"They've taken the symbol for the substance. They've taken the ritual for the reality. They've taken the means for the end and become inoculated from the experience of the real thing."
- Richard Rohr
I'll never forget one particular speaker we did several events with when I was still traveling and leading worship. "Hey Chase, what do you think I should preach about tonight?" I laughed and looked up at the guy who was supposed to preach after our set. My smile faded when I realized he wasn't kidding.
I tried to regain composure and offered a few ideas (none of which he used, by the way), and then hurried on to stage, trying to focus after such an odd encounter. Had this guy really not prepared anything? I did my best to put it out of my mind and be present in what was happening, but that nagging feeling stayed there the rest of the weekend.
I realized after several events with this "speaker" that he told the same stories, taught the same lessons, cracked the same jokes, and spout out the same catchphrases and cliches literally every single time he got on stage. It was honestly eerie, especially after reading his online bio that recounted many of the same stories and accolades he shamelessly included in his "sermons."
I could tell you countless anecdotes about the oddities of that world. The guys I played with and I always joked about writing a book about it one day. The speaker I'm talking about, though, is simply acting in a way that's characteristic of all of us...
When we don't want to do the deep inner work, we cue the track.
What do we already know that we can fall back on? What catchphrase and cliche can I spit up? What's my go-to mindset, habit, crutch, excuse, familiar place to avoid reality? What ritual or symbol can I substitute for the real thing?
I'm learning the ego is an expert at protecting itself. We are masters at creating coping mechanisms and projecting false selves and never even realizing it—or even worse, mistaking it for substance.
I read a small, dense book years ago by a guy named A.W. Tozer. I think what he has to say about the idea of majesty applies here:
"...the alarming thing is that our gains are mostly external and our losses wholly internal; and since it is the quality of our religion that is affected by internal conditions, it may be that our supposed gains are but losses spread over a wider field."
I never want to be the gloom and doom, turn or burn, social critic. I never want to point without first looking in the mirror. This isn't the speaker's problem. This is my problem. This is our problem.
And I believe it's important to constantly look inside. The consequence of not doing so is becoming stagnant, unaware, even miserable. We will even potentially waste opportunities we've been given to influence others.
So sit. Be still. Listen. Do the hard inner work. And respond. We need your perspective, not the track that's cued when the real work isn't being done.
Books I recommend: