I was in my mum’s place in Penang over the weekend. Mum has cable TV but she doesn’t have the sports package so I couldn’t catch the Reading – Arsenal game on Monday. (Bernice and I are long time supporters of Arsenal.) However we managed to catch the goals from that game on some Football Highlights” type programme. (Yes, Arsenal won 3 – 1!)
I suspect most football (soccer) fans are grateful for programmes like “Football Highlights.” In the space of an hour or so you see the highlights of all the games played over any given weekend. Instead of having to sit through hours and hours of football footage, much of which may be boring,we get to see the most exciting moments.
This practice, of harvesting the most exciting bits of life to be packaged for entertainment, happens all the time. Take shows like “Animal Planet” or”National Geographic.” In a one hour programme we see the most dramatic moments in the life of the animal du jour. In truth the cameraman had to cull those moments from numerous hours of film footage, much of which is mundane and, well, boring.
Thomas De Zengotita describes what happens if we encounter real wolves in the wild and they do not do the exciting things we see them do on TV nature shows:
“The kids will start squirming in, like, five minutes; you’ll probably need to pretend you’re not getting bored for a while longer. But if that little smudge of canine out there in the distance continues to just loll around in the tall grass, and you don’t have a powerful tripod-supported telelens gizmo to play with, you will get bored. You will begin to appreciate how much technology and editing goes into making those nature shows on the ‘Discovery Channel.'” (Mediated, New York: Bloomsbury, 2005, p.213 )
Unfortunately, this practice, of presenting life as packaged excitement, gives a skewed view of life. Much of life is not crisis and/or miracle. (You don’t get a Bersih rally every day.) Much of life is just showing up and faithfully doing what needs to be done. There are projects to be finished, diapers to be changed, duties to be fulfilled. Some of us have the privilege of working at things that draw on our passions but even then, few jobs give us a continuous rush.
Similarly, we do not experience a spiritual high every other minute in our walk with God. There are those moments when we have special encounters with Him. But burning bushes are rare. Often, quiet time is a discipline that we do because we love the Lord. (And sometimes done with the aid of coffee so that it doesn’t become too quiet.) Sometimes the heavens open during corporate worship. Often, we discipline our hearts to look out for God when sermons are not the most scintillating and the singing is flat. Walking with God is not a thrill a minute.
Which brings me back to how life is presented in the media. Every day we are exposed to shows that are emotionally engaging all the time. This is true of the entertainment shows. Just look at the excitement level of popular shows like “Lost” or “Heroes.” But what is more insidious is that “serious” programmes like the news or the educational shows are also packaged for maximum excitement.
As a result of a constant diet of life served to us in this way, we begin to expect that life must always be interesting and always exciting. And because it often is not, we feel cheated and bored and are constantly on the look out for our next excitement fix. Usually these fixes come from the world of entertainment and from retail therapy.
A generation shaped thus by the media also expects the Christian life and church life to be exciting 24/7. Some churches cater to this demand and thus present the Christian life as one that promises excitement on tap. As an unfortunate consequence God gets reduced to a divine entertainer who is expected to keep things interesting for us at all times.
Not only is this idolatry of sorts, it makes us forget the real hungers of our soul. Real life is communal and vocational. True joy comes from nurturing our relationships with God and neighbour (Luke 10:25-28) and in giving ourselves to the pursuit of our vocation (Ephesians 2:10). And not in being constantly entertained. We need to look elsewhere for a better metaphor for life.
A good friend just discovered that he is going to be a dad. Indeed this seems to be the season for babies. A number of my good friends have recently welcomed additions to their families. All of us who have walked the journey of parenthood know that this is a long and hard journey. You can’t reduce this journey to just the “Kodak moments.” In the early days, it is sleepily moving from one feed to another, one diaper change to another. And as your children get older, its dealing with the many creative evidences of original sin.
But there is a certain joy that comes when you hold your flesh and blood in your arms. (It’s hard to explain. You have to be there.) And one day they say “I love you dad” and go on to university and to the rest of their lives. Is the journey of parenting always exciting? Duh? But it is joyful and it is right and it is life.
Life is not a cabaret old chum. It is rooting ourselves in the Father love of God. And giving ourselves in service to God and neighbour. And that is not boring.