Archives For Consumerism

What is happiness? It’s just that moment before you need more happiness.” -Don Draper

Mad Men and Bad Men

So I’d like to end this blog series on Mad Men with what was arguably the best scene from the whole show. It’s from the end of the first season where Don Draper is giving a pitch to Kodak to sell their new product, a slide projector called “The Wheel” Here’s what Don tells them:

[There is} a deeper bond with the product [than just technology]: nostalgia. It’s delicate, but potent..In Greek nostalgia literally means ‘the pain from an old wound. It’s a twinge in your heart, far more powerful than memory alone.

This device isn’t a space ship. It’s a time machine. It goes backwards, forwards. Takes us to a place where we ache to go again. It’s not called ‘The Wheel.’ It’s called ‘The Carousel.’

It lets us travel the way a child travels. Around and around and back home again to a place where we know we are loved.

I think this scene is so powerful because it pulls back the curtain on how much psychology is in the 3,000+ advertisements we see each day. These are very talented story-tellers who are trying to tap into our most primitive desires and are doing it well.

The Divine Image

Last week, I read a fascinating article from NPR about the history of the advertisement industry. Among many things, the article repeated the truth that “Advertisements aren’t about the product, they are about the myths and generalizations you can attach to the product”

Which is just a fancy way of saying what we know of as “The brand”

I know this may sound overstated, but it’s true, the most religious people in a secular society aren’t the crazy fundamentalists. They are the Mad Men, the religious priests of our world.  And they are hiding in more than plain sight. We wear shoes with the wildly successful brand-name of the Roman god for Victory. We call women in lingerie “angels” and people who buy Apple computers the “Church of Mac” Why do we do this?

There’s an ad executive named Douglas Atkin who pointed out that a transformation has taken place in what’s expected of the typical marketing firm these days. They’re no longer just responsible for design, packaging, and promotion. These days, marketing agencies are expected “to create and maintain a whole meaning-system for people through which they get identity and an understanding of the world.”

They are asked to create a religion system around something like Sprite or Skittles.

So Atkin decided to do his job not by researching Skittles or Sprite, he started by researching cults (obviously) He went around asking “What makes people believe this stuff? He wanted to know what inspired “loyalty beyond reason” in people.Brand New Religion

He knew that people join brands for the same reasons they join cults and religions: to belong and to make meaning. They stopped just being customers and now identified themselves as disciples, as “members of the tribe,” The ads aren’t trying to give you information about their products; their trying to tell stories—imagine worlds that matter and invite us to see ourselves within them. The goal of such marketing, this (very secular) documentary concludes, is:

“to fill the empty places where non-commercial institutions like schools and churches might have once done the job…[it is] an invitation to a longed-for lifestyle.”

The Good Eye

In His most famous sermon, Jesus tells his disciples that their eye is the lamp of the body, and if their eyes are healthy their life will be good, if they are unhealthy their life will be filled with great darkness.

I know that sounds awkward, but Jesus is tapping into an ancient metaphor called “The Good Eye” that had to do with envy and greed and how we see life, or more directly what we choose to see in life. Jesus is making a point that we must pay attention to what we choose to pay attention to.

Jesus has this crazy idea that what we see is also affected by how you saw it. Jesus has this idea (that was common to His day) that the eye was thought to be directly linked to the heart, to feelings, and to the will.

He has this idea that the good life flows from having a good eye. I believe today our problem isn’t that we don’t believe Jesus, the problem is that the wrong people know Jesus was right and use it in all the wrong ways.

