There is no substitute for the real thing. How often have I heard those words repeated? And who better to vouch for the truth of those words than myself? Why? Because I, myself, am a substitute for the real thing. Yes, it is true. I confess – I am a substitute teacher.
When I show up in another teacher’s classroom, I am all too aware that I am not the real thing and if I were to forget that very pertinent fact, the students are always diligent in reminding me that I am not, in fact, their real teacher. So I understand a lot about the cost of substitution.
Remember when butter was out? It was declared to be bad for us and the butter substitutes were supposed to be healthier and better tasting. Never mind that they were not actually the real thing, namely butter. Then butter made a come back! It was decided that butter wasn’t actually that harmful after all plus it actually tasted better and was best in recipes.
This also happened with sugar. There are many synthetic sugar substitutes available which have been used over the years, but now sugar is considered better for us than the artificial sweeteners which we have been substituting for the real thing – sugar. Apparently our bodies metabolize real, natural sugar better than synthetic, chemical containing sugar substitutes. Who knew?
We are currently in a season of substitution. We are being required to substitute the virtual experience for the in-person experience multiple times a day. And being the adaptable, persevering people that we are, we have adapted and persevered. We are now being told to continue with our virtual lives, while putting our in-person lives on hold. No one has talked about a finish line lately . . . if indeed one exists at all.
We have satisfied ourselves with zoom meetings and zoom exercise and zoom worship and on line education – well, maybe satisfied is not a completely accurate word. Are we satisfied? Or are we craving something more, something that this cyberspace substitute cannot provide for us?
There really is no substitute for a gym full of screaming teenagers at a high school pep rally before the big homecoming game. The band plays, the cheerleaders cheer, the dance team dances, student reporters take pictures while other students video the event for the school news, the players are introduced and cheered in a supportive send off for the upcoming “big game.” It is a big deal to the students who are drawn together in supporting their school and in supporting their classmates in all the many capacities in which the students participate. It is about so much more than just the team. It is about belonging to a community, in this case a school community.
There really is no substitute for a sanctuary full of people praying, singing, worshiping, hearing together the word of God spoken out loud – there is no substitute for the power, encouragement, comfort, joy, hope, sense of belonging and sense of connection that take place in the sanctity of that full sanctuary Sunday after Sunday.
There is no substitute for the arena filled with screaming sports fans, cheering their team on to victory or sharing in the agony of their defeat. It is always an exhilarating roller coaster ride, that we share for a few hours with thousands of otherwise complete strangers – but united for this brief time in supporting the team for which we all share affection and allegiance. This shared experience lets us know we belong to a community. We are not alone in our passion for this sport nor in our devotion to this particular team.
There is no substitute for sharing a live music performance with hundreds of other strangers who also love the music that you love. I guess that’s why people wait in long lines for hours to get tickets to concerts that sell out so quickly. It must be the shared experience which adds to the enjoyment of the music, to the enjoyment of the event. We experience it in community. We are not alone.
There is no substitute for that moment in live theater when the lights dim, the audience quiets, the curtain rises revealing the surprise of the always wonderful set and you and everyone around you settle in for the suspenseful delight of the story that is ready to unfold before your very eyes.
Likewise, there is no substitute for the wave of emotion felt as the final curtain falls while everyone in attendance rises to their feet in one accord applauding, as though some invisible force were at work among us all – connecting us in this shared experience of the drama (or comedy) in which we have just participated. To experience something so profound in community with others in the audience, makes the shared experience deeply memorable.
For me, there is no substitute for exercising at my gym. Anything on my own, virtually, is just not the same and I don’t stick with it. I loved going to my particular exercise class because of the people in that class. Working out with other people provides the accountability, incentive and inspiration I need, which virtual exercise is simply not able to supply. After all, it is only a substitute for the real thing. What did I expect?
There is simply no substitute for the people in my exercise class. I have written about them from time to time in past years, in previous posts, calling them the “Indomitables” because they are just that, indomitable in body, mind and most importantly in spirit. To be in their presence is to be encouraged to persevere in my own challenges. There is no substitute for my in-person gym community.
