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The Pill Dilemma

January 31, 2012

For optimum results, invest a couple of minutes watching this clip before reading:

Red pill or blue pill.  Everyone encounters the pill dilemma.  Not everyone chooses the same pill.

A greek word which might us understand pill dilemmas is the word kairos.  Kairos simply means time, but specifically it refers to a specific point in time, a moment.  Pill dilemmas are points in time when we’re given insight into something we could not see before.  Our eyes are opened to reality in a new way.

Pill dilemmas are momentary opportunities where we, like Neo in the clip above, have a choice to make in response to revealed truth.  God shows me something.  What do I do?

Do I swallow the red pill, and take it a step further?  Risky.

Do I swallow the blue pill, and bury my head back in the sand?  Feels safe, but is it?

Lets look at an example of a pill dilemma (outside of The Matrix) so we’re a little more clear about what I’m talking about:

So Paul, standing in the midst of the Areopagus, said: “Men of Athens, I perceive that in every way you are very religious.  For as I passed along and observed the objects of your worship, I found also an altar with this inscription, ‘To the unknown god.’  What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you.”

-Acts 17:22 (ESV)

Imagine being an Athenian.  You’re minding your own business haggling about Stoicism over an ice-cold cup of hemlock with your buddies, when this Jew stands up and begins to talk.  You tune in.  Blah blah blah, unknown god, yada yada, yep know where that altar is… you proclaim what??  The unknown god?  This is new.  You listen to this guys speech about a God who made the world, doesn’t live in temples, made the nations from one man, now he commands you to repent because he’s judging the world… something something, raised from the dead.

If this raised from the dead stuff is indeed true, that’s one heck of a pill dilemma.  You pop the wrong pill you’re screwed.  Keep on truckin’ and hope this guy isn’t right (blue), or believe this guy and ditch all your old beliefs and follow this unknown god (red).  If what Paul said resonates as true inside of you, you’re at a crossroads, you’ve got a pill dilemma.  If not, then continue on your merry way.  No pills necessary.

Hans Christian Anderson tells the story of a powerful emperor who was quite invested in himself.  A couple of clothes-makers promise, for a price, to make him a set of clothes out of material that those who are lowly, incompetent or unworthy of his majesty are unable to see.  They “weave” a pretend garment, let the emperor “try it on” while flattering him and convincing him that it looks marvelous on him.  The emperor is so delighted to have this set of wonderful clothes that he tries them on and parades through the streets.  Everyone is impressed with his clothes.  They tell him how wonderful he looks.  NO ONE has the spine to say otherwise, except a small child who says, “but he isn’t wearing any clothes at all.”  Gasp!!

Here is the emperor’s dilemma:

Red pill: This child is right, I’m a fool, I’ve been duped.  Humiliation.  Weakness.

Blue pill: If people realize this child is right I won’t be taken seriously.  He’s obviously an idiot and can’t see my beautiful clothes.  I’ll be humiliated.  Off with his head!

This is the thing about pill dilemmas.  They’re only really there when you recognize them.  If you don’t come to a point where you recognize the truth of something, when you still think you’re wearing clothes, you’re not there yet.

Galileo said the sun didn’t revolve around the earth.  People began to wonder whether he was right or not.  Some swallowed the red pill and jumped aboard the crazy train, while others (the Pope at that time being the most notable figure) denied his claims and tried to derail the crazy train.  Today, we’re pretty sure Galileo was right.  Still, did the Pope attack Galileo based on fear of losing control, or did he honestly believe he was wrong and a nuisance to society?

By the way, if you’re red/blue color blind, you’re missing all the fun.

The Blue Pill

In short, the blue pill says: It’s just a bad dream.  Continue on your current course.  Believe what you’ve been told in the past.  You’re confused right now, don’t worry about this too much and it will go away.  Forget.

Like the example of Galileo above, you’re given an option to believe one of two things.  The blue pill always disregards or downplays the new information in hopes that it will pass.  Like I said near the beginning, pill dilemmas are momentary in nature.  There’s a space of time that you have to make your choice.  Some time-spans last longer than others, but we still get this window to make a choice.  If we don’t make a choice we’re really swallowing the blue pill.  Sorry, there are no purple pills.  We can’t just mash them up and toss them into a cocktail to cover all our bases.

