“Reality” Isn’t All that Real
I can remember being in the gym one day talking to my trainer about the goals for my new work-out regimen. I was still out of breath, my muscles were on fire, and sweat was pouring down my face. I had just completed a "legs" routine that almost made me lose my breakfast. But as I was "cooling down," which is code for "trying not to die," I glanced down at a magazine cover and saw a rather Adonis-like specimen of an athlete adorning the front page. I huffed out from beneath my labored breathing, "Will I be able to look like that if I keep on working out like this?" My trainer, a Pharoah of a man, one who made me suffer beneath his harsh tyranny, let me down easy by jolting me with reality. He bluntly told me,
You'll never look like that, ever. That athlete trains hours a day, likely almost every day, has a personal chef that cooks him perfectly balanced meals, and he's been photographed under special lighting, with special attention given to his clothing, which was tailored just for him. And to boot, that photo has been airbrushed to fix whatever imperfections there might be. And now it's on the glossy cover of a magazine. In a word, that picture isn't real. Average people don't have those types of resources.
Well, to say the least I was slighty crushed as I walked back to my car. I recovered from this stunning blow to my efforts at sculpting my body to Greek perfection with a King size bag of M & M's. But it did get me thinking about so-called "reality."
We're surrounded by these types of images all the time, whether for body image, clothing, or even food. Have you ever wondered why the "cow pie" looking slab of "beef" bewteen two sesame seed buns looks nothing like the picture of the "Hamburger" in tv and print ads? Click here to watch what accounts for the difference. Reality TV is not reality--they have scripts, they selectively edit, and the producers create the story they want to tell. The News Media is a business--they don't tell you the news for free. They have to make a profit, which means that they must draw viewers and readers to their sites, brodcasts, and print media through sensationalism and provocative headlines, which is often a distortion or exageration of the truth or invovles selective reporting. Clothing manufacturers are not simply trying to sell you a pair of pants--they create an entire image and lifestyle to convince you to buy their product. So what's the point?
For all of the talk about "transforming culture," wherever one might stand on the issue, seldom do Christians take all of these various factors into account, how their mores, self-image, knowledge of the world, and even the food they eat is being shaped, packaged, and presented to them. All of these different streams of input shape and mold our culture and before you know it, large portions of the church have bought into a lifestyle, ethics, or value system without even realizing what they have embraced. Rather than evaluating human beings as created in the image of God and thereby inherently worthy of respect, we look at a person's clothes, physique, car, house, the periodicals he reads (or doesn't read), the computer he uses, and form a judgment about him largely informed by marketing executives on Fifth Avenue and the distorted "reality" of the media tower of Babel, the internet and broadcast TV.
All of this is to say that we should constantly bathe our minds in the word of God on a daily basis so that it would shape our thinking rather than the world (Rom. 12.1-2). Moreover, we should also not be too quick to buy into the next clothing fad, exercise program, or so-called "un-edited" version of "reality" that is placed before us. We should critically engage the world around us and regularly ask ourselves, "Why do I think the way that I do about X?" It has been said that the eyes are the window to the soul, but I also believe that they are a means by which we consume the world around us. "Be careful little eyes what you see," is a line from an old children's song that offers a helpful reminder as we evaluate the world around us and seek to live the Christian life.