I always hated the last morning of youth camp. I didn’t want camp to end. My friends and I had been fired up all week, we had a crazy night on the last night, but then it’s time to go. Everyone is tired; the glow of the week is already dimming. But there is one thing that I specifically disliked about the last morning of camp… the last sermon. The “Now you have to go back to the real world” speech.
Going back to the real world was such a downer. I didn’t want to go back. I wanted to stay there. I didn’t want to go back to the social confusion of my regular life; I wanted to stay where I had started to see how things fit together. I didn’t want to go back to where knowing the Bible was dorky; I wanted to stay in the place where knowing the Bible made me valuable. I didn’t want to go back to where some of the popular kids would suddenly forget that it was okay to be nice to me; I wanted to continue to see the best sides of people. But nonetheless, here came the “Going Back To The Real World” sermon.
It’s funny, because I’ve felt somewhat the same way coming back from Hutchmoot. If you missed that blog, well, I never actually explained all of it, but you’ll find some of it here: https://toddagnew.com/2011/09/26/the-rabbit-room/ . The short version is I went to a conference of and for creative thinking people and was encouraged, enabled, challenged, and maybe more importantly, accepted. And I’ve already seen a number of comments and at least one blog from people about how we now have to “go back to the real world.” I started to feel the disappointment creeping in until I realized God had already taught me about this in the context of camp.
At camp, we were set up for failure with the “going back to the real world” talk (whew, I’m getting tired of typing that. Can we settle on GBTTRW?) What I mean is that even in the title, in the first sentence, we were told that the magical time we had just experienced was not real. And I think that may have been one of the most destructive lies I was told as a kid. How can time spent in communion with our Savior, distractions placed aside, chasing after Him morning, noon, and night, how can that be fake? How can the week I prayed as much as the other 51 weeks put together, how can that be the fraudulent week? How can the week I spent in the Word, in community, in service, be the week that is not real? This WAS reality. We weren’t going back to the real world. We were going back to the lie. We were going back to a world where Christ had to fit into the background, into our schedules, into our structure. We were walking out of Eden and believing that this desert was the real world. The snake was whispering in our ears that the relationship we had experienced with God this week was not tenable over the long haul. “This will be a great memory.” “Maybe I can come back next year.” And just like that, we let it go. Even as the preacher was trying to fire us up to go back and change our schools, we were also hearing that the change we had experienced wasn’t real. The lives we were going back to… they were real. Or at least that’s what I heard. But I don’t think that’s right.
Being with Jesus IS reality. I’m sorry, Mr. Camp Speaker, but that means we can’t “go back to the real world.” We are either in intimate communion with Him which is reality or we are leaving this place and going back to the lie. The time I spent in prayer at camp, THAT was real. The truths God showed me as I read His Word, THOSE were real. I didn’t need to know how to “go back to the real world.” I needed to know how to take the reality I was in back into the busier schedule of my life. I needed to be guided through the process of letting this reality transform the life I had at home. And now I am having to do it again.
At Hutchmoot, being creative was valued. Being different (some might even say nerdy) was accepted and even treasured. And already I am finding myself trying to figure out how I can still maintain some creative value “back in the real world”. But I’m starting to realize that creation itself is the real world. In Dorothy Sayers’ book, The Mind of the Maker, she writes about being made in the image of God. What she noticed really intrigued me. She pointed out that at the time when God makes the declaration, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness,” (Gen. 1:26a ESV), we don’t actually know much about God. He hasn’t been described. He hasn’t revealed His character. The only image we have of God when He says we are made in His likeness is that He is a Creator. He creates, makes, invokes, produces. And we are like Him.
Having kids has made that concept abundantly clear. I watch my daughter get dressed up because she is a tutor for her friend, the princess. I watch my son use one superpower after another. I get to listen to the stories my daughter has written, fully illustrated of course. I watch my son build spaceships out of Legos. My kids build forts out of pillows and blankets. And their favorite building tool…? Empty cardboard boxes. Everything in life is fraught with creative possibilities. Everything can be used to tell the stories running through their brains.
We are creative beings. We are not designed to merely maintain a way of life; we are supposed to make things that are new. That concept, in and of itself, does not make me a sculptor. It doesn’t necessarily make you a poet, or a songwriter, or a carpenter. But we are designed to create. My wife doesn’t think she’s artistic, but she creates an atmosphere of community, of openness, of honesty, everywhere she goes. I’ve started to notice that she can draw just about anything. And you know, with her appreciation of great art and literature, I bet there’s another spark of creativity in there somewhere. And there is one in you too. Maybe you just haven’t tried. Or maybe you let it go, because it was time to “grow up”. And yet, here you are, years later, still wishing you could do that. Well, today I’m telling you that you can. I’m not saying you’re going to be amazing the first time you try. No one is. I’m just saying you can create. You are made in His image. Creating is the real world. I’m not saying you should be writing poetry at the expense of feeding your family. I think God’s plan is for us to do both. Maybe somehow to combine them. So that rather than having real and false worlds, we have God’s plan in the midst of God’s world.
