Dr. John E. Johnson

Dr. John E. Johnson
Blog, Politics

The Unreality We Have Come to Assume is Reality

Reading the daily commentaries on life and politics, it is obvious these are crazy times. You want to keep your head down and hope to survive the crossfire. People are shooting from both sides, and as an election gets closer, the vitriol has only increased. Hyperbole has taken over. “Bitch,”, “Sophomoric Sniveler.” “Terroristic Man-Toddler,” and worse fill the airwaves. It’s hard to avoid the fight. Columnists have even warned that the whole of Western  civilization is at risk, depending upon who wins. Something of the apocalypse is hanging in the air–for history seems to be out of control People are rushing toward the cliffs like a herd of pigs.

I am finding a weariness setting in as well. Dinner conversations do their best to avoid going down the political road, for there is an outside chance you are on the other side, and too many emotions rise to the surface. “Have your lost your footings?” “Are you mad, crazy?” “Have you lost your salvation?” “Can’t you see where this would go?”

Meanwhile, news of huge hurricanes and seismic tremors get pushed back to A12, where one notes these other things with a passing yawn.

Which brings me back to something I was reading today in Eugene Peterson’s Take & Read. Reflecting on his years as a pastor, he notes what was the most important thing he did. Let’s think about that for a moment. Pastors do a lot of important–and not so important things. So let’s rule out the obvious unimportant list–giving invocations at Log Trucker conventions, blessing people’s pets, picking up Pepto-Bismol for an ailing parishioner, tracking down pecan pie recipes, and reviewing church budgets. The most important thing? That could be praying for one’s congregants, studying and preaching the Word, or visiting the hurting. But here’s what Peterson said–“The most important thing I did for thirty-five years was stand before a congregation each Sunday morning and say, ‘Let us worship God.'”

Peterson gets what many of us are still slow to realize, that a call to worship is more than a signal that things have started, so finish your coffee, your chitchat in the lobby, and your commiserating over your team’s OT loss. It is an invitation to come into the real world. Coming before God, we step out of the unrealities, the lies, the systematic distortions of our age, and step into reality. And if we truly have done this–have heard a Word from God and responded to His goodness, His wisdom, and His greatness–we move from decentered to re-centered.

Returning to the outside world, we discover how suddenly small it is–how puny its politics, paltry its appetites, and squint-eyed its interests. Sort of like visiting the Alamo in San Antonio for the first time. You are driving around the block looking, assuming that over there is an advertisement, but it is the actual Alamo in all of its smallness. This is how the world should look when we step out the door.

The danger today is that all too many Christians are watching and engaging and stressing in much of this madness in the outside world. We listen to our favorite talk show host and get all lathered up. We find ourselves (to use Peterson’s words again) “getting used to it and going along with its assumptions, since most of the politicians and journalists, artists and entertainers, stockbrokers and shoppers seem to assume that it’s the real world.” 

Let’s face it, a lot of us have bought into that which is marketed as reality when in fact it is false. It may be a reflection–not on how loud the noise is out there–but how trite, how insignificant and marginal has become our worship.

In another book, Peterson tells the story of a high-energy executive leaving the place of worship with the comment, “That was wonderful, Pastor, but now we have to get back to the real world, don’t we?” There have been times I have heard the same rather condescending words from parishioners (not worshippers). It is obvious they are not taking the sacred with seriousness.

Time we become convinced in our hearts that in the presence of God is the most real world, a world where God’s grace invades and truth is finally discovered.

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