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As always, we must persuade [others] with love… And we remind ourselves that love means to be willing to give until it hurts.” – Mother Teresa

UnknownI want to talk today about the incredibly controversial Supreme Court Decision that has changed and is changing the face of morality in America. It’s the decision that has Christians talking about America losing it’s way and turning it’s back on God.

I’m speaking of course, about the SCOTUS decision in Roe Vs. Wade

I’ve never known an America where abortion wasn’t legal. I’ve never known a Christianity that didn’t care deeply about this and often in ugly ways.

And by the way, I get it. I hate abortion, I rarely speak out on it, like many people in my generation because I’ve never seen a productive discussion come out of the quickly escalating shouting matches.

But strange as it may seem, I believe that the Roe vs. Wade decision and the recent SCOTUS ruling in favor of same sex marriages are tied together (not that same-sex relationships are in a same category with abortion, but) because the real underlying point of disagreement between the Church and modern Western culture is the purpose of our sexuality.

In many ways, Christians in the West are still trying to work out all of the implications of the Birth Control, and our recent ability to sever the connection between making love and making babies.

Mary Eberstadt in her book “Adam and Eve after the Pill” writes that this is the defining cultural event of the 21st century:

Time magazine and Francis Fukuyama, Raquel Welch and a series of popes, some of the world’s leading scientists, and many other unlikely allies all agree: No single event … has been as consequential for relations between the sexes as the arrival of modern contraception.

I believe Christianity is more liberating for women than we can imagine, and Jesus calls us to work toward gender equality, but one thing I’m growing more skeptical of is our cultures great promises for a correlation between greater freedom and greater happiness.

I think it’s indicative that for all our progress we’re not getting happier, actually we are losing our joy

Christian Homes and Modern Families

Historically, a Christian theology of marriage and sexuality says that God designed this relationship of total self-giving, in which each spouse gives of him- or herself to the other, remaining open to the blessing of children “when it is God’s will”-the Book of Common Prayer

In other words, for 3,000 plus years, the ideal vision of human sexuality was a means of getting us outside of ourselves. It was literally about making something other than you, When a man and a woman came together they created a soul, a new world, they made love and they actually made a little person.

I love the way Rob Bell once said this:

Is that where the phrase “Making Love” comes from? An awareness that something mystic happens in sex, that something good and needed is created. Something is added to the world, given to the world. The world is blessed with something that it desperately needs. The man and this woman together are in some profoundly, mysterious way good for the well-being of the whole world.

or in the words of Diedrich Bonhoeffer:

Marriage is more than your love for each other. It has a higher dignity and power, for it is God’s holy ordinance, through which he wills to perpetuate the human race till the end of time. In your love you see only your two selves in the world, but in marriage you are a link in the chain of the generations, which God causes to come and to pass away to his glory, and calls into his kingdom.

Bonhoeffer, wrote this from a prison cell as he was waiting to die. He was executed as a single man who would never be married. But he saw marriage as a temporary arrangement(!) And as a way of linking generations together. Once that is divorced from our sexuality than the story of our sexuality has fundamentally changed.

But this isn’t a blog about contraception, it’s a blog about the relationship of the Church and the State.

I have never known a world where Abortion wasn’t a fundamental point of disagreement with the culture and Christians around me, Even while making exceptions, Christians and Christianity for a variety of reasons, and across the conservative/progressive spectrum seem to be against abortion.

But I have known Churches that have been refused to let politics set the agenda for what it means to love and sacrificially live out the way of Jesus.

For example, at the church I currently serve. 50 years ago, we started a ministry called Christian Homes. Where they took in those at-risk single mothers, housed them, protected them, covered over their (at the time very real) shame, and set up foster and adoptive homes for their children.

Christian Homes protected the dignity of these women back when it cut against the spirit of a 1950’s hyper-moralism, and then they protected the dignity of unborn children when the tides of culture turned toward a more permissive version of sexuality.

I don’t talk regularly about this issue, and maybe I should. But I’m so proud of my home church for their vision, sacrifice and compassionate way of living out the way of Jesus. They just intuitively knew that what it meant to be a good local church involved protecting and serving the least of these.

And that’s why I wanted to do this series on the Church and the Court as a way of laying some ideas out for a better way to handle a controversial SCOTUS decision this time around.

Make Love Not War

Did you know that in 1995, Norma Leah McCorvey, the famous “Jane Roe” of the Roe vs. Wade case became a Christian? In 1995, she was baptized and eventually became an outspoken opponent of abortion.

In his book, Vanishing Grace, Phillip Yancey tells that the most surprising part of the story was how the person who influenced her the most was her greatest enemy, the director of “Operation Rescue” the Anti-Abortion group. The director changed McCorvey heart when he stopped treating her like a villain.

McCorvey's baptism in 1996 (from CNN)

McCorvey’s baptism in 1996 (from CNN)

The director publicly apologized for calling her a “baby killer” and started spending time with her as a person. The pro-abortion forces had washed their hands of McCorvey because of her past history with drug addiction and promiscuity she was not exactly the poster child for any public movement, but thank God Jesus followers didn’t.

McCorvey went on to write a book appropriately titled “Won By Love” that detailed how her heart had changed not by lobbying but by the relentless love of God and the people who finally began to see her as a person and not as an issue.

