In the midst of preparing to teach at Wake Forest Divinity School and trying to deal with my performance anxiety since I have been out of academia for two and half decades, I took my usual refuge in books. I started reading The Chalk Artist by Allegra Goodman. It’s an enticing novel about the world of gaming and how seductive yet finally unrewarding it is.
It started me thinking about our use of “alternate”: “alternate reality” or “alternate facts.” Our world has become more frightened. I am not sure it’s more violent, but that we are simply more aware because of the constant deluge of information. It’s no wonder we turn to something to divert us: something to give us an alternative world.
There’s a saying that stays in my heart: “There is another world, but it’s the same as this one.” In truth, there is no alternative reality; it’s all one world because God is God of everything. When I read, I don’t escape the world. I find a way to go deeper into the world. I am not fond of virtual reality, but the issue is more about balancing one’s time than anything else. Yes, I love to read, but I also have a family and a job and a body that needs attention, and friends and the world around me and the opportunity to be still and know that God is God. The novel shows that these games are addictive and they can take over one’s life—as is true of almost everything.
This afternoon, I will attend J. Clarkson’s ordination service to the priesthood. He will be asked many questions, but the one which is most important for his health is this: “Will you …be a wholesome example to your people? J. is not going to be asked to be a holy person when he’s at Church; he is asked to be holy in all of his life because there’s just one world. He is to be a sign of God’s love for the world in the grocery store or in the traffic jam on I-26 and at the altar. There’s just one world because God is in all of it. But for us to grow into a more comprehensive sense of the holy, we must embrace wholeness. We must cultivate our nondominate hand. We must take off the helmet of whatever alternative reality we go to and seek a whole life.
I won’t spoil The Chalk Artist for you. It made me be more honest about my alternate realities and the ways in which my unbalanced life makes me less whole. It made me think about the vows I took as a priest twenty-four years ago and what I might do to live more fully into them.