Mad Men – The Shell of Happiness

“Advertising is based on one thing: happiness. And do you know what happiness is? Happiness is the smell of a new car. It’s freedom from fear. It’s a billboard on the side of a road that screams with reassurance that whatever you’re doing is OK. You are OK.”

madmenDonDon Draper has it all.

Wife, kids, job, house and a nice car. He works in advertising bringing people happiness in the shape of a product. He has a nice suit, slick hair and poetic words that drip from his tongue.

Everyone wants to be Don Draper.

But cracks begin to show. The layers begin to strip off and you start to see that this happiness is a shell. You find out quickly in the show Mad Men, that Don draper is extremely unhappy, living a lie on many levels and trying to sell people an empty happiness, a happiness that leaves you feeling cold.

But he does what we all do. He reflects our human propensity to hide. To cover up and plunge ourselves in a hole. To find fig leaves large enough to cover our shame and our longing.

We ache, sensing that there is something wrong and so we go on a rampage to fill the gap. We seek temporary happiness to gloss us over, sucking in the lies of the adverts that promise us that a certain product will make us feel better, make us feel complete and as Don says whatever it is to “scream with reassurance that whatever you’re doing is OK. You are OK.”

You are OK, right? Why then, is there always that sense of feeling vacant? After a shopping spree or a night drinking or going from one partner to another, there is a void that keeps tickling the edge of your conscience.

There must be more than this, right?

In John’s Gospel we meet a woman. She is collecting water in the middle of the day from a well where Jesus starts to talk to her and her story begins to unfold.

She was going from one man to another, not really finding happiness. Searching but not finding. Resulting in being an outcast, collecting water at the hottest part of the day and being alone.

Jesus knew the cycle she was in and offered her something better:

“Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again.The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” (John 4:13-14)

madmenJesus says he offers something better than what the world offers. The world offers empty promises, shells and shadows of truth.

Jesus offers the real thing and gives it freely. He gives himself freely and says that if you take this offer, you will never be thirsty again. He is the fountain in the wilderness.

Don Draper sells a lie and he knows it. He wraps himself in affairs and nice suits, but we see glimpses of a man who is deeply unhappy and unsatisfied. That is what the world can offer. Shells and suits. Flings and broken wells.

But Jesus offers life and belonging. Redemption and family. Hope and living water.

The woman at the well was seeking this and took it.
Don Draper desperately needs this but doesn’t take it.

But what about us? What will we do?

The Truman Show: Freedom Outside the Cage

TrumanshowRecently I watched the Truman show on Film 4 and I was struck by how much it was telling me about their view of the Creator.

The God role of Christof (Christ?!) the creator has a booming voice from the sky and he has Truman in a giant dome of ignorance while he watches and even controls him. On top of that the film makes us ask the question: “what is true reality and what is true freedom”? And can we get any of that with God or without Him?

As Christof says, “We accept the reality of the world with which we are presented.”

Those growing up in religion or those believing in God simply accept the reality they are presented and they never question it. We may feel that God is just like Christof who keeps Truman in a cage through lies and watches his every move like Big Brother. And this cage is the safe place, outside the cage is the sickness;

“I have given Truman the chance to lead a normal life. The world, the place you live in, is the sick place.”

At the end of the film, the Creator speaks to Truman from the Moon. He is cold and distant and Truman decides he has had enough and wants to go on an adventure outside of the Truman bubble. He seeks truth and reality away from his creator.

And the Creator loses his star and the whole of the Truman show collapses. Once the truth is discovered there is now freedom and no need to live in a cage and no need for the Creator. But the question is still there:

The_Truman_Show2Will Truman find true freedom and life outside the Truman show?

It is interesting that they portray this view of God. And I think many people can resonate with Truman. They see God as an old man in the sky. With a white flowing beard and wearing a glowing robe. He has a booming yet distant voice. He hides in the sky, far away and shouts commands to his creation.

And often Christians see God like this, a cold and distant being hiding in the clouds.

It’s odd because not even in the Old Testament is God like this. Straight away the Lord in Genesis 3 is walking in the garden. He eats and talks with Abraham (Genesis 18) he speaks to Hagar (Genesis 21), he speaks to Moses face to face (Exodus 33) etc..

Ed Harris The Truman ShowWhat’s more, there is no solitary being alone in the clouds, but there is a unity of three. Father, Son and Spirit who dance together and who interact with their creation in a personal way right from the start.

Most importantly, the Son becomes flesh and walks among us. He walks around in the world, the “sick place” as Christof calls it, and he touches, talks to, eats with, heals, forgives and loves the sick people. The Trinity is no distant God.

The Sent One walks in and among the sickness of the world and brings hope, healing and salvation.

We are right to reject Christof as a portrayal of the Christian God. If you disliked him and the world he created, if you yearn for finding truth outside the cage, then I agree with you.