In his book “Desiring the Kingdom” the philosopher James K.A. Smith points out how this works:

Consider a Saturn car commercial, voiced-over by a slightly twangy, down-home voice (like those Motel 6 commercials), inviting Saturn owners to the factory in Tennessee for a gathering akin to an old-time revival or “camp meeting.” Why? What brings them together? Why would owning the same kind of car be a reason to gather with people I’ve never met before? I don’t see Ford Escort drivers doing the same. The difference is that Saturn has invested the product with a sense of transcendence: Saturns aren’t just cars; they are also nostalgic connections to an older, communal way of life. The result? Forty-five thousand people attended the festival. Or consider the simple example of an advertisement for paper plates: It features brief glimpses of bright, cheery hostesses and hosts, surrounded by family, friends, and lots of good food, holding up paper plates on which various words are elegantly written. Against a charming soundtrack, a voice asks (with just that tinge of accusation we’ve noted): “What are you saying with your paper plates?” Because our hosts have chosen strong, durable, Chinet paper plates, theirs boldly proclaim, “Friends,” “Tradition,” “Confidence,” “You’re Special.” The paper plates are charged with values, suffused with meaning. So what does that mean you’re saying with your cheap, flimsy Dixie plates? Who would have guessed that disposable cutlery and dishware could say so much?

These days it’s popular to say that Post-modern people don’t believe in Meta-narratives (or large stories), but every ad tells a story, every sales pitch is an invitation to a new religion. And just about every one will gladly take your soul, as long as they get your credit card too.

I believe Louis C.K. is prophetically right when he says about the age of consumerism “We live in a world where everything is amazing and no one is happy.” We have more than we need, and we’re more lonely than ever.

There’s a reason Jesus goes directly from talking about “the Good Eye” to talking about being generous with our possessions. Contrary to popular belief or cable television, it’s not because Jesus cares about your money, it’s because he wants you to be able to see the world well.

He wants you to have clear eyes to see that the story that we really belong to is a story about a God who made everything, needs nothing and loves absolutely. It’s that God that our hearts, like Don Draper’s, is restless for. That is the story that every other story is really just a parody of.

It’s why your heart swells when Don gives his car keys to that kid at the end of the episode in a way it didn’t when he’s trying to sell you cereal. Because God can’t be bought, but He is constantly being given away.

Or in the final words of Bert Cooper, “The Best Things In Life Are Free.

“What you call ‘love’ was invented by guys like me. To sell Nylons.” – Don Draper

“I messed everything up. I broke all my vows, I scandalized my children. I took another man’s name and I didn’t make good on it.” -Don Draper

Mad Men and Bad Men

Spoiler alert: If you haven’t watched the final episode of Mad Men yet, stop reading now.

This 7 season show ended finally this past Sunday with an entirely different ending than I had expected. I was fairly certain that Don Draper was going to commit suicide, after all the show had been warning us of this from the very first opening credits.

But Don Draper didn’t commit suicide, he just created a new ad.

The Real Thing

I’ve read other people’s take on Draper’s enlightenment, many of them saw the finale with a smiling hippy Don as a happy ending. And I sincerely wish they were right, I’d love nothing more than for Don Draper to have gotten out of his vicious cycle and gone on to star in Scooby Doo.

But I think Mad Men was much too intent on being historically honest to end it with a Happily Ever After.

It’s important to remember that Matthew Weiner was trying to do something with this show, something that needed to be done. He was trying to do something that couldn’t be done in a sermon, but had to be done in a story.

Here’s an interview from Weiner about the way he was going to wrap up Mad Men:

Whatever happens to Draper will take place against the backdrop of an era Weiner clearly sees as disappointing, in which hopes are deflated, various hypocrisies are laid bare, and cynicism eventually reasserts itself. “The chickens are coming home to roost,” he says. “The revolution happens, and is defeated,” in 1968. “There is cultural change, but the tanks roll into Prague, the students go back to school.”

Weiner is writing about a time in American history that he lived through, and was extremely disappointed in.  A time when he grew up watching “the world being run by a bunch of hypocrites,[who] were telling us how they had invented sex, how great it was to do all those drugs, [and have no responsibilities. [They were] selfish, racist, money-grubbing …”

It’s important to remember the story he’s actually telling. Because it’s a story that still is happening.

The Invention of Lying

You probably have never heard of the name Edward Bernays, but he’s changed the world, more to the point, he’s changed your world.

