The Trouble with Paris
Following Jesus in a world of plastic promises
Thomas Nelson, 2008, 215 pp., ISBN 978-0-8499-1999-2
Mark Sayers is a pastor from Australia. He invites us to discover the real Jesus who leads us away from rampant individualism and consumerism (hyperreality) to a deep and abundant faith in God's reality.
Part I. Hyperreality
Our culture has a corrosive impact on the quality of our life and faith. It provides an alternative worldview of a hyper-real world. "The combination of a hyperconsumer culture, mass media, and rampant individualism has created a world of hyperreality." (5) Our culture promises things that are better than the real thing. It has overextended our expectations of life.
"A fairly pretty girl works as a model to support her studies. She does a photo shoot for a fashion magazine. The photographer skillfully uses wardrobe, lighting, and makeup during the shoot. After the shoot, computers are used to take away the model's imperfections and to improve her overall look. The magazine hits the newsstands, and through the magic of technology, a fairly pretty girl had been turned into a stunningly beautiful cover model. Thousands of women buy the magazine and wonder why they cannot be as beautiful and glamorous as the model on the cover, not realizing that if they walked past the actual model in the street, they would not even notice her." (5-6) [Note: you can see this process via time-lapse photography on YouTube. Search for "Dove Evolution." Dlm]
Hyperreality means that often we cannot tell the difference between what advertising tells us about products, places and people and what they are like in the real world." (7) We have sacrificed reality!
The world via the media is always attractive and alluring. The catch is that we become more dissatisfied with our own lives by contrast. But the lifestyles we see on TV are not real. We become consumers of someone else's life…watching images, reading catalogs, and seeking a happiness and fulfillment that are always somewhere else just out of our reach.
In hyper-consumerism, the whole of life has become a shopping experience. "More and more, advertising has little to do with the actual product being sold. Rather, we are sold products on the basis of symbolic meanings." "Advertising gimmicks make us feel inadequate or incomplete, not cool, or not a good mother, or out of touch if we do not have the product. "Products have become the way we relate to each other and find people 'just like us.'" (19) We find our identity in the things we consume. Our whole lives become products.
Life is presented by the media as a never-ending array of pleasures and experiences to enjoy. We don't chase big dreams but experiences. "We must feel good to feel as if we have lives of significance." We find meaning in feeling good. "Today's youth…are slaves to this framework." "The hyperconsumer culture is shifting our focus from buying tangible items that exist in time and space and instead encouraging us to buy experiences that are liquid and fleeting…." (23)
"When people don't think or plan for the future, they spend in the moment." Experience is a way to gain status. All that matters is the present. We think only of immediate gratification. Consuming fills the void in our lives.
"Hyperconsumerism fits as the perfect religion of our age." "We worship at the mall, buying products as if they were magic amulets; we place our hope and faith in vacations and SUVs to make us happy; and we work and save and borrow to reach the consumer version of heaven--the lifestyle we dream about." (31) "We worship without realizing that we have made a new faith commitment." (32)
We have swapped a biblical worldview of hope in God for a worldview of hyper-consumerism to deliver a tangible, fulfilled life now. [Even] "today's salvation message sounds more like 'self-help' than 'die to self.'" (33) Christianity becomes another lifestyle option. As we increasingly value material things we concern ourselves less with the interior life. Our culture worships how we look on the outside. Character is secondary.
Our culture worships the individual and youth. We have a cultural fixation on achievement. Success is just over the horizon. Many young Peter Pans live with their co-dependent parents in a permanent in-between stage of life. "Companies make millions selling a youthful rebel dream to the middle-aged." (24)
We view our faith like a cell-phone contract, negotiating to try to get the most out of it with the least input. Don't get stuck in a relationship. It will limit your options. Our fear of commitment has made us passive. We live hyperreal zombielike lives, remaining uncommitted and watching the lives of others in the media.
Part 2. Reality
Hyperreality makes us unhappy, anxious, and depressed. The hyperreal world is built on our dissatisfaction. "We are entrusting the task of making our lives happy into the hands of a corporate culture that has a vested interest in keeping us unhappy." Advertising makes us dissatisfied so we will buy to meet the need. Our overabundance of choices raises the anxiety of making wrong choices. Even in marriage and jobs, we are paralyzed by inaction for fear of missing the best choice.
"…people tend to have affairs because they have had a change in worldview…. They have discovered that life is not what they expected; thus their leaving their spouse or engaging in an extramarital relationship is more about trying to find happiness and allay a loss of meaning." "Very often when the inevitable failure of consumerism occurs, the worldview that gets thrown out the door is the Christian worldview…." (71)
Young people are accustomed to being constantly entertained. Everything is portrayed as enjoyment. No toil. No consequences. However, toil is part of life. Real life always means consequences.
