When I was in Scotland in 2015 I went to the schemes in Edinburgh. Schemes are the Scottish version of American slums; they are what we might refer to as “the hood.” I was caught off guard when I entered into the home of my friend who was a resident of the scheme only to find a very well-decorated and up-to-date home. The floors were nice, the walls were painted well, and everything looked pretty much new. I asked my friend why everything looked so nice if everybody who lived there was actually so poor… He explained to me the Scottish government believes part of helping those impoverished is to change their externals, so that their self-esteem levels rise, and they will want to match on the inside the appearance of what is seen on the outside. There is a huge problem with this way of thinking in that while the homes are nice, the parks are functioning properly, and what can be seen by the naked eye appears quite middle-class, what goes on within the homes of those living in the schemes doesn’t match. The people living there are still impoverished, some are still alcoholics or drug dealers, homes are still broken even though they look well put together. My perception was not reality.
Yesterday it snowed a foot at my house so I had some time to watch “Fyre” on Netflix. “Fyre” is a documentary chronicling the failed “Fyre Fest,” publicized by Ja Rule and run by his business partner, Billy Mcfarland. This documentary is a fascinating lesson we all need to teach ourselves if we are going to live life wisely– what we perceive is not always real. Ever since the first humans sinned human beings are still created “In the Image of God,” however, that image is now distorted. This distortion has also caused humans to be naturally bent-inward on ourselves from our birth onward until we receive the grace of God in our lives and trust in the Gospel to save us. When this happens we begin the process of being molded back into the way we were supposed to be before the fall of humanity (this is called Sanctification). Since this is the case, we need not be surprised by the Billy Mcfarland’s of our world or the Fyre Fest’s of our world, because naturally we are all a little bit like Billy Mcfarland and we all have our own Fyre Fest’s in certain ways. Let me explain what I mean…
If you know nothing about Fyre Fest then you have missed out on one of the most interesting examples of the deception humans are capable of. Billy Mcfarland, along with Ja Rule announced to the world they were going to host a HUGE music festival and party on a private beach in the Bahamas. They paid top dollar to host social media icons and supermodels Bella Hadid and Hailey Baldwin, and others, just so these young women who they called Influencers could be seen drinking and having a good time on this beach with Billy’s squad. They paid the young women so they would make social media posts with vague hashtags asking people to join them at #Fyrefest. The Netflix documentary even suggested Billy paid $250,000 to Kendall Jenner just to make one post about Fyre!
Upper middle-class millennials saw what Ja Rule and Billy were doing and they wanted to be there. They were promised they would have furnished villas for 3 days. They were promised socializing with big name social media stars. They were promised exclusive dining options and unlimited alcohol. They were promised rides on yachts, and jet skis, and sunbathing, and on and on and on. There was supposed to be a gigantic music festival with Blink 182 and Major Lazer. And here’s the thing, these upper middle-class millennials bought the whole thing! They paid top dollar to be included in what they perceived to be a life-changing weekend where they could make new friends and be with the most “in” crowd on the planet. All they had ever dreamed of would come true on a private beach in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean and their perception was that Billy, and Ja, and Fyre was legit.
Their perception was NOT reality. When the people arrived at Fyre Fest absolutely nothing matched the advertising. They were supposed to fly into the island on private jets, but that didn’t happen. Everything was supposed to be taken care of for them, but literally they ended up retrieving all of their belongings in the middle of the night from the back of an 18-wheeler. They were supposed to be staying in villas, but instead they were staying in tents with wet mattresses. They were supposed to see Blink 182, but Blink 182 dropped out of the festival. The image from Fyre Fest which proved perception was NOT reality more than any other is the image of the cheese sandwich. The festival goers were promised some of the best catering in the world, but a young man tweeted an image of what they really received for dinner: literally two pieces of bread, 2 pieces of cheese, a side salad and a tomato. The perception of Fyre Fest from the public’s point of view was an amazing getaway on a private island in the Bahamas formerly owned by Pablo Escobar, full of Instagram’s hottest women, unlimited booze, incredible food, and some of the music industry’s biggest names. The reality was a cheese sandwich, a wet bed, no infrastructure, not even a private island, lots of angry people who paid $10,000 for 0 fun and then paid a few hundred dollars to get the heck off the island and go back to Miami. What an absolute disaster!