In the early 40’s and 50’s Bernays was the inventor of what we call Propaganda. During World War II, Bernays helped the Western allies socially engineer consent. Think of posters like “Uncle Sam needs You” (America is your family) or “Loose Lips sink Ships” (fear of death)

He learned, from his uncle Freud, that everyone has a few base desires, like fear, or sex. And if you could just tap into those desires you could make people think a certain way.

But after the war was over, Bernays learned that he discovered 965E8773-DF09-4EBA-8506-02F2B4020DBBthis new power but no longer had a purpose for it. So he went into marketing. And now most of the way we have grown up thinking about the world has been shaped by Edward Bernays.

Have you ever heard that saying “Always a Bridesmaid, Never a Bride”? Do you know where that saying comes from?This 1950’s Listerine Ad.

It’s an ad that taps into our deepest fears of being alone and not being connected. Not so that we can connect, but so that we will buy mouthwash.

So back to Mad Men:I think Don Draper was so busy manipulating what motivated humans that he forgot he was human too.

I don’t think Don went on to live in a hippie compound. I think that Don Draper stumbled into the next season of eventual misery, he almost touched something outside of himself and that’s when it dawned on him that this was something that everyone was searching for, and so it was something that could be used as a very very powerful way to just sell stuff.

I believe that at the heart of the Gospel is that God gives us what we want, even if it destroys us, and if we want something other than God, more than we want God, it most certainly will.

But if we chase our desires deeper, like a river leads into an ocean, we will find that everything we want has always pointed us back toward God.

C.S. Lewis said this better than I could:

In speaking of this desire for our own far- off country, which we find in ourselves even now, I feel a certain shyness. I am almost committing an indecency. I am trying to rip open the inconsolable secret in each one of you—the secret which hurts so much that you take your revenge on it by calling it names like Nostalgia and Romanticism and Adolescence; the secret also which pierces with such sweetness that when, in very intimate conversation, the mention of it becomes imminent, we grow awkward and affect to laugh at ourselves; the secret we cannot hide and cannot tell, though we desire to do both. We cannot tell it because it is a desire for something that has never actually appeared in our experience. We cannot hide it because our experience is constantly suggesting it, and we betray ourselves like lovers at the mention of a name. Our commonest expedient is to call it beauty and behave as if that had settled the matter. Wordsworth’s expedient was to identify it with certain moments in his own past. But all this is a cheat. If Wordsworth had gone back to those moments in the past, he would not have found the thing itself, but only the reminder of it; what he remembered would turn out to be itself a remembering. The books or the music in which we thought the beauty was located will betray us if we trust to them; it was not in them, it only came through them, and what came through them was longing. These things—the beauty, the memory of our own past—are good images of what we really desire; but if they are mistaken for the thing itself they turn into dumb idols, breaking the hearts of their worshippers. For they are not the thing itself; they are only the scent of a flower we have not found, the echo of a tune we have not heard, news from a country we have never yet visited.

Did you catch that? If we mistake these things for the Real Thing (God) they will turn into dumb idols, breaking the hearts of their worshippers.

Part of the genius of the show Mad Men is that Matthew Weiner humanized Edward Bernays, but I don’t think he was ever trying to save him. I don’t know that Weiner thinks he can be saved.

I’m not sure I do either.

Not because I don’t like Don Draper, I loved him as a character. I hope that, within the universe of Mad Men, he really did find some kind of peace and that the Coke commercial ending was just a summary of the show and a way to take a jab at Pepsi.

But I’m doubtful that Don Draper can be saved because I believe the door to the human heart opens from the inside and once any son of Adam learns how to manipulate our desire for God, he can so easily forget that there is really a God to be desired.

We can so easily mistake our cravings for what we actually crave, We can find ourselves reaching for the Real Thing, and just come back with a Coke.

