Culture & Theology: Escapism

Here are the notes and audio file from our discussion on Escapism during our last Culture & Theology meeting.
Audio File may be found here: (MP3)

Culture & Theology: Escapism

Notes from C&T Episode IV. Escapism.

Now I need to be upfront right now and say that for tonight’s subject, there is no end all, ultimate solution. This topic is hard for us, because Escapism is different for everyone and there is no one end all blanket ‘solution’ on this subject but I can promise you will walk away from tonight with a new insight on your life, your families life and some nuggets of truth to meditate on and how we as Christians live our lives in a world that is not our home.

Some of you might be wondering Why would you pick such an..odd topic as this?
I don’t know. No really, though it’s one of those silent, underlying traps that many Americans are unknowingly ensnared in. While it might be easy to ignore these blind spots in our lives, if gone unchecked they can have severe consequences.

Why do we seek to escape from this world? I think because we know there are times when life, for one reason or another just stinks. We crave and feel entitled to something more than this.

Lorne Eisley : Many of us who walk to and fro upon our usual tasks are prisoners drawing mental maps of escape.
JRR Tolkein: A prisoner is not obliged to think of nothing but cells and wardens.

There is a vestigial part of us spiritually that Christian or not tells us deep down that this world isn’t right.  That part of us that is a remnant of the beautiful, relational individual that God created us to be and after dealing with the ugliness, stress and exhaustion we all feel time to time, we NEED an escape. Honestly, life is filled with pain and turmoil.

As The Dread Pirate Roberts put it, “Life is pain, Highness. Anyone who says differently is selling something.”

Jesus said, I am the bread of life. The same way bread is essential to you physically, I am necessary for you spiritually. I am essential to you. Escapism says “here, You’ve had a long day. Unwind, relax, forget about today, try this. This will work for a while. Then you’ll be hungry again, but that’s ok because I offer so many other pleasures, you’re sure to find one that fits.”

But is there anything wrong with a little escape?
We long for. An end of pain and suffering. An end of hunger. An end of boredom.  Escaping the mundane. A high, a feeling of overwhelming and genuine happiness. A peace or calm in the face
of life’s greatest turmoil’s.

The Psalmist said it like this:
Psalms 55:6-8
Oh, that I had wings like a dove;
    then I would fly away and rest!
I would fly far away
    to the quiet of the wilderness.
How quickly I would escape—
    far from this wild storm of hatred.

We see the times in the Apostle Paul‘s life when he faced the temptation of escapism—frequent imprisonments, frequent floggings, frequent exposure to death. Five times, the thirty-nine lashes; three times, he was beaten with rods; once stoned, three times he was shipwrecked; a day and night on the open sea, probably floating on a board—he was constantly on the move. In danger of rivers, bandits, fellow Jews, Gentiles. Danger in the city, in the country, at sea, from false brethren. Hard work with sleeplessness. Hunger and thirst. Nakedness and cold. The pressure of concern for the churches. I wonder if Paul had had available to him the modern chorus based upon Psalm 55.

What do we do in those times, when we are pressed to the wall and say, ―Oh, I would give anything to escape from this!

So before we go any further, lets talk about a definition.
What Is Escapism?
What activities are escapes? Meditation, Sleep, Gaming, Reading, Movies, Collecting, Physical Activity, Sex, Hobbies of any kind,
Ranking, which of these do you think are the most…damaging or most dangerous escapes?
Here are a few quotes from a message board where the posters were talking about their favorite “Escapes”

“i love to take long showers that is awesome, just sit down for a long time in the shower. it feels really good “ Dwerda4

“Video games and the like are nice but I afterwards I feel like a waste.” –magicman531

“The things you´ve said as escapism is my entire life hah.. what is “real life” if this is escapism?” –Grandpaa(mma)

“Your whole life is video games, vacations, and reading? It depends what your job is I suppose. Some people have to read for a living, some people play games for a living, and some people test out vacation resorts for a living!” –magicman531

“I meant all the things mentioned in the thread, training, reading, taking showers(lol), running, fornicate, “parties” i mean what else do you really do besides working” Grandpaa(mma)

A study done in 2009 by two phD candidates were studying Escapism and technology. Out of their survey results they used the responses to extract statements that depict some sort of belief about escapism. This sort of analysis is called discourse analysis. Within such an analysis, researchers look for patterns in definitions and opinions that share a similar sort of belief or world of meaning. People do not necessarily have one discourse; frequently they adopt two, three or even a lot more.

As we go through these, jot some notes down.

Escapism is entertainment
Escapism has no purpose. It is just a way of human beings to be involved in activities that are fun; to break the mundane. Fantasizing, like being a hero for a day, is what people like to do now and then. Of course, being too much involved in an activity is harmful. However, this is not escapism, but rather addiction. Escapism in itself is not harmful. It is just a way for people to entertain themselves.

Escapism is therapeutic
This discourse states that escapism is needed to de-stress or canalize, have an outlet. People experience things that they want to find relief for. Or they do not want to cause trouble for fantasies that they might have. Therefore, people “escape” by means of escapist activities. Games provide excellent means for such an activity according to this discourse, because they enable players to do anything they want in a safe environment.

