THERE it was-a slogan emblazoned across a T-shirt, coming toward me as I jogged across a bridge over the Charles River in Boston. It read: "The Real World-Unplugged!"
The student wearing the shirt was, like me, out running on a late afternoon of extraordinary crispness and beauty. She was plugged into a portable radio whose music I could hear from about twenty yards off. I myself preferred to be "unplugged" so that I could delight in the sound of the wind in the rigging of sailboats out on the water, and in the calls of the coxswains urging their crews to greater effort.
This student's concentration on the music was so intense that I don't think she could possibly have noticed the flaring pinks and golds in the early evening sunset. "What's the 'real world' she's trying to escape?" I wondered. "And, if it's an insane world of pressures, anxieties, and difficult people she's pulling the plug on, might she not lose much that's beautiful and good in the process?"
Conventional thinking suggests that the "real world" is a frenetic place, populated by selfish, greedy, squabbling people who are without scruples or hope. Many people see this world as something to be feared, fought, or avoided altogether.
As I continued my run, I realized that the T-shirt was challenging me to think afresh about reality. Chambers 20th Century Dictionary emphasizes that what is real is not counterfeit or assumed; it must be "true: genuine: sincere: authentic . . . ," pertaining to things of a "fixed permanent nature."
Mary Baker Eddy, the Founder of The Church of Christ, Scientist, went straight to the fixed and permanent nature of God. A diligent pursuit of spiritual reality led her to discover Christian Science. She wrote in the book Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures: "The Scriptures imply that God is All-in-all. From this it follows that nothing possesses reality nor existence except the divine Mind and His ideas" (p. 331).
If you read the Bible, you can find ample evidence that God is everywhere and that He is omnipotent. Assured of God's control, those who read and study the Bible tend to be less overwhelmed by the apparent turmoil of human existence, because the lessons of the Scriptures, made practical in their lives, have proved the authenticity of God's power. They know this power is changeless and eternal, and always in perfect balance and harmony. As the Psalmist said: "The Lord hath prepared his throne in the heavens; and his kingdom ruleth over all" (Psalms 103:19).
Coming to terms with spiritual reality does not involve running-or walking-to or from a place or a thing. The "real world" is not to be escaped, but rather to be uncovered and enjoyed! It calls for us to stand still. It asks us to recognize that God's kingdom is the reality, and that it is present with us now.
If you succumb momentarily to the world's pressures, you can still know that there is a way out-through prayer.
In prayer, we don't unplug, ignore, or show apathy toward the world around us. But we do awake to a clearer understanding of the reality of God's kingdom-and our place in it. God's universe is complete, perfect, and everlasting because it expresses the nature of God Himself.
It is all a case of, for a time anyway, freeing thought from dwelling on material and temporal things. And the more we do this, the more easily we discern the reality of God and the consequent presence of goodness. Conversely, the stronger our awareness of that reality, the freer we are of material entanglements such as disease, anger, and depression.
By the time I had completed my run that evening, I had a much better perspective, not only on reality, but also on the T-shirt and its message. I reaffirmed what the real world was for me-and I didn't need a shirt to tell me about it. After all, the example of a God-centered life, selflessly lived, is the best slogan of all!