable platform by which we, in our imagination, involve ourselves in the actual adventure of someone else. Their reality becomes our fantasy.
I also wonder if a culture of quiet desperation that lacks a great adventure also explains why our society seems so uncomfortable with silence. Other than a library, it is difficult to find a place that is intentionally free from noise. Indeed, it seems as if we are intentional about creating noisy spaces and places. It is virtually impossible to go into a restaurant and not have to tolerate loud music blaring from the speakers in the ceiling. Quiet does not appear to be something we do well. Perhaps it is because in the silence we would be forced to be alone with our thoughts to contemplate life and its meaning. Perhaps it is simply easier to tolerate a noisy existence than to ponder what are lives are about and for, and whether or not we are devoting ourselves to some purpose larger than ourselves. At the very least reality TV involves us in an adventure, even though there is likely no larger purpose.
In a society that lacks a great adventure and is obviously looking for one, I think the church is particularly suited to step into the void with the adventure that is the gospel. To follow the risen Jesus into new life and to be the vehicle by which the salvation of the world is proclaimed in word and in deed is to participate in the reality of all realities. There can be nothing more interesting than casting our fortunes with the One who has been raised to new life and who embodies in his very life the God of the Universe who hurled the planets into their orbits and put the stars in place.
But have we who follow Jesus truly embraced the Good News as the great adventure that it is? Have we understood that the gospel uniquely has what it takes to change the world? Or are we also spending our nights on the couch living our lives vicariously through others on the television and living lives of quiet desperation seeking to fill the silent places where eternity might break through with the noise of the world around us?
Advent is upon us. The Reality of realities is about to visit us and invite us to participate in the adventure that is the gospel.
Our focus determines our reality. Are we focused, and I mean really focused, on Advent.
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I do not seek to understand that I may believe, but I believe in order to understand. For this also I believe, –that unless I believed, I should not understand.-- St. Anselm of Canterbury (1033-1109)