The ultimate question for each of us . . . “Do I want—really want, from the depths of my being, not simply in sporadic moments of high religious exaltation—the God who makes sense of my life and my desires, or some God-substitute, some idol?” -ANTHONY MEREDITH

Sometimes when people get what they want they realize how limited their goals were. -Joan from Mad Men

“So tell me what you want, what you really really want” -Spice Girls

Mad Men and Bad Men

Almost 100 years ago, the English author G.K. Chesterton came to America for the first time. And as he travelled through this country he made some incredibly profound observations about the blossoming American culture, but my favorite one is called “A Meditation on Broadway”

As he walked along the New York streets, and saw the neon lights flashing advertisements it dawned on Chesterton that the person who would really love this would be a poor, rural villager from a developing part of the world. If this person was suddenly whisked away to New York, they would be overwhelmed with wonder… as long as they didn’t know how to read English.

Festivals of Fake

Chesterton said it would seem to this peasant that he had stumbled upon a paradise on earth as long as they never ate from the Tree of Knowledge that was the A-B-C’s

Because, when this poor peasant came to New York, he would immediately believe that he had stumbled into a giant festival of some kind. Seeing all the symbols and the artificial lights blazing, the peasant’s soul would sore as he tried to understand what great celebration he had happened upon.

He might assume, if he knew anything about America, that these flashing lights said something like “Government for the people and by the people” or “Life, Liberty, Justice” but if he ever had the misfortune of learning English he would be extremely disappointed to learn that the fire in the sky was just trying to sell him sugar water.

Here’s how Chesterton puts it:

It is not true to say that the peasant has never seen such things before. The truth is that he has seen them on a much smaller scale, but for a much larger purpose…the real case against modern society [all the advertisements] is not that it is vulgar, but rather that it is not popular…the [peasant belongs to] the remnant of a real human tradition of symbolising real historic ideals by the sacramental mystery of fire… The new illumination does not stand for any national ideal at all… it does not come from any popular enthusiasm… That is where it differs from the narrowest national Protestantism…. Mobs have risen against the Pope; no mobs are likely to rise in defence of [Pepsi]. Many a poor crazy man has died saying, ‘To Hell with the Pope’; it is doubtful whether any man will ever, with his last breath, say the ecstatic words, ‘Try [Wrigley’s] Chewing Gum.’ These modern legends are imposed upon us by a mercantile minority, and we are merely passive to the suggestion. The hypnotist of high finance or big business merely writes his commands in heaven with a finger of fire.

For the past several years, I’ve been enchanted with writers like G.K. Chesterton and C.S. Lewis, primarily because they were writing when the world was still enchanted, and they were watching the levers that were being pulled to dis-enchant it.

This is the same reason that I have loved the show Mad Men. The show that centers around the genius and misery of the first advertisement agencies. These people from the 60’s who became known as the “inventors of want”

A few weeks ago, there was a painful scene in Mad Men where Don Draper is wrestling with his existence. He’s talking to a co-worker about what his dreams for the future are, what he wants his life to be about. And his friend tells him that he’d love to land an oil company or a pharmaceutical.

“Bigger accounts? That’s your greatest desire?”

So Don goes to one of his copy writers and asks her what she really wants. She tells him “to be the first female creative director.” He asks “What then?” She says “I want to land a very big account.” He asks “What then?” She says, “I want to invent a catchphrase.”

Don asking Peggy "What do you want?"

Don asking Peggy “What do you want?”

Don “So you want to be famous? What then?”

And that’s when Peggy storms out of the room, because what she wanted wasn’t worth her life, and both of them knew it.

What do you Want?

There’s a scene in Mark 10, much like this episode of Mad Men, where Jesus asks a few different people what they want. One is a pair of power-hungry brothers and they immediately respond, “We want to sit at your right and left when you become King.”

And Jesus tells them no. He tells them he can’t give them what they want, because they really don’t want it. At his right and left will be crosses, and these are people who don’t know the beauty of the Cross yet.

But then Jesus immediately bumps into a blind man, a man who has probably had one thing on his mind his entire life. The desire to see. He knows what is absent from his life, and he’d give anything to get it. And when Jesus asks him the question he doesn’t miss a beat, “I want to see”

And Jesus gives him his sight.