I realize that the world is not what it ought to be. For some of us it can feel scary and threatening. We’re watching the societal mores and norms change at a breakneck speed. But remember that the world Jesus started His church in was filled with infanticide, Jesus would’ve known all about it, and as far as we know, He didn’t preach on it. Instead he created a group of people and commanded them to “let the little children come to me.”

And they did.

This group of people captured the world’s imagination by adopting the discarded babies that had been previously unwanted. These first Christians pioneered a new ethic of love for children.

Previously children weren’t named until they were older because the parents didn’t want to get attached in case they died or decided they didn’t want them. But Christians began to give them names at birth. That’s where we get the idea for children’s “Christian names” The term God-Parents was coined for Christians who cared for children who weren’t biologically their own.

Remember in Ancient Rome all kinds of sexual relationships were celebrated and even worshipped, and in that world the movement of Jesus not only thrived…it won especially those people over. Women flocked to this new Jesus movement because they were finally in a group that didn’t reduce them to their bodies or sexual usefulness.

I think it’s important to remember there is a difference between the Church and the world. Because the Church at her best is good for the world by not being like the world. We are a counter-culture for the good of the culture.

And in order to be that again, I think internally, we Christians have some work to do. We’ve got to work out the ways that we’ve been complicit in the bigotry against people with same-sex attraction and confess it and repent of it. We’ve got to revisit our theology of sexuality/body/marriage and repent of our idolatry from where we’ve made the good gifts of God into little “g” gods themselves.

I believe that this is real opportunity for Christians in America to learn again how to be disciples of a man who lived in 1st century Roman occupation, and who changed the world not by accumulating power but by laying down His life.

I believe this is an opportunity for American Christians to become more like Jesus…To Make Love not War.

Because people aren’t won by war, but they are by love.

Unknown

After this past month’s historic ruling by the Supreme Court, I’ve hesitated to write anything. Not because I don’t have convictions, but because I don’t want my words used as a weapon, sparking more inflammatory shouting between groups that are growing further and further apart.

I’d like, if my words can do anything, for them to serve as a kind of medicine for people who are confused and anxious. I’d like for them to serve to heal those who have been, or are being injured by the subsequent, widening social divide (a divide that I think we are going to continue to see grow).

And if that resonates with you, than please read on, I think I have some good news for you.

The Suffering of Shame

Three months ago, at the Q conference Dr. Michael Lindsay, the President of Gordon College (who was recently at the center of a discrimination controversy between LGBT rights and a Christian college) gave a talk where he brought up the famous ASCH social conformity experiment.

You’ve heard of this experiment before. It’s where a test student is brought into a class and shown a picture of 3 separate lines all with differing lengths.

An Original Card in a ASCH Experiment

An Original Card in a ASCH Experiment

The teacher then asks the question “Which one of these lines is longest?” And each member of the class verbally responds with their answer. The catch is that everyone in the class has been coached to give the wrong answer, and the real experiment has nothing to do with a person’s ability to measure lines. It has everything to do with a persons ability to not conform to what everyone else around them is doing.

And the answer was shocking. About 75% of the test subjects wrote down that the answers that were obviously wrong but conveniently popular.

Now we don’t need a social experiment to tell us that, it’s something that we all experience everyday. We all have a strong need to conform, to be liked, and to be like the people we like. But while this is a very strong pull on the human heart, conformity has never been a Christian virtue. In fact, from the beginning it was assumed that Jesus followers would be a different kind of people than the rest of the world.

But that involves some level of discomfort. In fact, I would argue that what most of my Christian friends are calling persecution these days is not persecution (In light of the very real persecution that our Middle-Eastern brothers and sisters are facing at the hands of ISIS, using that word shows a lack of global awareness).

We’re not struggling with persecution, we’re struggling with popularity, and the loss of privilege…a very real struggle to be sure, but not quite persecution. And that’s a struggle that the LGBT community is already very familiar with.

For hundreds of years, to be gay, closeted or not, was to live a life of great shame, either internally or externally. I certainly have plenty of gay friends stories that come to mind as I write these words, I’ve sat and cried with them and I’ll bet some of you reading this have too.

I’ve found that people who have known suffering often are very empathetic, compassionate people. In my experience with gay friends, that’s certainly been the case. It will be easy over the next few weeks and months for us to focus in on the louder, more shrill voices of cable television or articles designed for clickbait.

But there are better stories than those, and today I’d like to highlight one.

The very next presenter at the Q conference was the popular blogger and prominent LGBT activist Andrew Sullivan. And he said some of the most wonderful things to a room full of Jesus followers. I found him deeply empathetic and articulate as he responded to Michael’s talk:

“I found what Michael had to say very moving., and the spirit that he offered it in more moving still. And the personal hurt that he clearly experienced, I want to ask his forgiveness for. It really pains me to think that people would stigmatize, demonize, and attack people for the sincerity of their religious faith, whatever that religion would be. And I think that the Gordon College thing was a clear step beyond anything we’ve seen before. There is an element of intolerance…I think the experience of feeling out of sync with the culture, and being demonized by it is a terrible feeling to have.”


Watch the video and notice how gracious and compassionate Sullivan is. And then listen with just as much of an open heart as you can to his next statement.

