As a teenager, I remembered driving down the road and pulling up to a red light next to what appeared to be a beautiful Lamborghini Countach. It was bright red with chrome rims. The dude inside looked like Magnum P.I. (which, at the time was still cool). As I sat next to him at the red light in my 1970 Buick Wildcat, I almost couldn’t wait to see him take off from the line when the light went green.
Well, it went green. He pressed the gas. And the unmistakable sound of a Volkswagen Beetle engine whimpered from his tailpipes. Turns out, it wasn’t a real Lamborghini. It was a kit car. It looked like one thing on the outside, but was something else underneath. Anyway, being the teenager that I was, I put my pedal to the floor and let the 455 cu. in. motor in my beat-up old brown Buick leave him sputtering in my rear view mirror.
All my life I’ve heard this mantra: “Perception is reality.” I’ve heard it from professors, from employers, and from speakers at church conferences. And I get it. What people “see” is what they “believe.”
But I think we make a pretty significant mistake when we cater to this mindset. To change who we are and what we do so that others don’t “perceive” something the wrong way, we have actually done them no justice. We’ve changed reality for their perception. We haven’t revealed reality to them. I know this statement takes some unpacking to understand, but bear with me.
In Barefoot Church, Brandon Hatmaker writes:
Our perception is our reality. You’ve probably heard that before. However, our perceived reality is not always the truth. We perceive through the lens of biasness, woundedness, insecurity, selfishness, and an inflated opinion of ourselves.
Perception is NOT reality. Truth is reality. Perception is skewed by our experiences, our expectations, our personalities, and our prejudices. To cater to this mindset does not offer a way for people to overcome it. It only reinforces it.
We need to be speakers of TRUTH, not people who simply perpetuate PERCEPTION. If someone has a misinformed opinion about someone/something, we need to correct that perception – NOT ask that someone/something to change how they are perceived. We need to squash misconceptions, untrue rumors, and outright lies when we hear them. Truth is the answer. Not a distorted reality. I love what Alfred says to Bruce Wayne in “The Dark Knight Rises” about a perpetuated lie that started with good intentions:
“Maybe it’s time we all stop trying to outsmart the truth and let it have its day.” (Alfred, “The Dark Knight Rises).
Perception is not reality. Truth is. It may be hidden, manipulated, even twisted as we try to justify our actions or paint ourselves or others in a more favorable light. But in the end, truth cannot be outsmarted. Truth eventually erupts free from our grasp.
Concerning the church, I know this gets complicated. We live in a world that increasingly perceives Christians as unloving and the church as irrelevant. It’s our temptation to try to change people’s perceptions. We try to do relevant, contemporary, and edgy things. We try to engage the community. But we need to acknowledge reality first. We have to admit our own irrelevancy and our lack of love. We have to deal with the reality, not merely try to change others’ perceptions of it. People cannot be duped. They are smart, and they can see through a charade.
If we want people to perceive us as the body of Christ, then we need to be that. You can only tear down people’s misconceptions by BEING exactly what they do not expect. Make their perceptions change by truly being what we are called to be – a community that loves people and does whatever it can to serve a hurting world.
Perceived reality, as real as it may seem, is not real. Not every Lamborghini at the red light is a real Lamborghini. Consider this Lamborghini metaphor in regards to the body of Christ: When the world sees us at that red light, and the light changes, then they’d better hear the roar of a V12 motor erupting to life.
We need to be champions of truth by living out the love of Christ. Then – and only then – will one’s perceptions truly change.