I’ve never really been one to go on spontaneous road trips. But a couple of weeks ago in anticipation of the long Labor Day weekend, a few friends and I piled into a car and drove from Colorado Springs to the Grand Canyon and Las Vegas. None of us had ever been out in that part of the country, and I don’t think we really thought through what it’d be like to spend 30 hours of our weekend together in the car.
We drove through the night Friday and arrived at the Grand Canyon just in time to see a beautiful sunrise over the canyon. It was one of those experiences no picture could ever capture. From there, we drove to the Hoover Dam, an impressive chunk of concrete. Then, finally, we arrived in Las Vegas and headed straight to our hotel for much-needed rest before heading out to explore the city later on that evening.
In Vegas, we saw a lot of the things people told us we must. We walked through the Venetian, saw the Bellagio water fountains dance to Sinatra’s “Fly Me To The Moon,” watched Blue Man Group, and even walked through several rooms filled with slots and gaming tables.
As I think back to all we saw, a few things seem to drive everything in Las Vegas. Everything is designed to get people to spend lots of money. From the slots and shows to the buffets, everything entertains. There is no true altruism in Vegas. Even the free stuff is designed to get people to spend, spend, spend.
The whole experience reminded me of a scene from one of my favorite books, John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress. It’s a classic work, and in it Bunyan tells the allegorical tale of his protagonist Christian and his difficult journey from the City of Destruction to the Celestial City. It’s a great story, but the real value is in the wisdom weaved throughout, showing readers what it really means to follow Christ.
In one scene, Christian and his companion, Faithful, find themselves in a town called Vanity, where there is a great fair, called Vanity Fair. Here’s the description:
At this fair are sold such merchandise as houses, lands, businesses, places, honors, promotions, titles, countries, kingdoms, desires, pleasures, and delights of all sorts, such as prostitutes, wives, husbands, children, masters, servants, lives, blood, bodies, souls, silver, gold, pearls, precious stones, and so forth.
Besides this, to be seen at all times at this fair are all kinds of jugglings, cheats, games, plays, fools, apes, rascals and mischief makers.
Bunyan wrote these words almost 400 years ago, but you’d think he’d visited Vegas. Christian and Faithful arrive in Vanity Fair and almost immediately the two travelers stand out from the rest of the fair. When the merchants call out to them, they put their fingers in their ears and look up, “signifying that their trade and traffic was in heaven.” The men were then beaten and imprisoned for their resistance to the fair and eventually Faithful was martyred.
Bunyan’s allegory offers solid counsel about Las Vegas and our contemporary culture. Ours is a culture much like Vanity Fair. Everything is for sale. Everything is meant to entertain.
And on this point, Bunyan offers readers choice wisdom. The two travelers in the story don’t get wrapped up in the stuff of the fair because their hearts are set on heaven. Their hearts were set on the Celestial City, and they strived to keep their focus on that ultimate goal. They saw the fair as a distraction from their true purpose.
I’ll admit I didn’t plug my ears and look to heaven the whole time I was in Vegas (although, there were times I plugged my eyes). I enjoyed a show, ate some good food and saw some impressive amusements. The lesson I glean from Pilgrim’s Progress is that while I live in Vanity Fair, I’ll need to set a governor on the entertainment I consume. The merchants will call, and I must be prepared to answer in light of my ultimate destination.
While we might each choose a different limit or boundary for ourselves, one thing is clear, Christ’s followers should regularly think of themselves as pilgrims on a journey from this world to the next. There will be moments when, like Christian and Faithful, we abstain and refocus our pilgrim hearts on making our way to heaven. But there will also be times when it will be good to rest and play. Seeking balance is the key.
I wake up in Vanity Fair every morning. In fact, we all do. I know I need to be intentional about resolving in my heart how much of the fair I’ll embrace and stick to my convictions. In a culture that increasingly resembles Vanity Fair, my quick trip to Vegas reminded me those on a journey to the Celestial City may have to look up at times and remember their trade and traffic is in heaven.