A Church for the World, Not a Worldly Church

“I would just ask in return, that people understand that for centuries gay people were thrown out of their own families, their own churches, put in jail, hanged in this country, executed around the world. That the gay people went through an unbelievable trauma in the 80’s and 90’s in which 300,000 people died. Which is 5x the number of people who died in the Vietnam war during the same period of time…and where were you all?…The experience that many people here (at the conference) are now having was the core and total experience that gay people in many Christian societies experienced forever. We were jailed, we had hormones inflicted upon us…the number of young people killing themselves (within Evangelical communities) is real.

Now I’m accountable to a tradition, and to a people who believe that the greatest joy a human being can have is found in discovering the pleasure of God.

On our better days the reasons conservative Christians have drawn a line in the sand here is because we believed the pleasure of God is worth giving up everything else for, and we, perhaps mistakenly, have tried setting up a society that reflected (and at it’s worst imposed) that.

I come from a tradition that follows a celibate man who I happen to believe was the happiest man who ever walked the face of the earth. But not everyone comes from that tradition, and so those outside of it are now asking for, and receiving, the very things I would probably ask for were I in their shoes.

They’ve done the work of changing the culture by creating culture. Something not to be dismissed. The LGBT community has entered into and worked hard in every arena of society…from entertainment, politics, education, religion and literature.

They’ve exerted an inordinate amount of influence in a incredibly short amount of time and that’s something that any group of people who is interested in shaping the world should learn from.

Being counter-cultural is the call of Jesus for His Church. Hearing from my friends across the world Christianity is doing better than ever, it’s just not taking the form of Christendom anymore. There’s a vibrancy that happens to the church when Christianity is not assumed in the host culture.

As the British Christian Mark Woods pointed out recently in Christianity Today:

The immediate consequence of this ruling, then, is an invitation to do some theology. One of the painful things for observers of the evangelical scene on both sides of the Atlantic has been the reluctance of ‘pro-marriage’ (= anti-gay marriage) campaigners to distinguish their idea of the Church from their idea of the state, as though the two were coterminous…Evangelicals (and others) have got themselves into a knot because they think the state is trying to define Christian marriage. It isn’t; it can’t, and it never could. But the long history of Christendom has allowed Christians to think that the two are the same. Most Americans have always been keen on the separation of Church and state; well, now’s the chance to find out whether you mean it.

I agree wholeheartedly. The Church is a kind of way of being in the world that is different than the world. At our best we are a church for the world and not a worldly church.

At our best we try and build bridges between injured people and help represent Jesus in the most accurate way, and to do that we’ve got to remember to love the person right in front of us. To do that we have to apologize for some stuff we shouldn’t have done, we have to search our hearts for bigotry that the Bible never supports in order to correctly articulate what it does.

At our best we realize that God gave us these stories/doctrines/ideas not for harm but for health and healing. At our best we remember that truth is not designed to injure, and we suffer along with and bear the burdens of brothers and sisters whose discipleship calls for greater sacrifice.

May God forgive us when we forget that. And thanks Andrew Sullivan for forgiving us too.

RacismThis past Wednesday night Churches all over Abilene held a prayer vigil for our Christian brothers and sisters in Charleston, trying to stand in solidarity with a people who were hurting and remind ourselves that, in the words of the Apostle Paul “When one part of the body suffers, we all suffer along with it.”

It was a great evening filled with preachers/elders and pastors from several different churches singing hymns and praying for our city, churches, country and even Dylan Roof, the perpetrator of these evil acts.

For my part of the evening, I stood up to a crowd of racially diverse people and said the most counter-intuitive, most terrifying thing I could think to say.

I told them I was a racist.

Racism and Me

Whenever racism becomes a topic of media coverage, I cringe. It seems like the talking points are already solidified and many of us rush toward postures of defense and blame.

So let me get this out there. I am a racist.

I grew up in rural Arkansas in the 80s, not that it was my parents’ fault, they were incredibly hospitable and open to other people, not that it was my state’s fault, there were plenty of people who were doing lots of good work for reconciliation, but racism was in the air.

I grew up with the flag that everyone is talking about hanging on my wall.

As a tangent, I like the way that the conservative Southern Baptist Convention president Russell Moore talked about this,

“The Cross and the Confederate flag can co-exist for only so long before one of them sets the other on fire.”

That was true in my own life.

And I’m so grateful that the Cross won that battle.7595927876_56f66e7446_o

I grew up in a church of ten people. Most people would call that a small group, but it was my entire church, and I love the people from that church.

When I went to college, I would come back a few times a year to preach, and I would try to bring some friends with me to encourage my church family. One of those Sundays we had brought about forty people with us, and right before it was time for me to preach, Brother Foy, the patriarch of the church, stood up to introduce me.

This is funny in itself, because I was the only person there who knew everyone. This was the church I grew up in, and these were my friends who came home with me. But tradition is tradition, and if someone other than Foy was preaching, he was going to say something.

So Foy stood up and the first words out of his mouth were, “I can’t help but notice that all of our guests are white.”  Immediately I was worried about where this was going, because Foy was crazy. He was crazy for Jesus, but he was crazy. If he felt like something was true, he would say it without regard for how you felt about it, and I could tell this was about to be one of those occasions.