Over the past few years, I’ve come to realize that the most powerful thing we can do is sit alone with God and honestly answer this question “What do you really want?”

Not what people tell you to want, but what you really, really want. Because I’m convinced most of us are walking around without any idea of the answer to that question. We’ve got glib answers that were created for us by people who make a lot of money connecting our deepest desires to crappy products, and our truest desires end up buried under a pile of junk.

This is the beauty of Mad Men, Matthew Weiner is shining a light on this one truth that we’d rather forget because change is just too hard. The people who are telling us what we should want, the ones who make the big bucks to manipulate our desires, those people are just as lost as anyone.

Again, I like how Chesterton says it:

Man has always lost his way. He has been a tramp ever since Eden; but he always knew, or thought he knew, what he was looking for. Every man has a house somewhere in the elaborate cosmos; his house waits for him waist deep in slow Norfolk rivers or sunning itself upon Sussex downs. Man has always been looking for that home which is the subject matter of this book. But in the bleak and blinding hail of skepticism to which he has been now so long subjected, he has begun for the first time to be chilled, not merely in his hopes, but in his desires. For the first time in history he begins really to doubt the object of his wanderings on the earth. He has always lost his way; but now he has lost his address.

I’m willing to wager my life that buried underneath all the superficial brands connections and capitalist spin you have a heart for something bigger. Maybe it’s to be connected to community, or to know and give a deep love, or to give your life for a cause bigger than yourself or to know what it feels like to be wanted.  But behind it all I believe is the tug of the heart’s greatest desire to know and be known by God.

In the words of Chesterton “we want to go home.”

Or in the words of Don Draper

“We’re flawed because we want so much more. We’re ruined because we get these things and wish for what we had.”

Christmas PictureA few weeks ago, on Black Friday, I joined the crowds getting on Amazon to see what their Christmas deals were. And I was fascinated by one thing in particular. In the Lightening Deals Amazon has three categories 1) All Available 2) Upcoming 3) Missed Deals

We have a section for missed deals!. Does it strike anyone else as particularly disturbing that we have a section of a website set aside just to shop for regret? Amazon gets to show us how great of deals they’ve had, and we get to mope about the things that we missed.

Joy Beyond The Walls of the World

A few years ago, I read Mark Sayers terrific little book The Trouble With Paris, where he observed the disconnect between our materialism and our the way we use things to try and medicate our pain:

“I recently watched a reality makeover show. The woman who had been selected for a makeover had being trying to have a baby for several years, only to suffer a number of miscarriages. The woman had finally successfully given birth to a healthy child, only for that child to tragically die in its first year of life. The show lavished the woman with various makeovers. They remodeled her house and her garden, taught her how to cook gourmet dishes, helped her lose weight, and gave her a new wardrobe of the latest fashions, along with a European vacation. The show ended in an almost awkward fashion as it become apparent that the world of makeovers could never heal this woman’s grief. He problems were internal, not external, and our culture had no solution for her pain.”

There’s not enough makeovers that can heal the ache.

In his great memoir, Surprised by Joy, writes about his conversion from Atheism to Theism and then to Christianity, and what ultimately convinced him that Jesus was the Son of God.

One of the most surprising things about C.S. Lewis life was what he meant when he said Joy.

Joy, for Lewis, isn’t extreme happiness or even a very positive emotion. Joy for Lewis, is The Longing.

It was what haunted him as a child when he read the folk stories and myths of the Celtic and Greeks, it was what he felt when he looked out over the England countryside and imagined Kingdoms and Castles and Kings and Queens.

Joy for Lewis was the stabbing pain of desire, it was a wish for things that were not attainable.

