I must first begin with a confession, I am a certified geek. As much as I try to deny this with my pursuit of backpacking, kayaking, and other anti-geek activities, I carry my iBook with me everywhere. Recently I was listening to a technology news podcast and they began talking about an online world called Second Life. Evidently this site is a place where you can set up a world of your own to share with other people around the world. It sounded like an intriguing idea so I decided to check it out.
My Second Life name is Johnny Neumann. With the click of a button I’m able to bring up a screen that allows me to change what I look like. I can be either sex, any race, tall or short, muscular or fat. I can create my own clothing or I can buy clothes from people in Second Life who create these things. I’m able to buy land, even an island if I choose. I can build a house, start a business, play games, and other things I don’t even know about. It’s all available. When I first signed on I asked another person, “So what do we do now?” His reply was, “Live your second life.”
I’ve always had an overactive imagination. As a kid, my parents’ station wagon was General Lee and I was Luke Duke. Card tables, chairs, and sheets became tents and palaces in the living room. I had my own zoo of stuffed animals and played cowboys and Indians in the back yard. I’ve always been an avid reader; books have taken me to wonderful new worlds. An imagination is a wonderful thing, and even a godly thing. My imagination played an important part in coming to know Christ as my Lord and Savior. The dreamers are the people who have changed the world. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. had a dream, and the world is better for it. However, there’s an important difference between dreaming and escapism.
Escapism comes when we begin to seek ways to avoid reality. We don’t like our lives or our world, so we create a new reality to avoid having to deal with the one we currently exist in. A man works in a cubicle where his greatest adventure is rush hour traffic, so he takes to spending all his free time in adventure movies and novels. A wife doesn’t feel loved or a single woman is lonely, so she takes to romance novels or Sex in the City to live vicariously through another woman. The teenager who gets picked on at school all the time begins to live in World of Warcraft, where he is a powerful wizard that is respected and feared. As an adult I find I have to be careful because sometimes I do feel like I want to escape. Sometimes it’s hard facing that I’m still single and I often feel like my life consists of getting up in the morning, going to work, going home, eating dinner, going to bed, rinse and repeat. I’m often tempted to escape to TV or movies or books where I can live vicariously through someone else with a more exciting life, or to the internet where I can present myself as whoever I want to be.
Jesus was a dreamer; He was someone who saw this world and wanted something more. However, He did not seek to escape from this world. He sought to change this world into what it was meant to be. Jesus spoke often about the Kingdom of God: “The time has come… the kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news!” (Mark 1:15, NIV). Jesus was present when this world was created and He proclaimed that it was very good. When we broke it, He didn’t just retreat to find a new world that worked like He wanted it to. Instead, He set out to restore creation to what it was meant to be. Jesus saw that this world was a shadow of a greater reality to come, and He set out to bring that greater reality into the world now. It wasn’t an attempt to deny the harshness of this broken world, it was an attempt to restore the broken world.
None of us can deny that this world is broken, and something inside of us cries out for something better. Our response to this cry is important. Movies, TV, books, video games, and such are not evil in and of themselves. Many times these things can be what recharges or inspires us to continue to seek after a better world. However, when any of these things become a way to escape from reality we need to stop and look at what we are doing. If we live in escapism then we will be stuck running from reality for the rest of our lives. Living a Second Life online will not change the life I’m living when the computer is turned off. Our desires for something better and dreams for what could be need to move us to change the lives we are living. For some of us that may mean no longer living vicariously through the beautiful, skinny actress on TV and going to the gym to take better care of the body God created us with. For others, that may mean no longer ignoring the children wandering the streets, but taking action to give them a better life. It may mean no longer changing the channel to our favorite sitcom when news of the genocide in Sudan comes on.
Beyond a couple of lunch breaks I haven’t spent much time in Second Life. Mostly that has been due to not wanting to live in an imaginary world. Though I sometimes still throw myself a pity party and don’t like the life I’ve been given, when I’m able to take my selfish eyes off myself I can see that I’ve been incredibly blessed and have been given the privilege to be a part of God’s work in transforming this world into what He created it to be. God’s Kingdom will not be fully established on Earth until Christ’s return, but God called us to be ambassadors of His Kingdom to let this broken world know that something better is coming and that we can experience a piece of that now.