With the NFL season beginning next week, I'm getting my teams ready to go. Of course I don't really own a football franchise; I own a cheap team -- a fantasy team.
If you're not familiar with fantasy football, it's an opportunity to pretend. Live in Fantasy Land, where reality is not in force! Payton Manning and Priest Holmes don't play on the same team in real life, but in Fantasy Land it's possible. As a team owner, you choose players from any of the NFL teams to be on your team. Usually teams are divided up via a draft, with owners taking turns picking players in a system reminiscent of choosing up sides on the school playground. Then you track the performance of each player in his "real" game and transfer points to the fantasy game. It's actually quite addictive to football fans, and it makes a mid-season game between two lousy teams a lot more interesting.
But football in Fantasy Land affects the way you watch the game. The win-loss record of the Seattle Seahawks means little to me, but I watch carefully to see how many yards the running back has gained in the game. It's really odd. If I see that a touchdown has been scored in another game, I scramble to find out who scored it. If it's one of "my" players, I feel like doing a touchdown dance myself. In many ways, Fantasy Land is preferrable to reality -- especially when your favorite NFL team stinks on ice.
Fantasy Land is also sought out every weekend by people in search of a buzz. Drugs, alcohol or something else -- it's the exit ramp out of reality. I've never understood the need for someone to get drunk or get high. To me, it's more scary to lose control like that. I remember people in college who would get loaded to go to a concert. That baffled me. Why pay good money to see a performer you enjoy and then alter your consciousness so that you can't remember it later? Maybe they were going to New Kids on the Block concerts or something similar. Why else would you try to forget?
Of course I know plenty of people who drink their way to Fantasy Land just to forget. Ol' pal Budweiser can make the problems go away. Well, for a few hours anyway. For these folks, Fantasy Land is just a temporary rest stop -- not much more than a nightly vacation from reality.
As I type, the city of New Orleans is the capital city of Fantasy Land. What we would think of as normal reality is not present. Instead, violent people roam the streets in search of food, water and merchandise. Death is commonplace. What few authorities which are in place are helpless to control the situation. Looters cannot be arrested and jailed because the jails are destroyed. Desperate people are doing whatever they can to get nourishment. Desperados roam the streets with no fear of being punished or even stopped. It is simply unreal.
I am careful not to judge these folks. Certainly they can't all be judged by the same standard. I'm sure that some are trying to come up with any possible way to save their families or themselves. Who could blame a person for going to extremes to save a dying infant? Others are living in panic, looking for lost children or spouses. I cannot imagine the tension and the helplessness those people are dealing with right now. Then there are those who thrive in an environment where anarchy is a way of life. Some have specualted that these folks purposely stayed behind in town hoping to take advantage of those who had evacuated.
No matter the individual circumstances, those wading the streets of the Big Easy are living in Fantasy Land. Life as they knew it is gone -- maybe for good. In it's place is a land where nothing seems to make sense. Stealing isn't punished. Food isn't available. Corpses litter the streets. Safety isn't assured - it's not even likely. This Fantasy Land isn't like having your troubles taken away, or even like having your favorite things all together in one place. The Fantasy Land that is New Orleans is a living nightmare which makes no logical sense.
In a sense, much of America is a Fantasy Land right now. Gas prices are skyrocketing. In many places gas stations are out of fuel entirely. We are approaching a holiday weekend in a very uncertain state. I have no idea if the price of gas will still be $3.19 in the morning or over four dollars. I can't be certain of anything because when people start to fear for their safety or their own personal convenience, they start down that road to Fantasy Land, dragging the rest of us with them. The fear of being unable to drive where we need to go is overwhelming to some. We are uprooted and, unlike 9-11, we don't have an Osama bin Laden to blame it on. Indeed, all we have is a faceless entity named Katrina.
As a Christian I see hope through all of this. Much of what we fear losing is far beyond "our daily bread" anyway. There is a small shirine built to honor the idol of Convenience in most houses of the Western World. We can afford to lose some of that. Perhaps all the worry will help us to concentrate on reality. In a very real sense we live in Fantasy Land every day. We wrap ourselves up in work or a TV show or the kids or a new romance -- maybe the situation in New Orleans and the effects outside our own front door are really pulling us out of Fantasy Land. I pray that all of this trouble will remind me that my life does not consist in the sum of my possessions. I'm happy to be reminded that there is more to life than winning a Fantasy Football game. I hope that this will help me to focus on pleasing Christ and not pleasing man. I thank God that He can use the terrible tragedies of life to teach us.
And again I offer prayers to the many people affected by Hurricane Katrina and it's aftermath. I pray for the safety of all those living in the nightmare of a Fantasy Land known as New Orleans. And I pray that all of us will be reminded of reality; on this earth and what lies beyond.