“We have forty extra people with us this morning, and every one of them is a white person.” Then Foy pointed at the African-American teenage boy sitting on the second row and said, “I brought an African-American this morning. Why didn’t you?” (Obviously, political correctness was not Foy’s strong suit.)

“Now Brother Jonathan, come preach the word to us.”

Then I had to stand up and preach to a group of people who were just made to feel like they just stumbled in from their Klan meeting.

But to be honest, looking back, I’m glad Brother Foy asked that question. I wish all our churches had someone asking questions like that.

Whenever I get frustrated with church, this is the story that brings me back. It is a story that reminds me of why I need the church, even when I don’t want her…maybe especially when I don’t want her.

Elegant Racism

In his great little book, I Told Me So Gregg A. Ten Elshof talks about the pervasive nature of self-deception. This book is about how intelligent, self-reflective people often lie to themselves, oblivious that they are doing so.

Then Elshof says this:

We assume that each person is the unquestionable authority on the question of which beliefs he or she has.

In other words, none of us really knows clearly what we believe.

That is the nature of self-deceit. We need each other to help us see the blind spots we have. I think this is the reason that we Christians aren’t able to move very well on issues of race.

We have made this into the unforgivable, and therefore an un-confessable sin, and when the topic rears its ugly head we rush to prove how innocent we are, we scapegoat public figures and point out our own “squeaky clean” record instead of asking the dangerous but Gospel-bringing question…”Where is this in me?”

We are often guilty of what last year, an article in the Atlantic calls, “Elegant Racism” the kind or racism that has learned to be polite about its indifference. But the Gospel can help us here. Because when we are aware of the love of God we are able to be suspicious of our own virtues.

The well-known Social Psychologist Brene Brown points out that shame’s survival depends on not being able to talk about it. We’ve done that with racism. Everyone is so afraid to be “that person” who says or does something stupid and offensive that we just remain silent.

We clam up and ignore the sin we see right in front of us, and in the mirror. And sure it might be a bit racist, but at least it’s a more elegant form of it.

I believe that when churches don’t allow or create spaces to openly confess and receive forgiveness for sins like this, is dangerously close to believing that racism is a sin stronger than the Grace of God.

And that is a lie.

My generation quotes the verse “Do not judge” often. But the point of that verse isn’t that Christians can’t call each other out, the point is that we call each other out cautiously…confront others the way you would like to be confronted, and make sure that you have dealt with the beam in your own eye first.

Around thirty years earlier, when Foy had already been a Christian for a decade or two, he also became convicted that he was a racist. And for Foy that was unacceptable. So he moved to a predominately African-American town and spent the rest of his career teaching at a predominately African-American school.

He lived out the word repentance, and now he could call others to it as well.

He often took me and other young people to African-American churches, just so we could rub shoulders with people we weren’t familiar with, and help us to see how much we had in common.

From the time when I met Foy, he had African-Americans (and people from several different ethnicities) living in his house with him. He was Shane Claiborne before it was cool. And from the time I was a kid we were a racially integrated church in a racially segregated world.

I am a racist, I have prejudices and discriminations that I’m not proud of. But praise God that the church helped me know it, she taught me that it was wrong, and showed me how to repent.

I am a racist, but I don’t want to be, I don’t have to be, anymore.

This blog is a re-purposed version of something that I originally posted on Patheos

It’s all right to talk about “streets flowing with milk and honey,” but God has commanded us to be concerned about the slums down here, and his children who can’t eat three square meals a day. It’s all right to talk about the new Jerusalem, but one day, God’s preacher must talk about the new New York, the new Atlanta, the new Philadelphia, the new Los Angeles, the new Memphis, Tennessee. This is what we have to do.

– Martin Luther King Jr. 

Photo from Miami Herald

Photo from Miami Herald

On the night before he was assassinated, Dr. King stood up and preached the Gospel.

It might sound strange to Americans living in 2015 that Dr. King didn’t see himself first as a catalyst for political change, but that he thought talking about Jesus and the Kingdom of God was his highest calling.

In his own words:

“Before I was a civil rights leader, I was a preacher of the Gospel. This was my first calling and it still remains my greatest commitment. You know, actually all that I do in civil rights I do because I consider it a part of my ministry. I have no other ambitions in life but to achieve excellence in the Christian ministry. I don’t plan to run for any political office. I don’t plan to do anything but remain a preacher. And what I’m doing in this struggle, along with many others, grows out of my feeling that the preacher must be concerned about the whole man.”

Dr. King knows what many Christians today have forgotten. The Gospel is the best news the world has ever heard, and the reason someone like Dr. King would devote himself to achieving excellence in Christian ministry is because he knows the Church isn’t just supposed to tell good news, She’s supposed to be good news.

And last week, in the middle of all the tragic, bad news, She was again.

Bullet Proof

Last Wednesday night Dylann Roof walked into the Emmanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in

Roof entering the Church

Roof entering the Church

Charleston and murdered 9 devoted disciples of Jesus in cold blood. Roof would later say he was hoping to make a symbolic statement to spread his hate, and bring division. He wanted to start a race war.

In many ways, Roof got what he wanted, but he has no idea how foolish his actions were.

Roof gave the world a symbol, but not the one he was hoping for. He started a war, but not the one he was expecting.

See, in the Bible, murder doesn’t silence the voices of the murdered. In the Bible, their blood cries out to God, in the Bible murder only amplifies the sound to God, and I’ll bet that God’s ears are ringing.