The good news is that many of these decisions will come around again.  Sometimes that realization is as simple as, I need to ask so and so for forgiveness.  You may have an opportunity and miss it.  Suppress it if you will, but it will probably stick with you.  If you want more on this idea, read about your yarn-trail.  Many times these things come back around.  You come to the realization that you need to stand up for yourself.  It’s easier to let people walk on us sometimes, so we cave.  Chances are you’ll get the opportunity to deal with this dilemma again.  For many of us, learning to pop the red pill is a process.

An example from my life: I graduated from college a few years back.  At the school we have an honor code.  Anyone who breaks this honor code during their 4 year stay will have their class ring taken from them, as well as being kicked out of school.  The idea behind it being, if you’re not honorable you don’t belong here and we don’t want you representing this place.  I like that.  In such a crazy world, it’s wonderful to know there are still some ‘honorable’ people.  The problem is that adhering to an honor code for four years doesn’t make anyone honorable.  It proves they can keep rules, or not get caught, but it doesn’t guarantee honorable graduates.  When I was a senior I was the equivalent to a cadet chaplain.  I got ahold of the chapel pulpit one Sunday morning.  My sermon spoke to some of the holes in the honor code and denounced the thought that it guaranteed honorable graduates.  There was one distinguished alumni in the audience that morning, a real champion for the school.  He couldn’t swallow it, didn’t want to.  I’m not going to say I was right and he was wrong, you had to have been there, but he wasn’t going to have any of what I dished out.  The more you’ve bought something as true the more difficult it is to change your mind about it.  Usually it takes something drastic.

Here’s the problem with the blue pill.  Much of the time it’s swallowing a lie or choosing to ignore what you know is true.  It’s choosing not to investigate something, and fear is generally at the root of it.  What if what I find out makes me uncomfortable?  When it comes to behavior, people subconsciously come to a pill dilemma when their behavior is questioned.  Many times you can see the blue pill manifest in things like defensiveness, changing the subject, playing dumb, and ignoring questions.  While that can be dangerous, I don’t believe in making a rule of always calling people out in black and white terms.  People need to choose to swallow the red pill.  Debates often solve little or nothing because most of the time we’re trying to force-feed each other red pills while washing it down with a full glass of I told you so.

Note of caution: While it would be nice to follow every little bunny trail of questions that surfaces in our lives, to actually do that could potentially drive you mad, especially when we see realize that some issues just become more and more complex.  I’m not trying to pitch these ideas the realm of ‘quantum physics’ or what ‘sound one hand clapping’ makes.  This is supposed to be a bit more practical.

The Red Pill

The essence of swallowing the red pill is: All about Carpe Diem.  Acknowledging what we see right now.  Discovering truth.  Admitting there’s a problem.  Taking steps to deal with it.

“But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him.  God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.”  The woman said to him, “I know that Messiah is coming (he who is called Christ).  When he comes, he will tell us all things.”  Jesus said to her, “I who speak to you am he.”

-John 4:23-26 (ESV)

I’m not going to attempt to break down this passage.  But Jesus addresses two things in regards to worship when taking to the Samaritan woman at the well, but I’m going to focus on the latter.  Worship must be done in spirit and in truth.

  1. Worship in spirit is Jesus’ response to the woman’s understanding of “how” worship must be done.  “God is spirit,” he’s not held up in a building somewhere on a mountain.  Worship can be done wherever you are.
  2. Worship in truth is Jesus’ response to the woman’s understanding of “what” she knows about God.  Jesus shows her something, he opens her eyes to his deity.  Before she met Jesus, God fell into a certain paradigm.  Jesus shifts that paradigm by revealing himself as the savior to her.

Jesus, like Morpheus in the Matrix clip, is holding out his hands with two pills.  Believe he is the Messiah and worship Jesus outside of their worship sites, right there in her Samaritan town, or continue on as if nothing has happened.  The woman eats the red pill without hesitation… if you know the story, what did she have to lose?  She was an outcast already, getting water at a well outside of town in the heat of the day.  The point is she recognized truth and acted on it.  She may have had another chance, but then again he might not stop at her well ever again.  Carpe Diem!

If the blue pill is often swallowing a placebo to ease your troubled mind, swallowing the red pill is popping a no-doze.  The red pill is scary, and while sometimes it’s best not to ask too many questions—like when you step into an alley and see your neighbor Vinnie ‘The Hammer’ hugging some guy’s neck with his bare hands… sometimes it’s better just to throw back a blue pill and pretend he’s just an ‘affectionate’ guy.