This would lead Lewis to say things like

“[Humans] remain conscious of a desire which no natural happiness will satisfy. But is there any reason to suppose that reality offers any satisfaction to it? Nor does the being hungry prove that we have bread. But I think it may be urged that this misses the point. A man’s physical hunger does not prove that that man will get any bread; he may die of starvation on a raft in the Atlantic. But surely a man’s hunger does prove that he comes of a race which repairs its body by eating, and inhabits a world where eatable substances exist. So too the craving for myths (hearing them, reading them, making them) suggests the presence of a need that they satisfy–or, more accurately, try to satisfy. Because they reach something deep within us, we return to them repeatedly, but because they do not and cannot meet the need they invoke, our experience with them is characterized by longing.”

Joy is Waiting

So it’s Christmas, and by now most of the people reading this have already done quite a bit of shopping. The Tree is up, the lights are on, and the Visa bill is growing. And, on Christmas morning, if you’re lucky for a few brief moments the ache in your soul will be covered over with laughter and smiles as you watch the people you love tear through wrapping paper and try out or try on their shiny new things.Time Hourglass

All of this is fine, and I don’t mean to diminish it.

But that ache comes back.

And that is a very good thing.

It is what C.S. Lewis called Joy, and it’s what the Christian Calendar calls Advent

Advent is just the Latin word for longing, or waiting, and it actually the way Christians for well over a thousand years have prepared for Christmas, and one that I think we need today more than ever.

Ancient Christian wisdom demands that we remember that there is a desire that we have that points us North. It’s a desire that can only be experienced, and never fully satisfied on this side of Eternity.

And if you aren’t aware of this reality, no matter if you are religious or spiritual or not, it will be used by advertisers and marketing firms to make subtle, yet over-reaching promises that will only break your heart.

Because no doorbuster or gadget or Lexus can give you joy. Indulge yourself enough and you can even find a way to lower the signal on the true joy that is offered.

The only Joy that is really offered is the joy of waiting.

Which I think makes this whole season make more sense, but not the way we are celebrating it.

That emptiness that comes after the wrapping paper settles on Christmas morning. The dull ache that comes back after all the gifts have been opened, is a gift.

It’s a gift that reminds us the best is still to come.

The empty chair on Christmas Eve, the stocking you haven’t been able to hang up for years since the accident took him away, those are ways that…if we let it, can actually increase our joy.

All the longing that is welling up inside of us actually has a end desire, and Christian hope says that it’s not only true, it’s exactly what this time of year was made for.

Advent means Longing, Christmas Advent means longing for the Joy that once did enter the world, and one day will come again.

So we wait.

And this is joy.

So What are you waiting for?

On November 26, 2013

Contentment and Thanksgiving

“A Grateful person is rich in contentment.” -David Bednar

Writing about ThankfulnessOne of my favorite parts in the Bible is where Paul is writing back to one of the churches that he has planted. Apparently they had started to argue and create factions within their church, some of them had started to consider themselves better than others, in fact, when they would all gather for a meal each week, some would go ahead and eat,  gorging themselves before the other people (the poorer ones who had to work on Sundays) could get there.

And Paul tells them not to receive the Grace of God in vain.

In other words, Paul says, “Don’t be entitled.”

The Most Dangerous Time of The Year

Sunday at Highland, I mentioned that I think this week is the most spiritually dangerous time of the year.

Because on Thursday we will stop to give thanks for what we have. Then we rush off on Friday, almost breaking the doors down at stores just to get a little more.

There is this time in the Gospel of Luke where Jesus is about half-way to Jerusalem. His journey is interrupted by ten Lepers who stood at a distance, and screamed to this man they had heard so much about, “Have pity on us!”

And Jesus does. He makes the whole, and then tells them to go show themselves to the priest (the expert back then on whether someone had been healed) and they would discover they could re-enter their old lives.

Now you probably already know just how much these men had lost at this point. They had been cut off from their families, their vocations, their home. Everything, and in an instance, Jesus gives it all back. But what happens next is really the point of this story.

Ten men are restored, but only one comes back. He’s not a Jewish leper, he’s a foreigner, and he’s thankful.