In the Bible, war isn’t murdering people, according to the New Testament God’s kind of war operates at a level of attack on the principalities and powers of our world.

Reverend Goff, a pastor at Emmanuel Church, said that by how the Christians respond to these evil acts will “serve as a witness to every demon in Hell and on earth,” I think he’s exactly right.

For the past few days, every news source has been flooded with stories of family members going to Dylann Roof’s arraignment and confronting him by saying the most radical things, things like “We forgive you”

That’s a holy war according to Jesus.

That’s the war that Dylann Roof started and lost.

In the words of the Charleston Mayor:

“This hateful person came to this community with some crazy idea that he would be able to divide, And all he did was make us more united, and love each other even more.”

I don’t know about you, but it seems to me that the Church shines in moments like these. This is when we put the Gospel on display. And so the Emmanuel Church  re-opened it doors on Sunday with both tears and laughter. They began their service with a standing ovation as the pastor read “This is the day the LORD has made let us Rejoice and be glad in it.’

They clapped and celebrated as a way of protest in the face of death… because that’s what Jesus people do.

A Baptized People

On the night before he was assassinated, Dr King said that the one mistake Bull Conner made when he released the water hoses on those unarmed church members marching in Selma was that he forgot that he was spraying people who had been baptized.

“We were people who weren’t afraid of water, because we know water is something you pass through…we know that there is a certain kind of fire that no water hoses can put out.”

There is a certain kind of love, a Gospel kind of love, that no hate can put out. There is a certain kind of person who you just can’t kill, because they’ve already died. There is a certain kind of community that you can’t divide with a race war because they belong to a New Humanity.

And on some days we forget that, to be sure there are days that the Church forgets the Gospel.

But not today and not now.

Today we are reminded that we are a baptized people, and so there is neither Jew nor Gentile, Slave or free, Male or Female, Black or White, Southern or Northern, we are all a part of the body of Christ.

And when one part of the body is hurting, we all hurt with them.

You know what I find so inspiring about all this? Last Wednesday night, when these Christians were gunned down, they had gathered around to study Mark 4:16-20, the parable of the Sower. The story where Jesus talks about the God the Farmer, who generously is planting seeds everywhere.

And some of those seeds fall on concrete, some of them fall on shallow soil, and some of them fall on ground that produces a harvest of 30, or 60, or 100 times.

The Garden of Flowers Outside the Church (courtesy of Ron Allen)

The Garden of Flowers Outside the Church (courtesy of Ron Allen)

I wonder if as these faithful Christians were dying, if it crossed their mind  how much they were acting like the God they had just read about?

I wonder if they realized that by inviting this disturbed young man into their fellowship and praying and spending time with him they were being exactly what Jesus pictures God like…throwing seed carelessly even on the concrete, even in places that look hopeless.

I wonder if as these faithful Christians were dying, if it crossed their mind that they were the seed? That what Satan would use for evil, God was going to use for good.

I wonder if they had any idea that people all over the world were going to revisit the Gospel because of them. I wonder if they had any idea how many people would be blessed by their faithful lives, and deaths?

I wonder if they knew that their blood, like the martyr’s before them would be once again the seed of Christianity.

I wonder if they knew that in the very place where evil would do it’s worst to them, hope would begin it’s good work.

I have no idea how God is going to use the tragic events of last week, but I don’t doubt that He will, I believe He is already using them.

I believe wholeheartedly that God calls us to be people who are not overcome with evil, but who overcome evil with good.

I mourn the victims of evil attack. but I don’t pity them. I greatly admire them. They followed a man who called them to pick up a Cross and they followed Him well.

So this Wednesday night, at the Highland Church of Christ, we, along with the Southern Hills Church of Christ and several other churches in town are hosting a city wide prayer meeting for the Christian brothers and sisters who have suffered loss in Charleston.

We will be praying for the exact opposite of what Dylann Roof was trying to accomplish. We will pray for God to bring racial reconciliation to the world, specifically by bringing it to His Church. We will be praying for the Church to live out the Gospel and to be the good news in the world and for the world.

If you are in Abilene, we invite to join with us, on Wednesday from 7:30-8:30 (the time of the attack last week) as we stand in solidarity with our brothers and sisters across this city, country and world.

Because their story is our story. And it’s a good story.

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.”

“What killed your husband?-Don Draper

“He was thirsty. He died of thirst” -a woman Don had met on an airplane

“You are the one the greatest of good, you made us to love and to long. You’re the fulfillment of all our truest desires, the righting of all wrongs.” -Julian of Norwich

Mad Men and Bad Men If you’ve watched more than a few minutes of the AMC show Mad Men you’ve noticed that everyone drinks copious amounts of alcohol. But no one drinks more than the lead character Don Draper. Actual studies have been done on how much Don drinks on camera, but the show Mad Men isn’t glorifying this because the consequences have been devastating to his life.

Over the course of the past 6 season, Don has vomited at a funeral, gone through two divorces, punched a minister (my personal favorite), been thrown in jail, and has developed a nasty habit of shaking when he’s not able to have a drink. The majority of time Don drinks alone, and without saying a judgmental word about it, Mad Men is letting us know that Don Draper is drinking, not out of enjoyment, but because he’s very, very thirsty.

