Liberation from the Desert of the Unreal

Posted on November 10th, 2013 by

800px-Platon_Cave_Sanraedam_1604The following is a transcript from November 10, 2013, in Christ Chapel of Gustavus Adolphus College (St. Peter, MN). As part of a Service of Holy Communion, the following sermon considers John 14:27-28.

It was over 14 years ago, on March 31, 1999, when Warner Brothers released a cyberpunk science fiction film that opened the doors to the ways we perceive what is “real”.

In addition to winning four Academy Awards, garnering critical acclaim, and receiving numerous accolades and honors, the motion picture was praised for its innovative visual effects, astonishing cinematography, and provocative application of classical intellectual intrigue.

It was written and directed by Andy and Lana Wachowski, filmed mostly in Australia, and was titled, The Matrix.

For those who have not seen the film (…and if you have not, I highly recommend that you do!), The Matrix was the first installment of a ground-breaking Trilogy, and among other things, it depicts a future in which reality as perceived by most humans is not reality at all, but actually a simulated virtual experience, created by machines to exploit what was left of the human population.

matrix-300x240And as the story goes, a computer programmer named “Neo” learns the truth about his synthetic livelihood, and in doing so, is drawn into a rebellion against the machines responsible for his captivity, which involves others who have been freed from the so-called “dream world” into the depths of the so-called “real world”.

Altogether, at the risk of oversimplification, through a wide variety of twists, turns, action scenes, and poetic shouts, and screams, one can argue that The Matrix is primarily a film about having to participate in the construction of meaning, and how hesitant we as human being often are to do so. It is truly a remarkable film.

Now, among other things, The Matrix draws from a wide range of literary works, and in doing so, brings forth a number of concepts from mythology, religion and philosophy, one of which we need to consider a bit more in depth.

In specifics, the premise of The Matrix can be traced to the classical Greek philosopher, Plato, and more specifically Plato’s Allegory of the Cave, in which Plato states that the true essence of an object is not what we perceive with our senses, but rather the quality of the object itself.

In trying to make this explanation many years ago, Plato compared the difference between an object and its shadow, in that if a light glowed behind you and you observed shadows moving in front of you, the shadows you see may indeed be observable, but the shadows are not the true objects, but merely a representation of that which is actually real.

And so, in drawing from these conceptions from Plato, numerous years later, The Matrix spoke brilliantly and prophetically to our modern-day era, for just as was the case in Plato’s day and age, we too are forced to wonder how much of our daily lives are real, and how much of it is simply spent staring at shadows while secluded in the depths of a cave.

Because, if we are truly honest with ourselves, just as was the case in The Matrix, and as was alluded to in Plato’s Allegory of the Cave, in our day and age many of us live in an alternative reality, as we are plugged-in to our assortment of gadgets, gizmos, and technological machines.

Yes, you know and I know (and I will be the first to admit guilt here!)… We spend hours online, watching TV, texting on our phones, following and requesting, and so on and so forth, like people chained-into self-constructed caves…

And in doing so, not only do we lose touch with true reality, but our energy is drained into the machines which we claim to operate…

Because in the end, many of us we do not really own our machines, but our machines actually own us.

You see, in our current day and age, most of us are plugged-in to our various devices, apparatuses, and contraptions…

We have Mobile phones, laptops, tablets, MP3 players, and so on and so forth, and billion of dollars are spent each year, not only to produce, distribute, and obtain these machines, but companies invest a great deal of research and development on the applications and contracts that tempt us to be constantly connected to the machines.

And through it all, while we believe that we own our various machines, and although we believe that we are in control of our machines…

The reality is that – for many of us –  our machines truly own us, and they control us, because for many, we simply cannot go a day without them.

And it is not too difficult to understand why. With all of the information that passes by on any given day, we do not want to miss out…

We want to be connected.

We want to be plugged-in.

We want to be “in the know” and we want to be “in the show”.

But in this search to be plugged in, we become captive to our gadgets, and as a result of such self-imposed slavery, we are so often plugged-out from that which is actually real.

For example…

The more we look into our computer monitors, the less time we spend looking into each others’ eyes…

The more our fingers are placed upon our touch-screens, the less time we hold each other….

The more we communicate through social media, the more we seem to miscommunicate here in academia!

And like a group of people chained to the ground and only able to see the shadows that pass by, we too are incarcerated in this so-called information age, because we fail to see that which is real, and while being connected through technology, we are in many ways disconnected from what matters most, and plugged-out from who we truly are.

Nevertheless, in the midst of it all, in our search to re-discover that which is truly real, there is a path laid out before us. And more specifically, our Gospel Lesson for this morning provides a trajectory that gives us pause and a push, to pull us toward lives of peace.

As we heard in John 14:27; Jesus is recorded as saying:

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.

To share it again:

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.

In these words from John, Jesus is recorded as giving us words of peace, but as we hear such words, we may be tempted to react similar to how Jesus’ disciples must have responded when they first heard these words 2,000 years ago… In that we might wonder how we are to be at peace in a world with so much noise, so much action, and so much hustle and bustle.

How can peace possibly be with us?

How can we be at peace when we live in a world that seems anything but peaceful?

How can we be at peace when there seems to be so much to do, little time to do it, and so many hoops to jump through in order to do it?

