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Keep it real!

To help students reflect on and discern what is authentic in our society today.

by Paul Hess

Suitable for Key Stage 4/5


To help students reflect on and discern what is authentic in our society today.

Preparation and materials

  • If time and technology permits you may wish to show the relevant scene from the film The Matrix where Neo is confronted with a choice between the red and blue pills (24:40–28:36 minutes).
  • Or you may wish to display the relevant image (
  • There are many songs on the theme of what is ‘real’ that you might like to include. Some suggestions are: ‘Ain’t Nothing Like The Real Thing’, Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell; ‘You Make Me Feel Mighty Real’, Sylvester; ‘Real Love’, The Beatles.
  • Bible reading: Luke 5.1–11.


  1. The red pill or the blue pill? 

    The question represents the defining moment in the film The Matrix when Morpheus presents a challenge to the potential saviour of the world, Neo. Take the blue pill and continue undisturbed in a life of familiar comforts, your perceptions of the world untouched; or take the red pill and confront reality and face the fact that what previously has been your world is constructed upon illusion and deception. Naturally, there is only one course for a true hero to choose …
  2. Some people see The Matrix as being based on the thought of the philosopher Plato. Plato said that this world is largely an illusion, that here on earth we see mere shadows of reality. Real truth is to be found in another world beyond this one, the World of Forms.

    The Matrix and the philosophy of Plato are expressions of the eternal human quest to discover what is truly authentic and real. It is a quest born out of the impermanence and falsehood of the world. The quest for the real has entered popular cultural expression, especially among young people – get real, keep it real, is he for real? Many love songs express the yearning for real love.
  3. This quest takes on particular relevance in the modern world of the sleek veneer, the world of the glossy magazine and multi-media advertising. This is a world in which we are often defined by external things – what we look like, our possessions, by the labels we wear and by the image we project. Today western society appears to be characterized by the triumph of appearance over authenticity. 

    It is a world in which some celebrities seem to be famous simply for being famous, a world in which footballers and singers are likely to be as admired for their facial features as for the talents. It is a world where we don’t so much have lives as lifestyles, accessorized by the latest cutting-edge car or iPod or other gadget. 
  4. In a world based on possessions and appearance, even relationships can become a commodity. What passes for love can often become just another transaction: I love you because you are good-looking, or clever or cool. (Whereas true love simply says I love you – full stop.)
  5. In a world of such superficiality, it is little wonder that we yearn for what is real. The desire for the real is at the heart of the human condition. It is the driving force of many areas of human endeavour – philosophy, psychology, art: all of them have at their core the desire to express the real. In every generation young people have expressed their disappointment and indeed anger at the superficiality of the adult generation and looked for new ways to find meaning and to find what is real.
  6. Yet for all its wealth and achievements, for all our searching, western society is pervaded by despair precisely because the real appears to be beyond our grasp; it has proved enduringly elusive.

    Some of us try to distract ourselves – we take the blue pill. We take the blue pill of temporary happiness: we throw ourselves into thrill-seeking or shopping or computer games or drinking and partying or simply mundane routine. Yet even then it is hard to escape the feeling that we need something more permanent, more satisfying.
  7. At the same time, there are some things that certainly do seem real – tears, laughter, a friend’s embrace, a lover’s touch, an act of compassion, a display of courage, the word of comfort, the bond of family, the joy of friendship – surely these are real? 
  8. All of these things point to the truth at the very heart of the Christian gospel: LOVE is real. We find reality within relationships of love and service with other people and within a relationship with God. It is when we go beyond our own selfish preoccupations, when we give ourselves to the service of others, when we open ourselves to God’s love, that we discover what is real.

Time for reflection

Read Luke 5.1–11.

The disciples know that the way of following Jesus will be difficult and costly – but, like the red pill, it is the way of truth. They see something in Jesus that convinces them that they have found the real thing.

Lord, in a world where so much is fake,
amid all the things that promise us so much but fail to deliver,
help us to hear your call to walk the way of the cross,
to give our lives in the service of others – and to be real.

Publication date: September 2009   (Vol.11 No.9)    Published by SPCK, London, UK.
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