Obey Your Thirst

One of my favorite stories in Scripture is in John 4. Jesus takes his disciples to a Samaritan village (the Jewish people’s enemies) and sits down at a water well with a woman who’s there alone. This story is profound on several levels, but what I want to point out today is that Jesus starts a conversation with her by asking her if she will give him a drink. She points out that they shouldn’t be talking, because he’s a Jewish man, and she’s a Samaritan woman, and what will the neighbors think, and Jesus just ignores her concern and keeps talking about water.

But not just any water.

Jesus starts telling her that He can give her living water, that He can quench her thirst in places that she didn’t even know she had. And she responds with, “Yeah, that sounds good, give me some of that.”

So Jesus says, “Go get your husband.”

When you first read this, it seems like a jerk move by Jesus, because this woman is a social outcast. She’s going to immediately tell Jesus that she doesn’t have a husband, and Jesus replies “You’re right, you’ve had five husbands and the man you live with now is not your husband.”

Does it surprise you how quickly Jesus gets into her sex life? Not just to fix her, but because Jesus is going to go directly to the parts of our life where our heart is. Jesus is going directly to her greatest disappointments and her greatest desires.

I like the way Pastor Tim Keller says this:

Why does Jesus seem to suddenly change the subject from seeking living water to her history with men? the answer is-he isn’t changing the subject. He’s nudging her, saying “If you want to understand the nature of this living water I offer, you need to first understand how you’ve been seeking it in your own life. You’ve been trying to get it through men, and it’s not working is it? Your need for me is eating you alive, and it will never stop.

Jesus has just revealed what the woman is thirsty for and how her particular drink of choice keeps her thirsty for more.

The Morning After

Theologians have a phrase about this “post coitum omne animal tristes est”  It means: “After sex, there’s still more wanted.”

I think that phrase is so profound, especially in light of what Mad Men is trying to do. The world of advertising in the 1960’s tried successfully to attach almost every product to humanity’s most primal desires. “If you buy this dishwashing detergent you’ll have more time for…” “If you smell like this cologne, she’ll want to do this to you…”

And it’s worked, slowly brands have worked their way into our hearts, attaching themselves to our desires. But from the beginning Christianity has said, “After sex, more is wanted.”

Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again.

Don Draper Passed Out on Floor

Don Draper Passed Out on Floor

And this is one the most counter-cultural things that Mad Men has done. It has shown Don Draper live out the darkest fantasy any guy could have. Don has slept with more women than Hugh Hefner, he’s had hundreds of affairs with very attractive women, every sexual dalliance you could fantasize Don Draper has had.

And he’s the most tragic, sad character on television.

Because after sex, more is wanted.

There are really two ways that religion talks about desire. One is the way of Buddha, which is to say that desire is bad and leads to suffering. And that’s not without truth. Buddhism knows that everything will eventually let you down, and if you just can train your body to not desire things you can eliminate much suffering in life.

But that’s not how Jesus does it. Jesus doesn’t call the woman away from her thirst, He calls her deeper into it. Jesus doesn’t renounce God’s good world, He just knows that after sex, after any good thing, more is wanted. God made the goodness in the world, and everything in it points back to Him.

Here’s the way Shane Hipps says it in his book Selling Water by the River:

The objects of our pursuits present one problem. Whatever feeling they evoke, whatever thirst they quench, whatever joy they create, it never seems to last. Eventually, our husband’s gaze returns to his favorite glowing screen, our wife becomes cold and critical, our body fails us, the pay doesn’t match the hours, the sex ends, a loved one leaves, children act out, the bowl of ice cream is empty, and the buzz wears off. Soon the hunger returns and the quest begins again. The Problem isn’t the pursuit of these things. They are meant to be enjoyed. The problem is the nature of these things. They are temporary, and therefore so is their effect. Our joy will share the fate of the thing we bind it to

The problem comes when we confuse the gifts with the Giver.

Before St. Augustine was a saint, he was the Don Draper of the 3rd century, and I’ve fallen in love with how he talks about this. He says that the great problem we all have is that our loves are out of order.

Aft first I thought that meant something like we love food too much, or we love our spouse, or our children, or sex too much. But that’s not what Augustine meant, He meant that our real problem is that we love God too little. Our loves are out of order, because only God can satisfy, only God can teach what satisfaction actually feels like.

When we forget that we become thirsty people trying to drink sand.

We chase so hard after everything, only to catch it and realize that we are thirsty for more.

If you don’t like what is being said, then change the conversation. -Don Draper

Mad Men and Bad Men

 

The most theological channel on cable television is not TBN, it, by far, is AMC.

Not that there is anything wrong with TBN (he said to not lose readers), TBN talks a lot about God, they talk a lot about Jesus, but they rarely talk like Jesus. Because Jesus talked in parables, he told stories that captured people’s imaginations, stories that were intriguing and confusing and layered and filled with possibility.

There’s a reason that my friends talk so much about the AMC shows like Breaking Bad or Walking Dead or Mad Men.  Each one of these shows, while not moralizing life, has some form of moral compass and, much like the Bible, present complex characters that are hard to place in a category. Is Don Draper noble or a womanizer? Does he inspire or repulse you?

