Christ & Virtual Reality

Virtual reality is no longer a distant possibility.  It is something that will soon be accessible on many fronts.  Google is launching “virtual reality field trips” with the idea that students can be transported to a place like the Great Wall of China without ever having to physically go there.  The idea is that a person can “feel like they’ve actually visited the landmark.”  This is amazing.  I am thinking I can save a ton on future vacations by sitting in my coach and strapping on VR.  Netflix is also jumping into this technology.  Soon you will be able to watch a movie from a different venue.  You can watch a Seinfeld episode from the actual coach in Jerry’s apartment simply by selecting that option on your VR device.  And, CNN just announced that you can watch the upcoming Democratic Debate from the front row seat by means of virtual reality.

When I think about these technological advances, it blows me away.  Everything is moving so quickly.  As soon as you buy a device it is obsolete.  Yet, I am wondering how this technology is going to impact our life.  No longer is there a sense of shared community by going to these events or trips together.  It is simply about the experience, not the relationship.  Also, it is reducing the event to a mental visual.  But, what about the smells and physical touches of a trip that is so powerful?  Is it really the same to hold someone’s hand in virtual reality as opposed to in real life?  As I think about this new entertainment opportunity, several concerns pop in my head.

What is the end result of taking fantasy to a new level?  Virtual reality makes fantasy all the more real.  You can be inside of a violent war movie rather than detached from it.  What about hanging onto the side of a plane with Tom Cruise in the latest Mission Impossible movie?  And we haven’t even talked about the darker side of sexual experiences in the privacy of one’s headset.  Technology is amoral.  There is nothing inherently good or bad about it.  It can be used for good or for evil.  As I think about virtual reality, I am reminded of Paul’s words in Philippians 4:8, “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.”  This is a powerful reminder for us as virtual reality becomes more accessible.  What experiences should we be pursuing?  How does spiritual transformation relate to mental visuals?

Process matters!  The Holy Spirit speaks to us in the decision-making of life.  As we make plans to go on vacation, see a movie, or engage in some experience, the small steps leading up to these events are times where God speaks to us.  Yet, in our rapid, experience-now society, these steps are being snuffed out.  A person will soon be able to strap on a headset in less than a minute and be transported somewhere else.  If we are not careful, we will become deaf to the sanctifying work of Christ in the everyday.

Virtual reality is not reality!  What happens when we like the virtual more than the reality?  The fantasy is not my life.  I don’t live in Jerry’s apartment; I live in my home.  Virtual reality certainly runs the risk of not simply providing an experience for someone but an escape.  A person will be able to run from life rather than confront it.  Faithfulness in the mundane moments will lead to pursuits of ongoing excitement and emotional highs.  What impact will this have on our emotional satisfaction and healthiness in marriage?

Don’t get me wrong.  I think there is great benefit to virtual reality.  It provides children that are less advantaged the opportunity to experience parts of the world otherwise unavailable to them.  It allows a handicapped person to sense freedom for a moment from his or her handicap.  As this technology becomes more accessible, I think it is prudent to approach it as we would any other activity:  through the lens of Christ, for His glory and our good.

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Politics and Christianity: How should I vote?

Ok, I am going to gripe for a minute.   The political landscape is heating up, especially on the Republican side.  There is a great deal in the news about comments made by various politicians (any guess to whom I might be referring).  It is moderately entertaining to me.  I say this because I am not quite ready to fully think about the next election.  Sometime next year I will jump into it so that I am informed.  Yet, the back-and-forth provides a spark to the whole process.

This is not my problem.  The issue is the way Christianity is politicized.  Clearly, there is a desire to curry the religious vote.  This makes sense.  It is a sizable bloc in the United States; therefore, politicians certainly want to address their issues.  Yet, there is a sense where religious issues are reduced to one or two particular concerns and that’s it.  For me, it is much more.  As a believer, I am very concerned about global concerns such as foreign aid as well as economic issues like debt reduction.  I think these should be equally in the Christian wheelhouse.  For example, foreign aid is an act of compassion, something that Christians should care about in their life.  Financial responsibility is a biblical principle; therefore, it should factor in my political considerations.