But what’s interesting to me is the story that is right before it. It’s some of the most difficult words that Jesus says:

“Suppose one of you has a servant plowing or looking after the sheep. Will he say to the servant when he comes in from the field, ‘Come along now and sit down to eat’? Won’t he rather say, ‘Prepare my supper, get yourself ready and wait on me while I eat and drink; after that you may eat and drink’? Will he thank the servant because he did what he was told to do? So you also, when you have done everything you were told to do, should say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done our duty.’”

Now this almost seems out of character for Jesus. Where is all this love and grace stuff? “We are only unworthy servants? We have only done our duty?”

Bu’t what if Jesus isn’t getting rid of that whole Love and Grace thing with this paragraph? What if this is one of the many loving things he could says. And what if Luke puts these two stories together on purpose?

I am a BUICK, a brought up in church kid. And I”m very thankful for that, but one of the dangers that comes with growing up worshipping the LORD is that it can become old hat. Familiarity can breed indifference, or worse, it can breed entitlement.  In the words of Randy Harris, “Many of us were born on third base and think we’ve hit a triple.”

Maybe this is why Jesus says this hard word to us.

Maybe that’s why it’s only the Gentile Leper who comes back to thank Him.

There’s something about familiarity with God that makes us less grateful for His actions in our lives. I think Jesus says this hard word because He knows the toxic kind of life that is void of gratitude. It’s good for us to remember who we are and who God is. We forget that with every rise and falling of our chest we are breathing in oxygen that is a gift. With every sunrise and sunset God gives us another day.

This is a story about being grateful for all of that.entitled

Having Nothing, Yet Having Everything

So back to 2 Corinthians. Paul is frustrated with this church because they had started eating without people. And we can understand their logic can’t we? They probably had brought most of the food, they were wanting to start on time, and if people couldn’t make the party that’s on them.

But Paul knows the toxic nature of this line of thinking and so Paul tells them about his life:

I’ve had glory and dishonor, bad and good report; genuine, yet regarded as impostors; known, yet regarded as unknown; dying, and yet we live on; beaten, and yet not killed;  sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; poor, yet making many rich; having nothing, and yet possessing everything.

There’s one of the best verses in the Bible. Having nothing, and yet possessing everything.

Paul’s answer to entitlement and selfish hoarding is to remember that everything belongs to God, and every meal is a gift.

You know I wonder how often those nine lepers thought about this?  I imagine they followed the Jesus news of the day. They heard about him being killed and raising from the dead. They heard about this group of disciples that actually started going around the world doing the very things he was doing, and they had walked away from all of it.

They had been healed but it could have been so much more. They could have taken part in the healing of the world. Starting with themselves. They might have lived a life of radical graditude filled with the joy of knowing how generous God is.

May this be a season for you to step back and appreciate how good God is. May you come to recognize the shoulders you stand on in life. May we fight entitlement with gratitude. Materialism with contentment, and selfishness with generosity.

May we be rich in all the ways that count.

On September 5, 2013

A Better Marriage Fast

sequels-screensaverAnd really not just marriages, and really not that kind of fast.

At Highland Church of Christ we are talking right now about how the dominant stories that we hear day in and day out are so greedy. And these are our love stories!

For more information about this series, or to get a free E-book you can go to www.thesequels.org

So this past Sunday we talked about the way we are taught to consume everything including each other. We are taught to ask the most insidious question, “Are you really satisfied?” But that’s not a question that we are taught to ask to lead us to happiness, it’s much darker than that.

Always A Bridesmaid

There’s a lot more backstory to this, and if you are interested you can hear the whole sermon here. But the gist of it is that in the early 40’s and 50’s a guy named Edward Bernays changed the world. Bernays was the inventor of what we call Propaganda, he was the most effective weapons that America had in World War II. He learned (from his uncle Freud) that we have a few base desires, like fear, or to have sex.

And if you could just tap into those desires you could make people think a certain way.

And he did…and he still does.

After the war was over, Bernays learned that he discovered this new power but no longer had a purpose for it.

So he went into marketing. And now most of the way we have grown up thinking about the world has been shaped by Edward Bernays.

But we are largely unaware how much.

