14 May 2009

of vicars and the avoidance of living: life as a spectator sport

You and I are up to our eyeballs in vicars. But who are they? And why do we seek them out?

A vicar is one serving as a representative or agent – you know, someone who allows you a vicarious presence. A faith congregation may have a vicar that represents them on a larger level. A government may install a vicar to see to their interests and needs at an inter-governmental organization.

Let me see if I can explain this on a personal level.

When we are kids, we tend to call vicars “idols” or “heroes”. These are people who we genuinely think we can be like when we grow up. My niece and nephew provide perfect examples. My young niece idolizes the Disney princesses and very likely imagines still that her life might one day turn out like such a fairytale. My nephew counts numerous sports stars as heroes and is pretty certain that with enough practice and study, he will one day play for the Spurs in the winter and win the Masters every spring.

At some point, we realize that dreams are often harder to fulfill than they are to conjure and we end up in cubicles and corner offices, playing in rec league softball instead of in the World Series and settling for a suburban tract home over a princess’ castle.

And I think it is at this point where we begin to search for vicars in our lives. We intend to vicariously experience the highs and lows of some superstar lifestyle even while we trudge through our own ordinary existence.

We see that Britney Spears lives a pretty incredible lifestyle and, wanting a piece of that life, we buy in to her full-tilt. We start dressing like her, go to her concerts, and follow her on Twitter. We are crushed when she suffers a personal setback that gets chronicled on ET and we are all-too-curious when we see her in a blurry photo on the cover of The Enquirer that either indicates that she has cellulite (just like us!!) or is an unfit mother.

We see Tony Romo living out our dream on pro football fields (with a famous girlfriend no less – double score!!) and we just dive in. We buy season tickets and an authentic jersey, we weep when he wins and sob when he loses. We experience the highs and lows and take pretty much every critique on him to be a personal attack.


I wonder if it is easier to watch passively while others really live. I wonder if our God-given hard-wiring towards glory just gets perverted by culture. I wonder if we are slowly turning life into a series of spectator sports, paused only for work which will allow us to purchase more celebrity consumption.

Maybe our hopes and dreams are too difficult to reach. Maybe our culture has succeeded in providing enough vicars that we no longer have to reach at all. And maybe that is the greatest danger. In a place where we no longer have to stretch or strive for transcendence, doesn’t the body (or the soul) begin to atrophy?

I think about my niece and nephew (and my own infant daughter), knowing full well that the odds are against them ever becoming pro athletes or princesses. I hope and pray that along the path to that reality, God would make an intersection that would allow them, allow us, a chance to seek the fullness and weight of our own lives rather than simply tuning in to the lives of others.

As Andrew Stanton, director of WALL-E put it:
“We all fall into our habits, our routines and our ruts, consciously or unconsciously to avoid living. To avoid having to do the messy part. To avoid having relationships with other people, of dealing with the person next to us. That's why we can all get on our cell phones and not have to deal with one another.”

Where the world offers surface-level replacements and shallow distractions, I pray we find substantial sources of meaning and deep obsessions. I pray that we might see Truth and chase after it hard. I pray that we might glimpse light and live in such a way to help others get a glimpse as well.

In the mean-time, I hope I can continue to slowly kill off the urge to live vicariously through the Bonos and Beckhams of the world. I have a long way to go…

Do you think our vicarious tendencies are destructive or harmless? Who are some of your vicars? How do we return the focus on the truly meaningful things of this life?

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