What Is Real & What Is Not

At first you might think the title of this entry is a verse from a Bob Dylan song and you would be right—although that is not what this post will address.

My most recent entry was wrapped around a weekend trip and an experience in a Barnes and Noble bookstore that gave me pause to reflect on why people seem to collect in these public spots and then not interact with anyone.

It is kind of like riding the subway in Manhattan—noboby is supposed to look directly at anyone else. You can pan the car you are in visually as long as you don’t let your eyes linger to long on anyone in particular. And there are a lot of people you might want to take a second look at riding the subway in New York. It’s really a people watching paradise—but mostly from park benches and sidewalk cafes—not in the subway.

During my times in New York, I have always been amazed at the fact that most New Yorkers don’t wear sunglasses, which I wear all the time because of headaches if I don’t. When you wear them you can’t see where people’s eyes are and this seems to upset many New Yorkers—although it could just be my imagination.

But I digress. In another somewhat related post I mentioned a book by Gerry Mander entitled, “Four Arguments For The Elimination of Television” in which he talks about the effects this technology has had on our society. Agree or disagree, he does make some strong points about how this medium has shaped us and our understanding of the world around us.

In one review of the book I read online, the author distilled Mander’s  first argument in one succinct paragraph which states: “Mander’s first argument centers on the mediation of experience. Speaking not so much about television and more so about how society has progressed, he explains that as humans have moved more and more into controlled living and working environments, we have lost touch with true direct experience. To his mind, this has led to a crisis in knowledge. Everything is interpreted and processed and packaged to the point that the true nature of things is completely lost. This alienating experience narrows the field of vision on life.” (Ali Asadullah)

This statement, in my mind, begs the question: What is Real and what is Not! Or more directly I guess is the question we can ask about the technology we are surrounded with: Is it real or is it not?

(Imagine me typing here for about 30 minutes and not saving it—I think there were a few good thoughts too)

From a practical point of view I think what Mander is saying is that we have allowed the technology around us to determine our happiness or lack thereof. I mean who really “needs” an Ipod or a 120 inch high definition TV or a Hummer. I believe that as a people, as a culture we were happy before all these things were sold to us—during the summer we sat on one another’s porches and played music and told stories. As kids in the car during long trips we made up games to keep us happy and didn’t need a personal CD or DVD player to keep us occupied.

Don’t get me wrong—I like my Ipod—but it has not made my life any better or any worse than it was before I bought it. I don’t have the hassle of toting around cd’s and them getting scratched anymore but what other difference has having one made in my life. Really—is my life any more real now that it was before—no!

In thinking about what is real and what is not we can easily get lost in the concept—the idea if you will—of what is and is not real.

I believe that hanging out in the woods is real—listening to the wind as it stirs the leaves of the maple trees and the sound of small animals moving through the undergrowth…not to mention the bird noises and the lack of automobile starts and stops. Yet, at the same time, I enjoy a four day trip to New York with its hustle and bustle and people everywhere and museums and pizza on the streets. I know that that is not “really real” and that eventually I will make my way back to the mountains of North Carolina where my everyday reality takes shape.

In the aforementioned lost blog sentences, I extrapolated my thoughts about the Amish and Menonites that I have tended to romanticize ever since I knew about them. Here was a group of people who couldn’t be sold to—who marched to the beat of their simple lifestyle drummer. Yet in my business travels to their part of the country, I was told in no uncertain terms, by a merchant who dealt with them everyday, that they were just like everybody else and needed salvation too. A simple lifestyle—in and of itself—will not get you into heaven. It’s like Keith Green said at one point in his ministry: going to church doesn’t make you a Christian any more than going to a McDonald’s makes you a hamburger. Way to go Keith!

So is their lifestyle really any more real than mine—I would have to say no at this point.

So, can I safely say that real is whatever works for you. No, it is a lot more complex than that.

But I am on the trail to find out what is and what is not real. It is a ride that I am looking forward to. Happiness is not a warm gun but a conversation with a wife, a husband or a good friend.

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6 Responses to What Is Real & What Is Not

  1. ded says:

