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An astute third-grader once asked me, “Do you ever wonder if life is real? Does it ever seem like it’s just a dream?”

I’m not surprised she asked this question. Separating fantasy from reality is getting harder all the time. In today’s culture the two can be almost indistinguishable. Computers create “virtual reality” for us, Internet chat sites let us take on any persona we wish, and mind-altering drugs do just what their name implies.

Fantasy isn’t bad in itself. For thousands of years people have used plays, myths, art, legends, and novels to teach important lessons about life and enrich our understanding of the world.

But sometimes the worlds of illusion and reality collide in startling and horrifying ways. Columbine-style school shootings, Internet stalkers, and drug overdoses remind us that some illusions from fantasyland can turn terrible and tragic when they bleed into reality.

Hostages to Illusion

As Jesus trekked the soil of Palestine, he encountered many people whose souls were held hostage by illusions.

The list of captives is long and illustrious. The Pharisees and the “rich young ruler” lived in a fantasy world of “holier-than-thou” superiority. The governing authorities were wrapped up in a world of political puppetry. (Consider Pilate’s confused statement in John 18:38: “What is truth?”) Even the disciples persisted in their fantasy hope that Jesus would use military power to establish the kingdom (see Acts 1:6).

To all of them, and to us, Jesus made a crucial declaration: “My kingdom is not of this world” (John 18:36). In other words, “Reality is far greater than you realize.”

I, too, could be added to the list of captives. I project false appearances and inhabit fantasy worlds, often without realizing or intending it. Here’s one example: in the late 1990s I spent a year in Honduras. Although my salary was meager when measured by North American criteria, I was fantastically rich by Honduran standards.

Unfortunately, my relative wealth had the unintended effect that it has in any culture—it lent to an exaggerated (and false!) appearance of intelligence, beauty, and even godliness. Personal wealth can blur the lines of fantasy and reality.

Jesus the Rebuilder

How about you? If you met Jesus for coffee, which of your fantasy worlds and illusions would he gently reveal? Could you name them?

I suspect Jesus would not spend much time on obvious or innocuous fantasies like video games. Rather, Jesus was (and is) the master at deconstructing the false appearances each of us daily put on and take off, often without realizing we’re doing so. But Jesus isn’t in the demolition business. He doesn’t deconstruct our world of illusions without rebuilding something better in its place.

To those of us who live in a fantasyland, Jesus says, “Don’t invest your time and efforts in building individual wealth, seeking the finest of foods, the most captivating entertainment, or personal celebrity. These things are like a dream—before you know it, they will disappear and be forgotten. Get ready for a collision with reality—the new reality of the kingdom in which the last will be first, the meek will inherit the earth, and the poor will be your teachers.”

This future may seem like nothing more than a dream right now, but just wait . . . soon it will be a glorious reality that will fulfill us more than any fantasy ever could. Thomas Merton

To work out . . . our salvation is a labor that demands close attention to reality at every moment, and great fidelity to God as he reveals himself in the mystery of each new situation.

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