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21 February 2014

More real than gravity itself

More real than gravity itself

So a film curiously named after a scientific term triumphed at the Bafta awards and there seems general agreement that Gravity is an extraordinary production. 

Gravity adopts a most basic form of drama – actors seen only as faces within spacesuits. Everything else in the film is simply not real. Every frame consists almost entirely of computer-generated special effects. These are so stunning that audiences have found it totally convincing.

But such technical genius brings us more than entertainment and valuable therapeutic escapism. It also offers an unsettling lesson on how easily the 'not real' can master the consciousness and so overshadow 'the real' altogether.

On this score, maybe Christians should more often well … get real. For we might be more in danger of unreality's seductive spell than anyone else. The closeness that binds the faithful together can easily get the better of us so that we become too cosy, safe and insular.

"Why do people in church have to be so nice?" a teenager once complained bitterly to me. Could she really mean us? Yes of course. We wouldn't wilfully hurt even a tree-beetle but we still grow de-sensitised to inhumanity all around us. However, scripture actually prizes the real above all.

Only a response to the real can set people free. Repentance, initial or constant, springs from cold recognition of what we secretly are: the real us. And Jesus has already inhabited places of harsh reality in order to liberate its oppressed people.

Our news media have made a brilliant job this week of popping the 'not real' bubble for everyone. The 'real world' has reasserted itself in disturbing ways over comfortable lives. Reports appear of the troubling extent of UK child-trafficking. Cruel floods and traumas strike those formerly considered better-off. And despite hopes of UK money helping to restore human rights in Sudan, an outrage is reported there – the jailing of a pregnant woman for the seeming crime of being raped. The Ukraine looks on the brink of civil war.

But perhaps most shocking of all is the UN's report on North Korea detailed by the Guardian. The special commission on human rights has extensively documented the kwanliso, prison camps where hundreds of thousands have already suffered execution or starvation to death. Harrowing stories abound: a woman being beaten by a guard until she finally does what's demanded of her – to drown her own baby and so stop it crying; a boy having his finger chopped off for accidentally dropping a sewing machine; chillingly, prison camps holding some people actually abducted from other countries. Tragically, this is 'the real' for millions, perhaps billions, in the world.

But there's good news embedded in the bad. And it is 'the real' just as much as any harrowing headline. A television report on North Korean escapees asked just how these traumatised people are managing to enter a recovery process. Answer given: through the love and support of Korean churches. A poignant and moving clip follows of Korean Christians embracing escapees and welcoming them into fellowship and care. And the victims of so much brutality do attribute their progressive healing to the love and practicality of believers. Surely it's this that scripture sees as the ultimate, 'real' experience for Church. Church is real when prisoners are being set free and hearts and minds healed there in every way.

So now we have the definitive form of 'real' – compassion in action. It trumps all dark things that are also real. But it demands the conscious choice of the will. Over and over again.

Roy Kearsley is an author and former theology and mission lecturer based in Cardiff