    Terry,Your post brings many things to mind. Generally, I think the reason we question what is real or not in post-modernity is a function of much cultural “truth”. Controlled in-door environments and the flicker of screens are two facets of a physical experience materially there but often conflicting the soul. On another plane, people will violate their souls in order to be a partaker of the surrounding cultural reality. The emphasis on image, seeking the next thrill of entertainment, the expectation that our standard of living aka “style” is part of the meaning of life, believing government should function like a parent are all on the list. Whenever we function for whatever reason to influence a person, a group or institution to accept or accommodate us–inflated credentials for the job interview, falsified income tax filings, giving a tithe with a check to produce proof of our giving, embellishing a story to get a laugh or gain respect, lying to hide our shortcomings, trusting technology will alter our lives significantly for the better, etc.–our souls attempt to feast on an illusion but we go away hungry and desolate. How much sense does it make to think that our physical beauty or youthful strength is a measure of our worth as people? How many Christians dress to gain worth? How will our souls have a deep sense of peace and fulfillment when our conscience knows we achieved and/or maintain our social position through deceit or even just over used credit? How will we know we are loved if we use our personal giftings to gain the affirmations of our spiritual brothers and sisters? “Schmoozing”, “tweaking”, “massaging the numbers”, the “spin” and so on are not just trendy phrases. These are real words of illusion which have become a mainstay of American collective thought and experience.Christians are not immune from such falsehoods. We are in the culture. We have souls and our fallen nature of heart too often guide us…well, falsely. Scripture on a mug means what?Our only hope is the simple truth our Father revealed and which has remained unchanged across the march of time: His in-dwelling presence. Believers have always had available the source of illumination for the mind, the fulfillment of all the longings of the soul, and the strength and compassion of the heart which sets a human free to be fully human. Your journey as mine and all other Christians is unique to our individual lives, but will end in the same place–communion with Him forever. However, the eternal question satisfied does not speak to our lives here. My simple take: we either become real in the spirit or we founder on the complexities and ultimate falsehoods of the soul. Our journey will either be more fully trusting the reality of the in-dwelling Presence where we will experience righteousness, peace and joy or our souls will gasp for the air of meaning, filled with angst over we what we do not understand, while we starve for love.

  2. Terry Henry says:

    Good Response! I remember that old Zen saying about what is the sound of one hand clapping or more recently the one about if a tree falls to the ground in the forest and there is nobody around to hear it fall, does it make a noise. What I was trying to say, and since I didn’t have two weeks to get it all out, was that I am at that point of evaluating it all and want the truth above all. I have invested my time in much entertainment over the years only to find that in the end, I have nothing but a few memories. Why should I invest in a tv series that will only be taken off the air in two years because it doesn’t make enough money for the networks. In other words, I don’t want to go back to riding donkeys around just because it seems more “real” but at the same time don’t want to be led blindly around anymore.

  3. Ben Cotten says:

    Well said, ded. I think this is part of the brilliance in the spiritual discipline of fasting. I think all of us need occasional reminders of what’s real and what’s not and sometimes we find that out by denying ourselves the “junk food”.

  4. ded says:

    That you are seeking the Truth above all has always been evident to me. That such was the meaning of this post was clear to me, as well.If I were to simply say, “Terry, I know the answer.” You and others might think, “Here’s another self-absorbed fool.” Or, “He’s always spouting phrases that would fit best on the front license plate of the car.” Yet, cutting to the chase so to speak. because you ask the question about reality, I’ll threw out what I have put together. I can only speak from my limited experience. Yet, let deep call to deep. What do you hear? Take the leap. The only eternal reality not limited by this temporal world is God.Connect with Him within. Talk to Him and expect Him to teach you. You have no need of men to instruct you. This riles lots of folks but only because it challenges their safe, little boxes; but it is scriptural as per Hebrews. You have the Truth, Terry. Live in Him. It isn’t a matter of intellect or training or qualifications or even faithfulness in works toward Him. It is simply faith in Him within you, the hope of glory. If we could explain this in mathematical terms or science terms, which are all systems of thought standing on natural reality, faith would not be necessary. Faith pleases God and it is the substance of things hoped for and the evidence of things not seen. Meditate, draw, write, interact with other humans, work, play, do nothing, reflect, repent, initiate and in all of this, know the rest for your soul in His Presence within. From resting in Him, confident in His love, springs all life in the spirit.

  5. Terry Henry says:

    On my computer desk is a page that has recently been cut out of a magazine—it is an ad for Kleenex. On one side are words  that describe the physical action of using the product: Don’t hold Back; Don’t keep it IN; blow it loud and blow it hard; etc. Every declarative sentence is bookended by the statement: It’s time to LET IT OUT! On the other side are four pictures of people with little window flaps cut out of their faces which when opened up say: Let It Out. I was thinking the other day that this may be prophectic: I have tried for the past couple of months to understand and keep stuff in when in reality I may need to let it out. A glass of wine at night helps to keep what I am thinking and feeling under control so to speak and so seems rather reasonable after all. However, this may only be a temporary fix and what really needs to happen is a catharsis, a letting out. Allow the emotions surrounding the thoughts to come flooding out and the clouds that have been covering reality will evaporate. My mother passed on early this morning after a long time of being ill. I got the call about 1:30 am. I went to work this morning and then took the afternoon off to process—which I did by taking a long bike ride in the 80 degree Boone weather. I don’t think I am finished yet and may need some more time to fully understand what is happening in all of this. Thanks for being a friend.

  6. ded says:

    My condolences, Terry. We are friends and brothers and that is a joy.Ben,Sorry to skip your post yesterday. I only had a little bit of time. I agree that fasting can help one sort out the division between soul and spirit. Whether fasting is used or not, I think it is imperative that Christians seek God and learn this difference. It is vital.

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