One year ago I was approached by a gentleman who worked for a Christian political organization.  This organization is very closely tied to a particular political party.  He asked me my thoughts on the resources they provide for the local church.  I openly shared about the tools that might be helpful to us.  But then I honestly shared how the tools don’t go far enough.  They tend to reduce my Christian beliefs to one or two issues and de facto align me with a particular party. The presumption was that these are the only issues important to Christians; therefore, this is how believers should vote.  I asked him if they would consider including politician’s viewpoints on human trafficking, the environment, gun control, and healthcare for children.  These are issues important to me as a believer.  I hold to them because of how I interpret the totality of Scripture.  His response communicated a lot to me.  After raising these issues, he implied that I was isolationistic.  Since I was not framed by one or two issues then I must not be concerned about the political arena.  I actually receive a short lecture on the necessity for Christians to engage politically.  To be honest, I was a slightly annoyed.  I take pride in my engagement on political issues.  I believe I have thought through numerous issues through my Christian lens.  Needless to say, I pushed back.  Eventually, he understood my perspective.  Yet sadly it was a poignant example of my Christian faith reduced to a few things.  Let me be clear, those few things are very important but they are not the only things that define me.

So, here is my encouragement.  The issues that generally frame believers politically (abortion and heterosexual marriage) are clear in the Bible.  In these cases, we see the issues through the lens of Scripture.  God creates life; therefore, life should be upheld.  Done.  On the other issues (human trafficking, poverty, education, and healthcare) I believe we tend to do one of two things.  We simply embrace the views espoused by a political party without any biblical reflection OR we have an opinion that may or may not coincide with Scripture.  My encouragement is that we listen to all issues in a political debate and evaluate all politicians from a Biblical mindset so that our convictions are grounded in the Bible not simply political commentary.  My faith should frame all of life including how I approach politics and for whom I vote.  I should listen to a debate with an open bible and a critical mind.  I should watch the news then pray about a Christ-response.  Now, I just need to find that political candidate who speaks to all of these issues.

Refugee Crisis

The refugee crisis in Europe is reaching a tipping point.  Experts have stated it is the worse refugee situation since WWII.  Nearly half – 49% or 10.6 million people have been displaced due to the war in Syria.  Families are fleeing the war torn country in hopes of survival.  The images on the news are deeply disturbing as parents carry children off boats with no prospect of shelter or food.  If this is the situation they are fleeing to, I can’t imagine the conditions from which they fled.  Yet, they are oftentimes received with hostility.  One camera woman was recently fired after she was videoed indiscriminately kicking and tripping refugees.  One scene showed a father carrying his infant child when she sticks her foot out to trip them causing them to fall forward face-down into a field.  Thankfully, she was immediately dismissed.  In thinking about this crisis, how should the church respond?

First, we must remember it is not a political but a moral issue.   Immigration issues are hotly debated among politicians (note:  immigrants and refugees are not the same thing).  Yet, I imagine if the United States was bordering Syria, the news would not simply be discussing the crisis but the political ramifications of helping them.  How many should we accept?  How do we screen them appropriately?  The United States recently agreed to receive 10,000 Syrians over the next year.  Certainly, there will be further political discussions about such a decision.  Our country is currently suspicious of security threats.  What impact would receiving so many persons from a country where ISIS is entrenched have on domestic threats?  Yes, these are certainly legitimate issues.  However, the principle concern is not a political but a moral one.  One lady being interviewed stated, “I am human.  They are human.  Why would I not help?”  As I watched the news, I could only nod my head in agreement.  Jesus stated, “Do to others as you would have them do to you” (Luke 6:31).  This woman was clearly living out this command.

Second, Christians should be the first to show hospitality.  Our faith is grounded in a refugee story.  Jesus fled the tyranny of Herod as he killed all children 2 years old and younger.  Joseph and Mary fled their hometown for Egypt.  During this time they were refugees residing in a land not of their choosing.  Jesus instructs us to offer food and water to those in his name as if we were serving Jesus himself.  Jesus was a refugee.  Taken literally, when we offer kindness to refugees we are offering kindness to Christ.  As refugees left Hungary on foot for the long trek to Austria and Germany, many Hungarians came out to offer food and water.  I hope those lining the streets were believers.  If not, they should have been.

Third, it is not a foreign issue but a local issue.  There is a constant flood of refugees into the United States.  We have always been a welcoming country to people fleeing political and religious persecution.  Certainly, there are opportunities to support refugees by simply googling your local area.  In most cases, they do not wish to be here.  Their preference would be to remain in their country of origin.  By arriving in this country, there is detachment, loneliness, frustration, homesickness to say nothing of grief (reports indicate that nearly every refugee leaving Syria has lost a close family member due to the war).  They are dealing with settling in a new home without someone they love.  As a global church, we should be quick to ease this transition by opening up our hearts and doors to those in need of love and grace.  And quite frankly, it is possible, that in the midst of their turmoil, they might find eternal rest through Christ by means of our hospitality.