In the aftermath of Fyre Fest Billy was convicted of fraud and sent to jail, Ja Rule was sued for a few million dollars, other employees of Fyre were tricked out of their own money and then smacked with the news they were laid off, investors were defrauded of $27 million, thousands of upper-middle-class millennials were struggling after being tricked out of thousands of dollars apiece, and they each learned a hard (but valuable) lesson that often times perception is NOT reality. Billy Mcfarland appeared to be a successful and trustworthy businessman, but in reality he’s a con man. Fyre Fest appeared to be the answer to all these kids dreams, yet the reality is it was the cause of all their nightmares. It all looked like sunny beaches and clear skies, but Fyre Fest proved to a generation of those paying attention that what looks so beautiful can actually be downright nasty and despicable.
The thing about Billy Mcfarland is that we are all somewhat like him, and the thing about Fyre Fest is we all have a Fyre Fest of our own. By all accounts, Billy is a liar, a cheater, a swindler, he listens to little to no advice, and he is now paying for it. But if we all are honest with ourselves we find many ways these same characteristics show up within ourselves. We all want people to believe we are something we aren’t and we can provide them with something we can’t actually give. This is why we make ourselves look better at things than we really are, this is why we talk about ourselves, this is why we try to build and sell a facade to people just like Billy tried to build and sell Fyre Fest. If this isn’t the case then how do we explain social media? How do we explain the stories we share with people about ourselves? We naturally want to paint a picture for people which makes us look good, makes us look prosperous, makes us look important and beautiful even if those things aren’t actually true about us. In a day and age run by Instagram and Snapchat isn’t it becoming a bit more difficult to deny we all are a little bit like Billy Mcfarland and there’s a small part in each of us that desires what Billy desired?
Here’s the thing though, not only are we all a bit like Billy, but we also all have our own Fyre Fest. Fyre Fest was the nasty reality that didn’t fit everyone else’s perception, and Fyre Fest got absolutely exposed to the shame of Billy and the facade he built. Even though we all build stories painting one reality we all also have a nasty truth deep down that will inevitably be discovered, and when that is discovered whoever is the discoverer,whether it be one person or a group of people, whether it be someone close to your or who you hardly know at all, whatever the case they will have exposed you and you will be de-frauded. You see, often times, truth is NOT reality. So what are we to do with this truth?
There are two things that would be wise to do in the wake of admitting the truth that perception is NOT always reality. The first is for each of us to own it. If we all are like Billy and we all build our own Fyre Fests in our own unique ways then the best way to deal with it is to admit it. Admit that you are a sinful person and that you are too inward focused, and that is what causes you to care so much about what others think of you. Admit that you are obsessed with yourself and your public perception. Secondly, give your people pleasing, your image building, and your self-centeredness over to Jesus. Hand it all over to Jesus and Jesus will deal with it all. Jesus will give you grace and will forgive you for your sins and He will begin to teach you a better way than your former Billy Mcfarland way, and He will change you from the inside out. You and I will never be completely free from being a bit Billy Mcfarlandish, but we will grow by God’s grace through faith in Jesus to learn to make much of Jesus and glorify Him rather than the sinful way of making much about ourselves and trying to glorify ourselves. Apart from God’s grace the truth is we are kind of stuck in the Billy Mcfarland and Fyre Fest way, because we are stuck on ourselves, and the only way out is God’s grace which gives us a new and better and perfect way– Jesus said “I am the way, and the truth, and the Life.” And anyone can ditch the old way and go Jesus’ way, even Billy Mcfarland could!
The final thing I will say on this subject is that we would all be helped to walk into our current age realizing that what we perceive with our senses is not always reality, and this will help us live wisely. What you see as a whale far off in the ocean could actually just be an odd looking boat. What you hear as a duck by a pond could actually be a hunter with a duck call. What you feel as being a disgusting toxic substance could actually just be harmless jell-o, and you get the point… What you perceive to be true could be completely misleading. Your senses can only tell you so much and you need to find the truth behind your senses, so that you aren’t only perceiving, but you are actually seeking, finding, and knowing the truth about what your senses perceive. This means you have to go through life constantly examining the evidence so you can know the truth behind your perception. After all, it was the wise Socrates who said helpfully, “The unexamined life is not worth living.” We would all do well to not just believe the evidence in front of our eyes, but actually examine the evidence to see if it is valid, to actively think, find, and receive the truth. When we do this we will begin to look at people and what they have to offer for who and what they truly are. We will discover that some of the prettiest people are actually some of the ugliest, some of the richest are actually quite poor, some of the mean are actually relatively sweet people, and then we will be able to accept offers not only based on our perceptions (sometimes illusions), but for what they actually are. If we do this then we will be less fooled by the Billy Mcfarland’s and the Fyre Fest’s, because perception is NOT always reality.