The World is Your Playground…or is it?

The Hyperreal world portrays the earth as a kind of giant playground for you to consume. Creation is re-cast as a kind of theme park, where those who win are those who manage to eek out as much excitement and experience from their daily lives. We see this theme played out again and again the popular myths of our day, namely hollywood movies. The tired plotline always looks something like this.

Mark’s Hollywood Cliche Movie Pitch “Dancing in the Rain”

“Doug is an office worker, he is diligent and works hard in a job which is boring, he wears a suit everyday to the office. At night he sits in front of the TV eating the same dull food. He lives in the suburbs. Once a week he plays cards with the same small minded group of friends. He has a girlfriend who bullies and belittles him and encourages him to buy the same grey utilitarian clothes. Doug’s life is dutiful and mundane.

Then Doug is forced to work by his boss with a new co-worker Veronica on a project in Mexico for a month. Veronica is beautiful, bubbly and effervescent. She wears lots of tribal jewellery and colorful clothing, she has on her back a large tattoo of a tiger. She does crazy things that make Doug embarrassed like dancing in the rain, screaming in the movie theater and playing practical jokes on uptight snooty locals. Veronica sees her job as ‘loosening up’ Doug. At first Doug can’t stand the crazy Veronica, but then he starts to let himself go, and they fall in love. They go sky-diving, they smoke a joint on the side of a volcano, make love on the beach, dance on tables at a village wedding.All things that Doug would have never done before he met,Veronica. 

But then the work trip ends, Veronica is transferred to another branch. Doug never sees her again. Yet she has left her mark on Doug, she has helped him connect with his inner child, his free spirit. Doug finally stands up to his bossy girlfriend, he quits his job and the final scene of the movie sees Doug in a cue at the airport with a surfboard under his arm, his hair is longer, and he has the same matching tattoo that Veronica had. Doug heads through the airport gate and off into the grand adventure that is life. Fade to Credits.

Doug in now the ‘wise man’, he has learnt that life is one great adventure, that the real meaning of life is to live in the moment, to follow your dreams, to suck the marrow out of life. Blah Blah Blah” 

I am sure that you have seen countless movies such as the one I just made up. They are based in the play ethic, that is the incredibly arrogant assertion that the world is simply a play thing for the unfettered individual to roam in. This cliched piece of propaganda sets up a false duality in life which is incredibly damaging. It sets responsibility, work, commitment, long term relationships, geographic connection, growing up, stability, diligence, family and marriage, against pleasure, fun, adventure, self discovery,wonder, play, sexuality and the exotic. This is simply not how real life works.

In fact when we examine real life we find that long term relationships, working towards goals, commitment, meaningful employment and family all greatly contribute to our happiness. But they contribute in a way that is completely out of step with the cultural messages that we are given.

Recently after one of my talks a young adult asked me “Why should I get married?” My answer was “You should get married not because it will make you happy and less lonely, but you should get married because marriage is hard and you need to work on it, and thus God will shape you into becoming more like him through working on your ego”. I don’t think they expected that answer but they really like it. What we need to learn is that commitment, hard work, marriage, community, being part of a church, family, having kids, helping the poor, and mission do not give us happiness immediately, they are not created by God to help us to self actualize. What they do is help us to smash and control our egos’, they teach us patience, humility, compassion, and most of all as Rick Warren wrote in the first lines of the purpose driven life that it is not about us”.  All essential learnings that make us more like God, and that make us more satisfied, human and happy.

The sliver lining in all of this is that once you set up the boundaries of commitment, responsibility, humility and diligence, then you have the arena in which to explore all the pleasures that God set out for us. You realise that God set up these mechanisms not to deny us pleasure and happiness but rather to accentuate them,  giving us the right context to enjoy them in. God gave Israel the Torah so that it could learn how to enjoy life by being truly human through becoming more like God. So if you want to enjoy life, set up the right scaffolding to do it in.

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