I’m glad I didn’t leave Hutchmoot just to go back to a life completely separated and different. That I get to bring all that I experienced back, to share it with my wife and kids, to continue to walk in it myself, and maybe even build a community like that here in Austin. I’m glad I didn’t leave youth camp to go back to a life where bible study and prayer were abnormal or false. That God desires to be just as life-changing in this moment as when I stood in that pew as a teenager. I don’t get to live my whole life in the Garden, but I do get to garden everywhere I go.
12 thoughts on “Going Back To The Real World”
I was at Hutchmoot too, and as usual before something I enjoy comes to an end and I have to start thinking about shifting gears into the next thing, I led with the old GBTTRW….and stopped. For the first time in my life, it felt awkward, even wrong, to put up such divisions between the extraordinary and the ordinary. They are obstacles to creating — they make it ok to make excuses and avoid the work. I think God was trying to show us a different way, and it looks like He succeeded. Thanks for sharing.
You’ve got it, my friend! The kingdom of God is the real thing. When we grasp that idea, then those principles are incorporated into the rest of our busy lives. I think that also applies to marriage. I don’t believe all the experts who say the romance or honeymoon has to end. Hogwash! That’s why so many marriages are stale and in trouble–because people choose to let it end, choose to make other things a priority, choose to be selfish, etc. If we catch a glimpse of God’s Kingdom where love, unity, forgiveness, and self-sacrifice are normal ways of relating, we have a choice to either live as citizens of His kingdom or settle for the kingdom of this world (or our own personal kingdom). Yes, we live in a corrupt world where life can be hard, but we are just visiting here. We don’t have to adapt to the standards here or buy the lies of religion here. Jesus described it when He said, “I came to give you life . . . life more abundantly.” It could also be said, “I came to give you life more creatively.”
Thank you, Todd. Your own creativity inspires and encourages me. This was perfect as I just got back to work from a week vacation down at Corpus Christi. I was dreading coming “back to the real world” especially after the great time I had. I always wondered how I could bridge that gap. How I.couuld still enjoy life even though I am not in the Garden. I have to create a garden around me. I see that now. The perfection (joy, fullfilness, happiness) in life won’t come to us down here. We have to create that Garden in our own lives. Gardening I understand,so the gardening of our own lives will take time, water, food, and some much needed sun. Did I mention Time.
Thanks again and may the Lord bless you and your family, Todd.
I get this same feeling every Sunday evening after church service. Not because the next day is Monday and we all have to go back to work, or to school, but because I have to go back to the real world. I then anxiously await for Wednesday so I can be with my church family again and worship God with them. This is my revitalization during the week and then I anxiously await for Sunday to come around. I would live in church if it was possible. One day I will be able to worship with my Christian family and be with God for eternity and that’s what I look forward to!
Regarding being “creative”, have you heard of or read “200 Pomegranates and an Audience of One” by Shawn Woods? Great read to encourage the ‘artist’ in everyone.
That Is an awesome perspective Todd. Thank you for posting these. So often Christian artists and Worship leaders get get up in the production and the technical aspects of what we do, for you to bring honest pastoral perspective to the table is a relief and would like to encourage you in continuing to listening to the Spirit lead you like that.
Now, back to the real world (Where I get to spend every moment of my life in relationship with God)
Beautiful thoughts. I sometimes feel this way after a personal time of solitude comes to an end. In the sense that we need some retreats in life that are a bit separate from the “regular” life, perhaps this is OK. We all need to build a few mountain top retreats into life. But in the sense that we separate special from real, beauty and solitude from real busy life, passionate communion with what is supernaturally wonderful from the daily “normal” of this world, I sense you are dead on with your points. We are meant to abide in heaven and bring that life to earth, EVERY DAY. WE are meant to live in communion with love and healing and beauty, and infuse everything we do with those qualifies because Jesus lives in us. We are meant to trust that in some beautiful and creative way God intends to bring redemptive forgiveness and healing into this world through us. Every day. I thank you for bold thoughts, because if truth be told I think fear is what holds us back. We are afraid of rejection and afraid of someone ruining the holy with the unholy. Faith is often weak. Artists are often rejected by those who cannot see life through their lens. We (OK, I) are fearful of this rejection as artists after the Christian art institute if you will. Because sometimes what we are called to do is just a bit too creative or inconventient for us. Most days I miss the boat. Today wasn’t one of those days albeit an exception. Just today I came away from a walk and something whispered to me that I should stop by and linger to talk with my neighbor, even though I was running behind and was supposed to get home. Luckily, today I did not choose to separate the holy from the worldly as I often do and talk away this little voice whispering. So, I lingered. Lingered to laugh with my neighbor’s two children and enjoy the sweetness of their playing. Lingered to listen to my neighbor’s stories. And as I let go of the time and trusted that heaven was trying to come to earth through me, it happened. This conversation was the conversation where I was able to share Christ. Jesus just opened up the door through a story that let to me sharing some things that led to me sharing the gospel. WOW. In any event, I believe I’m rambling at this point. But what you all are speaking up in this blog is just this. We were made to live alive in Christ. We were meant to walk by faith and expect that brilliant things will happen. God’s brilliance is colorful, like a tapestry. He weaves one thread in at a time and over time we get to enjoy the richness of the life intended for us, of the beautiful tapestry we are becoming. He designed us for glory and grace, to experience it’s richess and to extend it to others each day. Today might be the day you linger. To bring a gift to a friend “just because.” To color with your children and love on them. To extend a random act of kindness to a stranger. To listen to the Spirit calling you, to whatever interesting and totally unpredictable act He has for you. We are sons and daughters of an active, living, breathing, moving, healing, creative and creating almighty and omnipitant God. He is life. He is love. He is art and beauty and creativity. He is every wonderful thought and emotion and experience and thing you can imagine now that brings a smile to you face. The grand architect of the universe. The divine healer. What might you draw today? Whose life might you touch today? I challenge you to linger and listen. You might be surprised. So no more retreats from eternity. Eternity begins today in our hearts, in our homes, in our neighborhoods, at our workplace, in our world. We are ambassadors for the good news gospel. Where there is brokenness He will use us to heal. Where there is sadness he will use us to bring joy. Where there is sin he will use us to bring purity. Where there is selfishness He will use us to bring selflessness. Where there is hatred He will use us to bring unconditional love. Where there is hell he will use us to bring Heaven on earth. Where there is cruelty and anger He will, through us, pour out a blanket of mercy and grace and forgiveness. Linger with Jesus a little while… it’s the only reason you have breathe today if you are part of His kingdom.