Escapism is a label
According to this discourse escapism is used as a label, especially by the popular media, and has a negative connotation. It is used by the media to denote activities that seem a “waste of time” or trivial. Read a Book, Get Outside, Get Inside. In fact, this discourse relates also to not understanding what the activity is about, by the popular media and by the general public. In time, when the activity becomes more accepted and widespread, the term eventually disappears.

Escapism is breaking with reality 
People escape because they are not satisfied with their real life. They want to be someone else or try to avoid confrontations in reality. Escapism relates only to these types of evasive motivations. It is not about the activity, it is about the intentions behind the activity. In this case, the intentions are negatively associated with aspects from reality.

Escapism is an enabler 
The real world simply has its disadvantages. Stereotyping is something humans do on a daily basis, because it is effective. Additionally, the real world has a fixed time-space dimension. It is not easy to meet someone who lives more than 1000 kilometers away. With escapism it becomes possible to overcome these real world obstacles. The internet is a particularly good medium for this. It enables people to be anonymous, which creates a level playing field, and also makes it possible to contact people from across enormous distances.

Escapism is hardcore immersion
This discourse states that it is only possible to speak of escapism when people are completely absorbed and immersed into their activity. It is about how people engage with an activity. If this is excessive and with complete devotion, then we talk about escapism. This means that playing Solitaire, or playing other types of casual games, should not be considered escapist. Playing for over 25 hours per week World of Warcraft, however, is.

Escapism is solitary
According to this discourse, escapism is not practiced in a social environment. The social environment is part of the reality we live in. It involves friends or family. Those people are very real and whether we play a game with them or not, their presence makes that we are not escaping from something. When we do, we engage with the activity alone. This discourse begs the question why MMOGs are seen as such escapist worlds, while these are simultaneously the most social.

Escapism is everywhere
Drinking a cup of coffee, playing Solitaire at work and at other seemingly minor “departures” from our daily routines is all part of escapism. Following this discourse it means that everybody is an escapist, although some may escape more than others. It also begs the question whether escapism is really that much significantly different than what we call living a life.
From these discourses, some you may or may not agree with it is more and more clear that we ALL engage in Escapism in one way or another. So what do we do? How do we help not only our students but us as well stay here in this moment right now? How do we deal with this anomalous blob called escapism?
Now when I started this, I didn’t have a 1-4, presto your cured steps but this is what I have distilled down to the 4 Keys to Controlling Escapism. Four keys that are going to require different amounts of application for everyone, since no two of us have the exact same type or levels of Escape in our lives.

1. Develop an Accurate View of Reality

Activities perceived normal, like eating, sleeping or video games may also be deemed as escapist when they are practiced in excess. For example, sleeping over half the day to the point where one cannot pursue a normal life is termed escapism. Such sleeping may be caused by illnesses that creates exhaustion, or may actually be symptomatic of mental illnesses like depression. Often the person uses sleep as escapism from a life filled with emotional or physical pain.

Finding the things in life that give true joy rather than temporary pleasure.
The  issue is engagement vs. disengagement from creation. The parable of the talents in Matthew 25 to me is applicable. This parable is not just a matter of good financial principles, it is in the context of judgment and reward in the Kingdom. When “escapism” becomes a way of life, we bury talents and lose opportunity for investing in God’s activity and making an impact in the world.
It is important to ask, “What are we disengaging from?” But it is equally important to ask, “What alternative creation are we engaging?”  
God didn’t send His son to die for us so we can sit in the stands or even jog along the track. He saved us so we can RUN full out for Him.
Here’s what we want to show you. Any one of these things on their own isn’t bad or not necessarily even sinful. You can’t say that video games are a waste of time anymore than reading the current best seller or spending time in the garage carving lawn gnomes is.
But where in our lives do we place these things and in turn where do our children place these things.

2. EVERYTHING in life is relational. EVERYTHING.

Many, not all but many forms of escapism are solitary.
This is something I missed for a long time as a Christian. How a relationship with God, it’s more than just filling ourselves with wisdom or knowledge. It’s more than memorizing verses and reading the Bible cover to cover.
Let me illustrate it like this.    Triangle Points:  God Friends Family me
Parents again, what we do here is supplemental to you. We can and have talked about some of these escapes with the students in the past, but the example you set at home is going to be so much more powerful than anything we can say here.
It’s also not limited to your kids and your families. Some of you may be that neighborhood hub where all the kids hang out in the summer or after school. I had friends parents that were a huge influence on me growing up and the things they said and modeled stuck with me til this day.
Take movies or TV shows for example. I LOVE movies. But movies are hardly relational during the viewing, but AFTER, don’t miss an opportunity here, a teaching moment. My friend was talking about how he’s watching Once Upon a Time with his daughters and he LOVES it. He said he loves it because he can talk about it with his daughters afterwards. Movies, television as adults we usually can discern, sort out the message we are getting.  Students generally fall into 1 of 3 categories. Sponge, Funnel or Sieve.

Sponge:  The most common type of teen, soaks up any and all material they are submerged into. Often this material comes leaking out in drips and splotches. Often prone to harboring bacteria and other nasties, the sponge lacks essential filters to sort out the junk from the gems and they too often become saturated and bogged down by the world around them.