Question: "Who are we when we are not buying, owning, or experiencing?" (83) The concept of celebrity is that to be famous is to be noticed, recognized, loved.
But death "pulls down the paper tiger that is hyperreality." (85) People age. We are in denial of death, yet we are a culture at the mercy of death. (88) How we integrate our eventual deaths into our lives now is crucial to the sort of lives we lead.
The TV tells us the same thing the serpent told Eve, "'Grab control yourself--it's the only way!' Sadly, in an attempt to escape anxiety, we walk away from God, the only real cure to our worry." (95) "So our life is spent walking through a world of things that offer us 'securities apart from the reality of God.'" Welcome to slavery--slavery to self. "This is a form of slavery that trades in meaning, community, identity, and relationship for the myths of freedom, choice, and control." (97) We secretly enjoy our slavery; we know the rules, how to play the game.
By taking control, we deny God the authority over our whole lives. "Faith has been subverted and co-opted by the power of the hyperreal world." (105) We live with a post-Christian triangle. At one corner God is viewed as a distant reality that we know little about. From him we have no ethic for how to live. We can't aim to be good people, just to have a good time. Authority doesn't rest with God at his corner of the triangle, but we me at my corner. I have the primary concern in all matters of life. And the only voice I hear is the constant messages of hyperconsumerism at the third corner of the triangle that tells me how to live to meet my desires, wants, and needs. Most people in the West, even if they adhere to a major religion, probably know little about it. They are much more involved with the folk religion of hyperconsumerism. (109)
In Christianity we replace the distant God with Jesus, but we do not give him authority over our lives. We still see the authority lying with us. The Jesus we imagine doesn't want you to get too caught up in rules: he simply wants you to have a good time. He becomes our servant for our agenda and we rob him of his divinity, taking it for ourselves. This Jesus is powerless to challenge the principalities and idols of our days. This is not a Jesus who can save us both in our lives now and after death. "We need to rediscover Jesus." (114)
Part 3. God's Reality
"In Jesus we encounter God's plan to bring about his reality for the whole world. This encounter is essential if we are to understand the radical plan that God has for his world, a plan that will 'save' the world." (117) "God is up to more than we can imagine." (119)
"The individualism of our culture has convinced many followers of Jesus that he will help us through every struggle and provide for our every need as we pursue our dreams. It's as if Jesus came to serve our needs; in reality, we are to serve him." (123, quoting Allen Wakabayashi)
"…he comes not to reduce life but to radically transform our real-time lives. This life transformation is not like the lifestyle enhancement offered to us by the hyperconsumer culture." (124)
Christians often believe in Jesus but they don't believe in his way. Jesus' offer of life comes "to anyone who begins to put his or her trust in his way of living." "For the way of life Jesus offers leads to satisfaction, not just more wanting." (125)
"Jesus begins where we live--in the ordinary. …Jesus shows us to how to find pleasure in the midst of real life." (127) "Pleasure then becomes a foretaste of God's reality." (131)
"Jesus shows us a radical view of the future,…to have the whole world enveloped in God's reality." (132-33)
"…our lack of knowledge of what God is going to do in the future is controlling the lives of Christian young adults." Most think of Heaven as boring, as continuous worship, singing, harps and clouds, or a personal amusement park to do all they ever wanted. We must rediscover what the Bible says about the future in which God's reality envelopes the world. (136-38)
Imagine God removing all that is wrong from the earth and filling it with his glory, everything good being turned up, magnified, wonderfully exaggerated--heaven and earth joined. "When we feel awe, sense beauty, thirst to make the world right, we are touching the fluttering movements of a world pregnant with God's reality." (149)
Since Jesus' incarnation, God's reality has been breaking out into our world. We do not see it because we assess life with the wrong tools: prosperity and satisfaction rather than by God's agenda. (155) "Whenever we see justice, beauty, or goodness, there is a good chance the light is shining through from heaven." (157) We can keep our eyes open for places where the light is breaking through.
Jesus told his followers that to gain life they must give up their lives. This includes the surrendering of our wills to Jesus. This is contrary to every message of our culture. Follow God's way. Let's God's future set your agenda. Develop character. Configure your lives around his goals. "If we act in the ways of the kingdom, we will see benefits in our lives…." "To sin, to choose to live in a way that runs contrary to God's reality, is to punish ourselves, to fight against the inherent laws of the universe as God has crated them." (173) "Those who choose to live according to God's reality, who pursue wisdom, find life." (177)
Jump off the express train to destruction and join his freedom train to a world reborn. (190)
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