How can we be at peace when there seems to be so much confliction and conviction?

How can we be at peace when we feel misjudged, misunderstood, and sometimes flat out miserable?

How can we possibly find peace?

Well… One can argue that one of the ways we have attempted to find peace in our world is through burying ourselves into our machines.

Since we have been led to believe that ignorance is bliss, and because we have been told over and over again that the acquisition of possessions is the key to happiness, we spend a great deal of time and money self-medicating through the consumption of alternative reality.

And sadly, in doing so, we fail to face the harsh truths or our actual lives, which leaves far too many of us not only delusional, but in the deep doldrums of despair.

In other words, in a world of Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and so on and so forth… perhaps one of the reasons we expand our digital lives is that it distracts us from what Jean Baudrillard called the “desert of the real” which often impacts our actual lives, and we train our minds into believing that the bliss of ignorance somehow leads to a peaceful existence.

And like a family gathering each night around the TV to tune-in and watch the family lives of others, we would rather saturate our minds with that which is synthetic than embrace the lives we actually have to live.

And so, while ignorance, may – at times – be bliss… Ignorance is by no means the path to peace, and flooding ourselves with virtual activity does not lead to genuine connectivity.

For as John’s Gospel reminds us, our peace comes not from the perceived absence of conflict or the delusion of fake harmony, but peace comes to us in the promise of Jesus to be with us, and the emancipation that comes from receiving God’s amazing grace and being moved into actions of peacemaking for the sake of others.

In other words…

We find our peace and strive for peace in and through the ultimate source of peace, for peace is not something to be chosen or even discovered, but real peace is that which is received, embraced, and shared as a gift from God.

And from a Judeo-Christian perspective, there is a word for this kind of all-encompassing peace, and it is often called “shalom”, or the sense of being complete or whole, in that one is content with who they are as they are and pleased with where they are.

This concept of peace, this shalom, refers to a condition of wholeness, of complete welfare that encompasses the whole person. It pertains to the individual, the community, and the web of relationships in which a person

And ultimately, it does not describe a political arrangement or an institutional system of power in which the absence of war is guaranteed by force. On the contrary, shalom is an expression of personal and collective well-being that occurs when justice exists in relationships, systems of a society, and within our own hearts and minds.

ShalomAnd this shalom is the peace that God in Jesus offers, a peace that the world simply cannot give and a peace that we cannot obtain through our own devices; a peace from God that removes our fears, a peace that sets us free from ourselves and for the sake of others, a peace that allows us to be fully present in our world while unabashedly bold in response to the needs of it.

A peace that surrpassess all understanding.

A peace that recasts our lives, into something new and outstanding.

And so, to bring this all back full circle…

Perhaps you have been searching for peace in your life.

Perhaps you have been looking for a life that can be lived with simplicity and care?

Perhaps you have been looking to live in ways that allows you to think, take your time, and simply no longer be scared.

And perhaps you have a wide variety of motivations for this search for peace:

Perhaps you are fed up with the status quo of being over-extended, over-tired, and simply over-indulged in activities that do no matter…

Perhaps you are fed up with being fed up and tired of being tired…

Perhaps you are finished with having your self-worth dictated by whether or not someone else affirms it for you…

Perhaps you have reached your limit with always having to push yourself over the limit…

Perhaps you are done with having your value measured by the number of groups you belong to or the amount of activities you participate within.

Perhaps you have reached the point where the social costs required to be perceived as successful are more than you are willing to spend.

Perhaps you are tired of being controlled by the watch on your wrists and the phone in your pocket.

Perhaps you are finished with living your life online and would rather exist more fully in real time.

Perhaps you are finished with staring at shadows in a cave and want to experience that which is authentic and real.

Whatever your reasons for seeking peace this day, please know that today, there is Good News, and the Good News is that your prayers for peace are not only heard, but they are answered.

While our world is indeed filled with fear and anxiety, it is ultimately a world in which God in Jesus says, “Do not let your heart be troubled”, “Peace be with you”, “Do not be afraid”, for I am with you, each and every step of the way, until the end of the age..

Our cries for peace are answered by God through the way of Jesus…

And in such grace-soaked forgiveness and life-giving freedom…

We are made new, and as new creations…

The world as it is, continues to become the world it ought to be…

A world in where the chains of delusion and self-destruction are broken…

And perhaps most of all, a world of people brought out of the caves and into the joy of the light.

And so… My friends, may peace be with you this day, and may our God continue to pull us out of the matrixes and caves that we are so often caught within, and may we be given the courage to face that which is real, and by God’s grace, the strength to embrace it and serve within it.

No matter who you are… No matter what you have done.

No matter where you are going… No matter where you have been.

The peace of God has been offered for you…

So we may be liberated from the desert of the unreal and taken to the mountain top of authenticity…

So, by God’s grace, we may be remember who we are as Children of God…

So we may re-discover what matters most as workers in the Mission of God…

And so that we may be set free, for love, learning and life.

May peace be with you. This day and always. Amen.

The Rev. Brian E. Konkol serves as a Chaplain of the College at Gustavus Adolphus College in St. Peter, MN. An ordained pastor of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), he holds degrees from Viterbo University (La Crosse, WI), Luther Seminary (St. Paul, MN), and the University of KwaZulu-Natal (South Africa). He blogs at and tweets @BrianKonkol


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