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Have you ever heard that saying “Always a Bridesmaid, Never a Bride”? Do you know where that saying comes from?

This 1950’s Listerine Ad.

It’s an ad that taps into our deepest fears of being alone and not being connected. Not so that we can connect, but so that we will buy mouthwash. Thank you Edward Bernays.

And that’s why at Highland this week, we ended the sermon by asking people to engage in the ancient Christian discipline of fasting.

Not just married people, but for people who were wanting to get married, and for people who wanted to learn how to live better in community.

Because for the past few decades we have been taught to consume. We have somewhere around 5,000 advertisements a day that raise and increase our desire.

We’ve been taught to think that the world revolves around us, and that we should get what we want. And then we approach our relationships this way.

But this ancient practice of fasting teaches us that we don’t live by bread alone. We don’t live just to consume.

And that if we really want to be happy, occasionally we need to step back and stop looking for things to consume, and start looking for things that we are grateful for.

C.S. Lewis once wrote an essay about love and Christian Marriage and he said:

People get from books the idea that if you have married the right person you may expect to go on “being in love” for ever. As a result, when they find they are not, they think this proves they have made a mistake and are entitled to a change—not realizing that, when they have changed, the glamour will presently go out of the new love just as it went out of the old one.

This is at the heart of why our marriages disappoint us. Edward Bernaise taught us to ask the question, “What does my spouse or future spouse owe me?”

But fasting helps us ask another and better question, “Why have I been given so much? Why has God been so good to me?”

I like the way Marcel Proust says this:

“The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes.”

This is why one of the main commands in the Bible is for us to remember, because if we don’t keep remembering how much we already have, we might just forget.

So try it out. If you want better relationships. Fast.

“It doesn’t feel like Christmas until someone gets pepper sprayed at Target.” -Jon Stewart

I’ll get back to this video.

For over a thousand years Christians have observed this time of year as a season called “Advent.” Now I grew up in a church that was suspect of all things Catholic (I wasn’t allowed to be friends with girls named Mary). But this is not just a Catholic idea, Christians from all the traditions have celebrated Advent, and even if it is new to you, I think that Advent might have a word to bless you.

Advent is just the Latin word for “Coming” It’s the idea that Jesus came into the world, and that he will one day soon come into the world again.

Advent is about the longing that is in every human heart, a desire, an ache that we all share for things to be different…to be better. The season of Advent is where we name the brokenness in our own hearts, and in the world.

At the heart of Advent is the recognition that something is missing.

And this is the difference between what Americans call Christmas and the Advent season. Every year for Christmas we wait and anticipate for Christmas morning and family gatherings and gifts.

And every December 26th we tend to feel a little let down, because we realize what we should have known all along.

Something is missing that can’t be wrapped up with a bow.

And Advent says that something isn’t a thing. It’s a Someone. Jesus is coming to the world.

I read an article the other day about how American’s new religion, despite what any survey says, really isn’t “none’s” or Mormonism or Evangelicalism. It’s shopping. The article points out that the dominant activity for this “Holiday season” really isn’t visiting a church or temple for worship or prayer. It’s standing in lines and camping out at stores for their doorbuster deals.

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On May 17, 2011

Mere Mortals

In a world of self-esteem and health and wealth gospels, it’s good to remember what makes us important is the One who made us. In the words of the Psalmist, we are Mere Mortals.

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On December 6, 2010

Frankincense and Myrrh

So hang with me on this.

The way the story goes, is that Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit, the world falls into disarray, and the world first couple moved East. But actually, it was more people than them who moved east, it was the entire world. Re-read Genesis sometime with an eye for this phrase. Because story after story ends with the refrain…And they moved East. Continue Reading…

On October 18, 2010

Touring Church

So for the last few days, I’ve been reading “Not Buying It” by Judith Levine. It’s a well written memoir from the life of one lady who decided to step outside of consumerism for an entire year. Her husband and she made the decision to not make one purchase for 12 months, and then they journaled what that experience was like…Their journal turned into a book, which, ironically, sold quite well. Continue Reading…