Once upon a time, over seven years ago...before children, before a renewed commitment to the Lord, before the discovery of my purpose on the Earth...I was gathering up my things at the end of a workday, moments away from heading home. I was the manager of a small business, a portrait studio nestled inside a mostly-forgotten mall, and I was tying up a few loose ends at the front counter before leaving my studio in the hands of an employee.
It seems that mostly-forgotten malls are rarely forgotten by one group: the mall-walkers. For years, when business was slow, I couldn't help but notice every person that walked by over and over again, and these people (whether I came to know them or not) became permanent fixtures of my workplace. On this particular day, my attention was drawn by some commotion to the bit of mall outside my storefront, and I looked up in time to see a familiar middle-aged woman collapse to the ground. She had been carrying a pair of crutches, and my first thought was that she had fallen while using them and needed some assistance to get up.
I ran out into the mall, as did a few people from a neighboring store. When I got there, the woman was unresponsive, and it was evident that this was something far more serious than a fall. I yelled to my employee, who was standing at the front counter, and she immediately dialed 911.
Life sped up and played in slow motion all at the same time. No one knew what to do. It seemed like the woman was gasping, we thought she was, and we assumed that she was breathing. It was so hard to tell. No one was doing anything...everyone there was so young and in disbelief. I knelt down and I rubbed the woman's back, I whispered in her ear that Jesus loved her and that someone would be there to help her soon. I think I was crying. I felt totally helpless, but I just kept telling her that Jesus was with her and that everything would be okay.
The paramedics were there in moments. They took over. Told us to leave. Stunned, I went back to my studio. But I didn't leave. My heart...my soul...was still out in that mall with that poor woman lying on the ground, pleading with her to pull through as the paramedics pumped her chest with an almost violent urgency.
God and I didn't speak frequently enough back then, but He heard a lot from me that day. I called my parents and asked them to pray. I called my sister. As an afterthought, I decided I should probably call my husband, too, although he wasn't much of a pray-er then, either. Then I got down on my knees in Camera Room B and poured my heart out to God. (In the years that followed, as my then-life was being reshaped into my now-life, Camera Room B became witness to many of these prayer sessions, but it can be certain that at the time, it was caught entirely off-guard.)
Eventually, after half an hour or more of constant resuscitation attempts, the paramedics lifted the woman onto a gurney, still pumping oxygen into her body with a plastic "balloon" over her mouth and nose. I watched them wheel her away, and I knew.
The woman was dead.
I went home that night limp with the fatigue that comes from having fought hard and lost. I had spilled my emotions on the floor of Camera Room B, and yet I found that I had many more to spill in the days to come. My beloved Grandma Mac had passed away just months previously, and this fresh encounter with death tore the scab from my heart as mercilessly as an eagle plucks a fish from the sea.
Just days later, I came home late after closing the studio. As I walked through the door of my home, I witnessed yet another horrific death. A man had been impaled with a fence post, and a grotesque, blood saturated wound consumed his entire upper body. His chest heaved with the effort of each agonizing breath; the sounds of death gurgled from his throat. And although my husband flipped the TV off the moment he saw the horror on my face, the image of this dying man is forever imprinted on my mind.
And very suddenly, my eyes were opened.
Death is not entertainment.
Death is real. Pain and suffering are real. And real people who suffer from real pain can't change the channel or forget about it at the commercial break. Our culture would have us believe that we can, in our own lives, experience these "entertaining" things- death, tragedy, violence, divorce, casual sex- and go on living completely unscathed...unscarred...untouched.
Our culture lies.
We were created in the image of God, with the ability to feel. We were created to be in community, sharing in eachothers' joys, hurts and sorrows, full of compassion and sensitivity and love. We were created to connect deeply. We feel loss and horror and anger and betrayal and there are lasting scars when we make bad choices or when terrible things happen to us. What our culture of entertainment wants us to believe is simply not true.
So where do we draw the line? What's acceptable entertainment, and what isn't? Are there times when it's alright to watch people being killed or living immorally on-screen? What if it's obviously make-believe? What if it serves a purpose, such as to educate or inform? What if it isn't gratuitous? Is it okay for adults to watch things that children shouldn't? What if we're mature enough in our faith to truly not be influenced by what we watch?
I don't have this all figured out, so please don't assume that I think I do. There is one thing that's clear to me, though...one thing that I am certain of.
As our culture becomes more and more saturated with entertainment - movies, television, video games, internet - we are not becoming any more like Jesus.
We're becoming less like Him.