I’ve wondered for a while about why Mad Men is so popular with our culture, it’s overtly racist, misogynistic and incredibly sad. It’s also saying some pretty profound things about the human condition and a specific era of American culture that has shaped how Americans feel today more than any other time in the 20th century.

And so I’d like to do a little series about Mad Men as this show comes to it’s end. I’m convinced that the most Theological events in culture are happening right in front of us, and we don’t have eyes to see it.

Speaking in Tongues

Because Christians, at least Protestant Christians, rarely understand art and how art works. There’s a reason that someone like Martin Scorsese starting making movies after going to seminary to be a Catholic Priest. All art is speaking in tongues because art says something that mere words cannot.

I remember a few years ago, I was sitting at a table of friends and we were talking about sexism and chauvinism and what it meant to be a good man in today’s world, and one of my friends asked the question “What do you think the most pro-feminist television show on today is?”

You might think “New Girl” or “Ellen” or if you are of more the TBN variety, you might think of “Joyce Meyers Hour of Power” but my friend said, “It’s easy. Hand’s down it’s Mad Men”

The show that shows unapologetically how poorly women were treated in the 1960’s.

Mad Men has functioned as one of the most powerful social commentaries for social issues from sexism to racism or anti-semitism for the past 7 years, precisely by working like a parable showing us a familiar, but strange world, and letting us realize that this world was and is our own.

The genius of this show, is that it reveals to us, in a very historically accurate manner, what the world was like in the 1960’s in a way that allows us to see a glimpse into what people did and why they did it.

Mad Men doesn’t have villains and hero’s, each character is complex and filled with great sin and sometimes virtue. And in that way it is art that reminds me of the Bible.

Outside of Jesus, it is impossible to find one developed character in the Bible who the Scriptures present only their good side. It’s like God knows the tendency we have to whitewash over people after their death and the Bible refuses to let us forget that Rahab had an occupation before “hero” or that Elijah was emotionally unhealthy, or that even men after God’s own heart commit affairs…and murder.

The beauty of the Bible is that it’s not a bunch of polished characters. But real flesh and blood people with junk in their lives that could make anyone blush.

The Bible is filled with Mad Men.

But the Bible has more than flawed characters, it has a direction.

The Power of the Ought

Max Kampelman was a Jewish conscientious objector of World War II. When drafted, he chose to sign up for a year long Starvation military experiment instead of going to war. Later in life, he was a U.S. Ambassador and spoke to Presidents and Prime Ministers, and he told them all the same thing. He said the greatest human power is to ask the question “How things ought to be?”

Max Kampelman speaking at the White House

Max Kampelman speaking at the White House

Max pointed out that the Declaration of Independence is filled with oughts, such as “All men are created equal.” But if you think about it, how many years after the Declaration did it take to end slavery, or grant voting rights to everyone? But Max argued that the ought was the engine that kept it all moving forward.

The Declaration of Independence became our “ought”…it didn’t reflect the “is” it reflected what ought to be.

That’s what Mad Men’s creator, Matthew Weiner, is trying to do.

Matthew Weiner has created a show that is unlike any other, but it does have some parallels. Namely the book of Revelation in the Bible. Interestingly enough, the actual name of Revelation is Apocalypse, and that word doesn’t mean future prophecy, it means “Unveiling”

Revelation is the story about what happens when God pulls back the curtain and reveals it all.

In an interview a few years ago Matthew Weiner was described as being a gentle creator when it comes to the individual characters on Mad Men, but when he talks about society at large, Weiner is “a god of vengeance, who doesn’t hesitate to condemn” Here’s what Weiner said in the interview:

 “[During the 60’s} I was 18 years old, watching the world being run by a bunch of hypocrites…And at the same time, they were telling us how they had invented sex, how great it was to do all those drugs, they had no responsibilities, they really believed in stuff, they were super-individuals. Then along comes [these people who were] incredibly repressive, selfish, racist, money-grubbing …”

This is not a show I’d recommend to the faint of heart, there’s nothing G-rated about it, it’s easy to think that Mad Men is glorifying all the things that Hollywood commonly glorifies, sex, violence and selfishness. But here is the secret of Mad Men. It is an incredibly judgmental show, judging these things and finding them wanting.

It is a show that exposes idolatry without ever using that word.

It is a show that shows us our history, and calls us to a better future.

It’s a show that looks at all the ways we lie to ourselves and to each other and pulls back the curtains on our hypocrisies.

It’s a Revelation.

“In those days, the Word of the LORD was rare, there were not many visions.” -1st Samuel 3:1

It would be nice if people saw that the world cannot be disenchanted, and that the choice before us is really a choice of enchantments. -Francis Spufford

“I don’t believe in God. I believe in Science.” -Nacho Libre

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After the 2011 Tsunami hit Japan, the London Review of Books reviewed an essay on the recurring problem that people in the coastal regions of Japan called “Hungry Ghosts” The review is filled with fascinating stories of everyday, ordinary Japanese people stumbling into a world that was haunted – a world they really wished didn’t exist.

One story was about a guy named Takeshi Ono, who, two weeks after the Tsunami, drove to the coast with his wife and mother, and within a few hours of being there began acting like a possessed man, rolling in the mud, having to be forcibly held down by his wife and mother while shouting at them “You must all die! Everyone must die and everything be lost!.” And then pointing toward the ocean screaming, “There, over there! They’re all over there – look!”