Funnels:  The rarely seen funnel teen is more or less exact opposite of the sponge, but also equally ill-equipped in many situations. Rather than soaking they allow everything to pass through. They don’t take notice things around them often because of the ”sinful” nature of the secular world. Rather than being filled up they are untouched, but this develops into an individual with a limited worldview who later has difficulties in discipleship, finding it reprehensible to share a meal with sinners.

Sieves: Wisely filter discerning the messages that films and media are presenting and critiquing based on Philippians 4:8 Whatever is pure, noble lovely…  People don’t become sieves on their own. Students need wise and discerning people to watch movies with them in order to have conversations that go deeper than, “yeah, that was a cool movie.” They need someone who will take them to a film, then take them out for ice cream or coffee afterwards in order to intentionally have that spiritual conversation. They need someone who will expose them to films that reflect the beauty of our Creator that they might not otherwise watch. They need someone who will hold them accountable to what they watch and listen to, lest they become sponges like the majority of teens around them. They need to know why a film isn’t okay to watch, not just what is wrong with it.

Not only are you taking an opportunity to teach but you are building a relationship here. You are modeling that just about everything in this world, especially in entertainment and media needs to be filtered. Needs to be talked about.
Invest time in these moments with your students. Show them that relations are important. Time with others is important. Again like that diagram, it’s all relational, you to God, Friends, Family.

3. Know when is “that moment” for you.
There is no line. No view from up top we get on our lives…but usually we find it easy to take that view on other lives isn’t it?
As Christians there is no divide between sacred and secular. No, this part of my life is for God, but this part is for me.  Romans 12:1 Calls us to live our lives, not just a portion of it, but our whole lives as a living and Holy sacrifice to God.
Let’s call it an Equation for Idolatry. (on White Paper)
What sacrifices does your family make in terms of entertainment, sports, leisure activities? And what sacrifices do you make for God?
Take the sum of sacrificing vs. that which you sacrifice for God. If that is greater than equal to what you sacrifice for God, it is a good place to start.

Is God a filler? Someone we carve out time for be it Sunday mornings or even your daily devotion time, but we leave Him there?

Also pay attention to the lives of your students and what triggers could cause them to fall into escapes. Getting cut from the team, a break up, ch ch changes. And the awkwardness that comes with it.

4. Having Quiet in our lives is not a waste.
Life isn’t always a roller coaster. Sometimes life is quiet. Life is boring, and quiet times are essential to our relationship with God.

We hear in the Bible frequently the importance of taking time to slow down, especially in the life of Jesus where he went to be alone, have quiet.
Again I know this is to equip you as parents, but there is a real challenge here for us. What are we modeling to our kids?

Our lives are filled with noise and did you know that noise is the enemy of peace? Alarm to radio to car to work to youtube to Pandora to ipod to ride home to nightly news to Netflix to “just some background noise”

Which again, No I’m not saying listening to music while you work or drive is Escapisim, but sometimes we all need to slow down. Have a black out zone at the dinner table, or when you go out as a family. No cell phones aloud. Stay here, now in the moment, Fully Relational.

We live in a culture obsessed with escapism. Many people move from one escape to the next while avoiding real life which is that annoying thing that happens between games, books, movies, YouTube videos.
Is there anything wrong with a little escape? Assuming it is not done in a sinful way, no. The problem is a little escape can quickly become a life of escape.
Escapism is essentially idolatry. We turn to a savior other than Christ to rescue us from our painful or painfully dull life. We then give that savior our entire devotion – sacrificing countless hours, innumerable dollars, and endless passions on the altar of our little god. That god then blesses us by providing the escape we desire.
This is tragic among Christians, many of whom invest more time, money, and energy into their escapes than they do into Christ. The abundant life that was supposed to be lived to the glory of God is now being whittled away in empty pursuits.
*Psalm 1:1-2 says, “Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked… but his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night.”
Escapism says blessed is the man who meditates on his favorite basketball team day and night while the Bible gathers dust.
*Matthew 9:36-37 says, “When [Jesus] saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, ‘The harvest is plentiful but the laborers are few.’”
Escapism says forget about God’s world, the people in it, and God’s mission and drown them out in variety of entertainment options on your television or computer screen.
*Romans 1:16 says, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes…”
Escapism says the story of Harry Potter, Twilight, Star Wars, etc. is more compelling than the gospel and deserves our devotion.
If we have more time to study fantasy sports than God’s Word, if we have more passion engaging Halo: 4 than God’s mission, if we are more inspired by Harry Potter rescuing Hogwarts than Jesus Christ rescuing sinners then escapism is destroying our lives. Worse than that, we have given something other than God the position of glory and have committed idolatry.
So go see “The Hobbit” and even better, read the book. Enjoy movies and video games. Cheer for your favorite team, real or fantasy. Pick up a hobby you enjoy. Visit Walt Disney World.  Carve lawn gnomes. But be careful, lest escapism begin to capture your life and become your god. There is no better way to waste your existence than to hand it over to meaningless activities in an effort to escape your reality.

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