I’m a pastor who’s also a geek, a gamer, a movie lover—and I think escapism has been given a bad rap.
The dictionary says escapism is “the tendency to seek distraction and relief from unpleasant realities, esp. by seeking entertainment or engaging in fantasy.” Horrible, awful, wasteful stuff?
I don’t think so.
We can’t engage everything. The world is such a busy place that we have to shut out almost everything to stay sane. Productivity experts say we should focus our energies in shorter bursts—an hour and a half at a time—and then take substantial breaks in between. That’s strategic escapism. Narrow-minded companies forbid this, banning Facebook from work hours and enforcing strict coffee break regimes. Creative, life-giving companies create lush and stimulating “escape spaces” where people can switch channels and recharge their batteries.
Because healthy escapes help us engage.
Remember that wonderful episode during the first season of Lost when the survivors are so wound up with life and death that they don’t know what to do with themselves? Jack is going nuts, trying to keep it together… so Hurley decides to build a golf course. This escape, this frivolous diversion, actually helps the group rally the strength they need to press through a very difficult time.
I love it.
Reading a book… is escapism. So is art, music, or taking a much needed walk. Last month I attended an intensive writing conference. Halfway through the weekend I “got out of Dodge,” driving to the coast and losing myself along a remote beach for a few hours. By the time I trudged back to my rental car my glasses were fogged over with salt spray, I’d lost track of time, and it was glorious.
What about spiritual escapism?
Is that legit?
In some ways, spirituality is a healthy escapism. Hope pulls my gaze from what is seen to what is unseen, awakening my imagination and encouraging me to dream about something that hasn’t happened yet. Prayer is putting this hope into words. When I worship I often close my eyes and imagine myself before God’s throne. It’s delicious.
Think of Jesus’ parables. They’re stories designed to yank us out of the moment and into an “alternate reality” where we can learn something we can use when we return to “the real world.” Jesus steps into our treadmill existence and by telling a story, stops our world so we can get off for a few minutes. Not just because we want to, but because we need to. Stepping out and back gives us much needed perspective.
I don’t think the problem lies with escaping. The problem arises when my escape becomes more precious than the real world and I don’t want to come back. When I start spending more time escaping than engaging. When escaping isn’t helping me live because it’s becoming my life. When the escape becomes my reality, or I wish it was. Even spiritually, there really are people who are so “heavenly minded that they are of no earthly good.”
Not all escapes must involve prayer and worship. God created a fabulous and diverse world full of power and potential, both to engage and to distract us. Paul said to Timothy that “God richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment” (I Timothy 6:17).
Movies are life-giving escapes for me. I enjoy living in someone else’s story for a few hours. Often I learn something about my own story in the process. I become a better leader by watching Gladiator. I become a better husband after watching Last of the Mohicans. I really do.
Video games can be healthy escapes for me as well. There’s something about becoming someone else for awhile, something about conquering evil or completing a challenge that refreshes my soul.
True, I cross the line at times. Not all my escapes are equally useful. Some are wasteful or overdone. But escapism is a vital part of a healthy life.
What do you think? Comments, please!
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