For three days, every night as the sun went down, Takeshi would see people walking past him who weren’t there. Parents with their children, a group of young friends, a grandfather with his grandson and they would all just stare at him, dressed in their dirty, Tsunami-battered clothes and covered in mud.

Finally, under the threat of a divorce, his wife forced him to go see a Japanese priest who performed an exorcism of sorts, and he’s been back to his normal, not-seeing-ghosts-anymore, ever since.

I think it’s important to remember that this is taking place in Japan. The same place that gave the world Sony and Nintendo and sushi. This is not some Tibetan monastery where people spend their days praying, this is Japan and Ono is a construction worker who’s main flaw according to the LBR was that he was so “open and innocent (he was described as a Japanese kind of Mr. Bean) that the spirits were able to possess him.”

Open to Anything

In his watershed work, A Secular Age, The Canadian philosopher Charles Taylor opens his book with this haunting question: “How is it possible for people to not believe in God anymore?”

One of the big differences between us and our ancestors of five hundred years ago is that they lived in an “enchanted” world, and we do not; at the very least, we live in amuch less “enchanted” world. We might think of this as our having “lost” a number of beliefs and the practices which they made possible. But more, the enchanted world was one in which these forces could cross a porous boundary and shape our lives, psychic and physical. One of the big differences between us and them is that we live with a much firmer sense of the boundary between self and other. We are “buffered” selves. We have changed.

[The] process of disenchantment involves a change in sensibility; one is open to different things. One has lost a way in which people used to experience the world.

One of the common distinctions in a Secular Age is not that we no longer have ghosts and demons and angels and God, it’s that we are no longer open to them.

One of my favorite stories in the Bible comes from 1st Samuel, it’s a story of a young boy who grows up in the Temple with a priest. And the story begins by telling us that Samuel was growing up in a time when “The word of the LORD was rare”

Samuel is born in a time where people want to hear from God, but don’t.

And the turning point in Samuel’s life, really all of Israel’s history, is an old, overweight priest named Eli with bad eyesight and a dysfunctional family. Samuel wakes up one night to the sound of someone calling him, it’s just him and Eli in the Temple, so he does the math and goes to his boss and asks him what he wants.

Eli tells Samuel that he didn’t call him and that he should get back in bed (side note: I’ve got 4 kids under the age of 6 right now, you can’t tell me that Eli wasn’t thinking this was some ploy to stay up). This happens 2 more times before it dawns on Eli that this might be more than that late night hummus, and Eli says to Samuel the best advice I know for someone who wants to hear from God.”

Eli told Samuel, “Go and lie down, and if he calls you, say, ‘Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.’

I know religious leaders well, I know the humility and courage this small act of ministry must have taken. If I was Eli, I would be tempted to say, “Tell God that He got the wrong room. The older, mature servant is listening in the next room.” But Eli doesn’t, instead he has the awareness that God will speak to whom God will speak, and that the only control anyone has over the voice of God is our ability to be present and listen.

Enlightenment and Enchantment

The ministry of Eil was to get Samuel to be open to the possibility that more might be going on than he had previously assumed. Samuel was working with the idea that if he heard something it had to come from the only other person there, Eli invited Samuel into a story of God who speaks

I want to be like Eli.

12th Century Depiction of "Hungry Ghosts"

12th Century Depiction of “Hungry Ghosts”

So back to the Japanese Demons and Charles Taylor…

Part of the challenge that we have in discerning God’s voice today is that it is such a struggle for us to even believe the possibility that God even exists. But while this might be a challenge intellectually, our emotions are still yearning for God, nothing satisfies us. We are filled with an aching longing desire. I think Eli would say, “Listen up.”

C.S. Lewis opened up his professorship at Magdalene College in Cambridge asking a house packed full with students:

Do you think it all meant nothing, all the longing? The longing for home? For indeed it now feels not like going, but like going back. All my life the God of the Mountain has been wooing me…Do you think I am trying to weave a spell? Perhaps I am; but remember your fairy tales. Spells are used for breaking enchantments as well as for inducing them. And you and I have need of the strongest spell that can be found to wake us from the evil enchantment of worldliness which has been laid upon us for nearly a hundred years. Almost our whole education has been directed to silencing this shy, persistent, inner voice; almost all our modem philosophies have been devised to convince us that the good of man is to be found on this earth. And yet it is a remarkable thing that such philosophies of Progress or Creative Evolution themselves bear reluctant witness to the truth that our real goal is elsewhere. When they want to convince you that earth is your home, notice how they set about it. They begin by trying to persuade you that earth can be made into heaven, thus giving a sop to your sense of exile in earth as it is. Next, they tell you that this fortunate event is still a good way off in the future, thus giving a sop to your knowledge that the fatherland is not here and now.

C.S. Lewis believed that the choice wasn’t between enchantment or enlightenment, we are all under a spell, we are all open to something and closed to something else. The choice is which spell to be under.

This is the ministry of Eli, it is to tell the generation that is growing up in a time when “The word of the LORD is rare” that it just might be God you’re hearing from, open yourself up to the possibility that the world is not what you thought it was and that whisper might not be limited to who is in the room with you.

The universe doesn’t fit into a test tube and the world has always been, and still is, enchanted.

So speak LORD, your servants are listening.