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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.

On September 15, 2011


This is a video that we showed at Highland a few weeks ago as we kicked off the new series EXTRAS. I read an article last year about the myriad of people who are in front of the cameras but behind the scenes in all of your favorite films and TV Shows. Most of them will never get discovered, they work hard and are paid little. And the question that kept coming back to me was…”Why? Why would anyone do this?”

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On June 17, 2011


The story that the Bible is telling is Epic. It’s this large over-arching story with a thousand different characters that are flawed and hopeful, deeply broken yet strangely included. And there is a plot that is guiding these little stories toward a larger more magnificent one.

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On October 4, 2010


Last year I read the Lord of the Rings for the first time. I had a feeling that I would like the books, but I never wanted to be “that guy.” It kind of seemed like a slippery slope. One minute I’m reading about Frodo, and the next I’m wearing a Star Trek uniform and talking to guy who owns the local Comic book store about the Borg.

I was wrong. Continue Reading…

On May 23, 2010


So over the past few years I’ve written several times on the show Lost. I never wanted to be “that guy” who found meaning in a T.V. Series, but for those of us who have watched for the past 6 years, we know that there was something unique about Lost. I know that it ultimately had the same goal for revenue that all TV shows have, and that if the ratings hadn’t been good the plot would have run dry. But underneath all of that was this epic, beautiful story.

I heard one of the producers say something about the show that I thought was interesting. He said that it didn’t feel as though they created it, as much as it was just connecting to something that was already there.

And I think he’s right. Since no story is written in a vacuum, I’d like to ask what cultural ethos produced Lost?Think about it Romeo and Juliet was written in the context of religious tribalism between the Protestants and Catholics, The great American novelists wrote stories shaped by the American Frontier. So what made the smoke monster?

I have a theory. Continue Reading…

On February 24, 2010

Alternative Stories

In the book, Super-Freakenomics, the authors begin with a curious story about what happened when cable television came to villages in India. Which doesn’t sound like it’d be that interesting. I mean nobody wants to read about what cable has done for my life.

But this is actually fascinating. Because cable television didn’t come to every village. Only some villages got the blessing we know of as ESPN, leaving others wondering just what team did Antawn Jamison go to? But what this situation did, is let economist know exactly what kind of impact introducing Television had on the rural, Indian culture. And the results might surprise you. Continue Reading…

On January 5, 2010

The Start of Our Stories

Last night on a flight to St. Louis I had a conversation with a very unique man. He was agnostic, and really, really interesting. He was the assistant Grand Marshall of Arms in D.C. And he had rubbed shoulders with the elite and powerful of this country.

When he asked me what I did for a living, the conversation turned toward the Bible. He knew the basic characters, and I guess was trying to be polite and make conversation. But then he said something that I felt needed a reply. He said he was glad that the Bible was around, it gives people something to strive for. But he could never be as good as those characters in the BIble.

So I told him that he already was.

And here’s what I mean by that: Continue Reading…

On December 15, 2009

Call Him Jesus

If there is a major theme in the first five books of the Bible, it’s movement. The people of God never stayed in one place too long, and if they did it didn’t seem to go well for them. Like slavery, prison, or death….that kind of not going well for them.

And so they camped, for a long, long time. Continue Reading…