Lights, camera, action…

I was just out on a long walk with my kids, and as we crossed Adams onto LaSalle I began noticing fliers stuck onto every gate and door with the letters ER in bold font across the top. Curious, I stopped to see what they were and found out that Warner Bros. will be filming an episode of the television show “ER” next Friday in a church on that street. The letter was simply notifying nearby residents of the scheduled filming, and requesting their signature to permit the trucks and trailers to park on the street.

Now I was a HUGE ER fan for many years. The show came out when I was living in Chicago, and I used to volunteer every Saturday at the Cook County Hospital, where the show is set. So it was not difficult for me to become a fan (and George Clooney helped, I’m sure). I haven’t watched the show for some time, in fact I wasn’t even sure it was still on, but apparently it is and it is coming to my neighborhood next week.

Having lived in Chicago, I find it remarkable that my hood can look anything like any place in the windy city. But living in film mecca, I have learned how easy it is to create the illusion of just about anywhere (oddly enough, Hollywood films all the time in our neighborhood, and it is for shows and movies set in any number of cities).

On Sunday I preached about lying. We are wrapping up a series on the Ten Commandments, and so my text for this Sunday was about bearing false witness. In preparing for my sermon, I realized how much we all give false representations of ourselves, finding it either benign, necessary, or ethically unexamined. Our motives most often flow from deep places of fear and pride in our hearts, and we find it so much easier to deal with illusions and facades with each other than the messiness of transparency and authenticity.

Warner Bros. has good reasons for creating the illusion of Chicago on a street in South Central. Money and convenience would probably top the list, and we will be satisfied with their disguise. We, on the other hand, pay a very high price when we cut the same corners; when we deceive, misrepresent, or intentionally omit or stay silent. According to Lew Smedes: “lying breaks the tissue of faith that holds every human community together—lies diminish everyone because by lying we treat persons as if they had no right to share in the mutual trust without which we cannot be human together (Mere Morality).”

Honesty and transparency are often not the easiest, most convenient paths to travel. And sometimes the truth can simply feel like too much work to pursue. I guess the first step is to become people dissatisfied with the illusions. As Smedes also says, “our individualistic society offers so many incentives to lying.” Do our churches? How are truth-tellers treated in our congregations? The fate of many a prophet offers sad commentary on our willingness to hear and receive those bearing truth. Or what about that person in our body who speaks their mind, not constraining himself or herself to what is popular, PC, or the majority opinion? And how many of us in multi-cultural contexts prefer the comfort of illusion to the hard-won victories of real reconciliation? What disparities have we grown entirely comfortable with, and how have we suspended examination for the sake of sitting back and enjoying a good show…

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