How have we been so easily persuaded to abandon the substance of our everyday lives for the shadow of what it once was? A shadow has no power to satisfy. A shadow is only a substitute for the real thing.
Tomorrow would be the annual Drumstick Dash, a run/walk to raise money for Wheeler Mission here in town. It will take place virtually, participants who register get a t-shirt. But tomorrow’s virtual “event” will be a shadowy, shallow substitute for the real thing. The real thing is approximately twenty thousand people of all ages, ethnicities, athletic abilities, walks of life etc. gathered together, filling the neighborhood streets, many in colorful costumes, (turkeys, pilgrims, Santas, elves, reindeer).
There are pets and there are strollers. For the walkers it is more of a parade than a race. It is definitely a party atmosphere, with all of us strangers coming together to support the work of caring for the homeless in our city. Bonded by more than just having the same color shirt, we are bonded together in this effort to make a difference in the lives of others. We are a part of something larger than ourselves and all we have to do is look around us as we walk to witness this truth. This is what community looks like, and on Thanksgiving morning I get to experience this. (well, in years past, not this year)
Substitution comes at a high price. Community and connection are sacrificed, replaced by loneliness and isolation. There is no substitute for a sense of belonging and the presence of a purpose which belonging brings. It is community events that allow us to plan and to participate, community events that connect us in myriad ways that strengthen our neighborhoods and ultimately our nation.
From county fairs to farmers markets to parades to public celebrations of various things, such as my city’s “tree lighting on the circle” or Times Square’s New Year’s Eve celebration or 9/11 remembrances – these all bind us together as Americans when we participate in these experiences common to us all.
When we are separated and isolated, we tend to forget all the ways we have belonged to each other and to this country throughout the years of our history. And when we forget, we are more likely to allow a substitute to stand in for the real thing. We forget just how good the real thing was.
Paul witnessed this very thing take place and he wrote about it in Romans 1:25 saying,
“They exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator – who is forever praised. Amen.”
They substituted a lie for the truth. A substitution with disastrous results. Romans 1:28-32 tells us what happened next.
“Furthermore, since they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, He gave them over to a depraved mind, to do what ought not to be done. They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice. They are gossips, slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful; they invent ways of doing evil; they disobey their parents; they are senseless, faithless, heartless, ruthless. Although they know God’s righteous decree that those who do such things deserve death, they not only continue to do these very things but also approve of those who practice them.”
Substituting lies for truth never ends well. America was a nation founded on God’s truth and when we abandon that foundation, we have nothing left to stand on. It is as if we have substituted a foundation of shifting sand for our former foundation of the rock of God as Creator/Sustainer of our universe.
We cannot build anything lasting upon the shifting sands of constantly changing lies masquerading as truth. Only the unchanging truth of God’s word is a rock sufficient to provide a firm, unchanging foundation upon which to build a faith or a nation.
There is no substitute for the real thing. The virtual cannot substitute for the in-person and deliver satisfying, life sustaining results. It is not possible. Lies cannot substitute for truth and sustain anything, a relationship, a family, a community or a country. Shifting sand is not a suitable nor a sufficient substitute for solid rock as a foundation for anything lasting.
Our country has been doing a lot of substituting lately. We have substituted the virtual for the in-person, lies for truth and we have abandoned the rock of faith upon which our nation was founded, in favor of the shifting sands of a post-truth era.
I don’t know about you, but I sink in the sand. I need a rock to stand on.
“The Lord is my rock, my fortress and my deliverer; my God is my rock, in whom I take refuge. He is my shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold.” (Psalm 18:2)
“My soul finds rest in God alone; my salvation comes from Him. He alone is my rock and my salvation; He is my fortress, I will never be shaken.” (Psalm 62:1-2)
I can find no substitute for God – there is none.
” . . . I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like Me. I make known the end from the beginning, from ancient times, what is still to come.” (Isaiah 46:9-10)
sincerely, Grace Day