One closing thoughts… in the form of a poem since we’re talking about art 🙂 When I choose to believe what I write in my quiet solitude, the tapestry of life becomes real as it did today with my neighbor:
In this world of lies
Do you make yourself known to the brokenhearted?
In this world of greed
Do you make yourself known to the ones who wish to share?
In this world of pride
Do you make yourself known to the ones who are humble?
I am nothing apart from you
I am nobody apart from you
I am broken but with you, am healed
I am sickness but with you, am well
I am sadness but in you, I dance
I am ugliness but in you, a bride
I am selfishness but in you, find mercy
I am a conduit through which the enemy rages as he does throughout the earth
But in you, by the name and power of Christ, he ceases
Why did you make this broken place
Did you make it so that someday you could heal it?
Why did you let hate rage through the hearts of men
Did you make it so the contrast of Love would shine true?
Why is there hurt that rages
Why are there perpetrators of hatred,
evil of all kinds
Sometimes I feel the face of Satan
Seething and raging in his time
Seeing the end is near
Raising his fist at the one who command all spirits
You are the Father and the Son and the Spirit
Your Spirit whispers to me sometimes
That part of me that doubts that faith is real
Is wooed in silence of night as the Spirit calls
Surely goodness and mercy will follow me all the days of my life
And I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever
But yet I am torn
Torn by my own wicked heart
Torn by my own wicked pride
Torn by the foolishness of men that also woos my heart
Torn by my blindness
Torn by the biting words of loved ones when they see my weakness
Torn by my own vicious words that do not shower grace but shower judgment
Where will I run to, oh my soul?
Where can I escape the wrath I deserve?
I will run into the arms of the one who calls me daughter.
He bought me with His blood,
Spilled upon the earth as he lay dying, nailed to a tree
I will run into His strong, and mighty arms
Arms that shower grace and truth upon those who wish to seek refuge in his forgiveness
I fall into these arms
For they are grace
and that which knows no end and knew no beginning
that which I can hardly understand
but that which my souls cries to in the darkest night
but that which my souls recognizes in ways no words dare express
I will run to you, the lover of my soul
who fiercely protects me and fights for me
because He is the author of all things
and He is LOVE
I loved going to church camp with my kids. It made me feel so alive. No interference. No cell phones or pc’s. No drama. Everyone was walking in the Spirit. Everyone said “hello” to each other. We all ate together. There was no separation. No walls. No lies. No jealousy, back-biting, gossip. And my bubble was popped immediately when I had to stop at Wal-Mart and no one smiled back when I smiled. No one said “hello” or “thank you.” I was deflated and decided I wanted to live at church camp forever. In my Christian bubble, without strife or troubles. I felt this way after every conference, camp, and even church service. I’m sure that’s not God would have. Why should I only feel that way at camp? Shouldn’t I carry it out everywhere I go? As I type this out, it really ticks me off that even after years of faithfully following the Lord, I still haven’t figured out how to do that.
Agreed. The challenge is to not build 3 shelters on the mountaintop, but rather to bring the depth and relatedness of the transfiguration (yours and His) back into the valley. The Kingdom is the real, and slippery, reality.
Todd, maybe you can arrange a week or a few days every few months to be on retreat with a like-hearted cohort? Recharging the Spirit battery with others helps tremendously. Happy to help you if needed.
Good. True. Beautiful.
Wow… you’ve awakened in me a new longing for the real world, for an escape from the desert of lies I live in day to day. Thank you for this beautiful bit of truth. Almost two weeks after a reluctant return from a wonderful retreat with the ladies of my church, I needed to read this.