I was in choir in high school.  One year I had the opportunity to perform at Disneyland.  It’s an amazing place.  Everything there is pristine.  They call it “the most magical place on earth” for a reason.  When you perform, they take you ‘backstage.’  Let me tell you, when you’re walking through tunnels behind the sets in Disneyland, the place loses some of its magic.  You can’t look at it quite the same way again next time you’re in the park.  Has anyone ever revealed a magic trick to you?  Once they do, it’s all over.  Swallowing the red pill is essentially pointing out the smoke and mirrors in that magic trick.  It’s pointing out the smoke and mirrors in life.

The chief fear in taking the red pill is change.  For those Athenians listening to Paul in the Areopagus who decided to swallow the red pill that day, this would change everything.  The culture of Athens was hyper-religious.  To be exclusive and serve one god only, would almost certainly mean losing friends, business opportunities, and even your way of life.  Once you swallow that pill, once you decide to pull your head out of the sand, everything changes.  You will most certainly become the next Benedict Arnold.  It’s risky, but is it worth it?  No one can decide for you.

Swallowing the red pill can look like a bunch of different things.  It could mean shutting up for the first time and realizing you don’t always have to be right.  For someone else, it could be speaking up when you know something’s wrong.  It could be admitting you’re in an abusive relationship and getting out.  It could be admitting you have an addiction and seeking help.  It could mean that you stop making excuses for laziness and making a change.  You see, the red pill is what makes good cinema.  Characters that never change, that don’t learn a lesson or mature, are both frustrating and boring to watch.  When an event happens, a kairos moment, do you go for another trip around the merry-go-round, or do you hop off?  Will you get another shot at it?

Count the Cost:

“For which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it? Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him, saying, ‘This man began to build and was not able to finish.’ Or what king, going out to encounter another king in war, will not sit down first and deliberate whether he is able with ten thousand to meet him who comes against him with twenty thousand? And if not, while the other is yet a great way off, he sends a delegation and asks for terms of peace.”

Luke 14:28-32 (ESV), emphasis mine

Maybe this is why Jesus’ words are usually printed in red.  He generally pushes the envelope, making you question that which you’ve easily been able to swallow in the past.  The pill dilemma boils down to the cost.  Cost is only a factor when you recognize truth.

As Jesus said, if you don’t have the means to complete a building, why sink the money into it?  Is it worth the debt?  Is it worth the time?  Is it worth the effort?  Is it better not to build?

As Jesus also said, sending 20 thousand men at 30 thousand men is fine if you believe you can beat them.  You might not think you can win, but is losing a battle worth it?

Patrick Henry’s famous words, “Give me liberty of give me death.”  He was willing to lose his life rather than live under the rule of a British monarch.  Obviously he understood it would cost him if the revolution wasn’t successful, and he swallowed the red pill.  Dying was still winning to him.  Living under the British monarch was losing to him.  To others, living under the monarch was no problem.  It’s this dilemma which has sent countries to war over and over again.

There was a time when hospitals didn’t sanitize anything.  Once they realized what germs were they had a choice to make.  How can you as a doctor continue to use dirty knives to hack up your patients if you know they might get sick from it?  What about HIV/AIDs?  When you discover you’ve got aids, do you make a change or do you spread them?  Not everyone swallows the red pill in that circumstance.  Some people will continue on their current path and infect others.  It doesn’t just cost you anymore, now it costs someone else.

If what I see now is true, what does it cost me to be true to it?

If what I see now is true, what does it cost me to ignore it?

Once truth is revealed to us, a price is automatically there and we will pay it.

Not all costs are created equal.

You’re sitting at a table, a fresh pastry before you.

Red pill: Don’t eat pastry.  It’s not healthy for me.

Cost: A delicious flavor in my mouth.

Blue pill: Eat pastry.  It’s so good!

Cost: Breaking my diet.

Ok, so you can see the dilemma even spreads to food.  Deciding whether or not to eat cake isn’t that pivotal of a decision in your life.  For someone allergic to peanuts, deciding whether or not to eat a peanut butter and jelly sandwich has a much higher cost attached to it than eating cake.  It’s illegal to text and drive in California.  How important is the message I’m sending.  The price you pay for that text might not cost you anything, then again it could cost you your life as well as the lives of others.  Some things you probably shouldn’t beat yourself up about, while others will land you a prison sentence.

You will see the pill dilemma in every corner of human life.  Because this dilemma is everywhere, I’m going to stop writing due to a surplus of material.

Remember, there is no purple pill.  Red or blue.  Take 1 with a full glass of water.

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