But the cage isn’t the world of the Trinity, or the life in the Son. The cage is always outside of Christ, a place of darkness and sin. Christ beckons us to find Truth and reality in Him, not outside of Him. He allures us to find life and love in him, not anywhere else. And he doesn’t call us from a distant far off cloud, he calls us by walking with us in our darkness and shame and he carries us and shines a light in the darkness.

There is no life in the creator Christof, there is only a cage that this one person creator can offer Truman. A cage of rules and camera’s and lies and control. That is not a place we want to be and thankfully our God offers ever-lasting life in the Son and in Him is freedom.

1998_the_truman_showSo will Truman find true freedom and life outside the Truman show?

A resounding yes to this question, but only if he turns to Christ. If he turns to the world and the idols of the world then he will find himself in another cage with an idol that is perhaps more destroying then the first.

And so if you find you are feeling a bit like Truman, like you are in a cage and your view of God is like that of Christof. Then run to Christ. Don’t run to the world, it wont offer you what you heart truly needs.

You need to run to Christ and find freedom outside the cage.

What Disney Shows Us

disney-princess-merida-disney-princessI grew up on Disney. The moving drawings, the damsel in distress, the out of the blue songs that make me cringe and yet I know all the words. A world of dragons,  talking animals, carpet rides, evil step mums, ugly sisters, useless fathers, pretty stick thin women in chains and heroic men on a white shiny white horse with a sword which may or may not be able to sing…

I really like Disney. I think they make good (predictable) stories. It is true that they pump out the stereotype of a princess who is useless but has perfect hair and can sing to birds which may or may not blow up, who are deeply unhappy and alone without a man to complete her. She then unfortunately gets into a tangle and gets captured and the only way to be saved is through a man who can probably sing and who goes on countless adventures and ends up being her true love and then they live happily ever after. 

On the surface the classic Disney cliché of prince and princess gives out a few bad vibes like:

  • Women are only truly happy and complete when they meet their man (who may or may not be able to sing). 
  • Women are always the damsels in distress… men almost never get captured and need saving.
  • Men do the saving, they have the adventures. The women are stuck inside four walls.
  • Women can sing to animals and while the men are away the animals do all the work while the woman reads Hello magazine..
  • The woman is the princess and wears pretty dresses, eats only celery or dust to maintain her hour-glass figure. 
  • The men are handsome, unless you are a beast… in which case you are very hairy. 
  • There is nearly always a useless father… 
  • There is nearly always an evil woman or witch
  • There is nearly always a dim woman in a pretty dress that thinks animals can talk to her
  • There is nearly always a man on a horse who over time will turn into a useless father or a frog.
  • A Kiss will solve everyone’s problem.
  • Never eat fruit in a Disney movie…

Here is the thing, although some of this lurks in our Disney movies and it doesn’t always give out the best image or vibes of what it is to be a man or a woman (Although I think it is slowly changing like in Brave), it does however get something right.

The need for salvation.

It is easy to get frustrated at the “fruit-eating, singing to a flower” woman being all perfect and in distress and for the man to carry her away into the sunset after a great adventure. However it is kinda true.

The need for a saviour is imprinted in our narratives. Our stories burst at the seams with the need for salvation, a rescuer and a hero. Our Superman’s, Ironmans, Harry Potters and Lord of the Rings cry out for a hero to save us.

superman

In the film Superman Returns, Superman says:

“You wrote that the world doesn’t need a saviour, but every day I hear people crying for one.”

The world is crying out for one. Our culture reflects that. Our Disney movies reflect that. And it’s not just women who need a saviour, but its the men as well. And the true saviour doesn’t just have a great adventure and jumps on his horse. He actually dies and gives up everything for his bride.

He is a hero that sacrifices.

Disney may get some things wrong. But it gets one huge thing right. It echoes a story of a bride who is trapped and in trouble and the man who is the King dies for her, is risen to life, carries her, speaks tenderly to her and saves her. 

When we have kids and they watch Disney movies, I hope I can discuss this with them. I hope I can dispel some of the myths that Disney leaks out about men and women. But I hope I can draw them into the true story that Disney echoes. We are all, male and female in need of a saviour. And this saviour Jesus Christ, is far better than what Disney portrays their hero as. And we are in way more trouble then what the princess is in. And its going to take more than a kiss to save us. It’s going to need blood.

And yes there will be a Happy Ever After.

The Rubber hits the Road

theologyTheology is really easy to talk about. It is easy to sit down around the table with the steam of hot coffee rolling around the edges of the cup, having your bibles open and your notebooks at the ready. It’s easy to say words like penal substitution and Calvinism and eschatology. They roll around your tongue and you spit them out.

It’s easy when your twenty something to see the world as black and white and carry theological debates in your pocket. You can argue about the pie in the sky until the blueberry filling squirts you in the face.

I feel like I am in the business of talking about theology. I can read the arguments and thrash out a theological position. I can quote scripture and I can also tie myself in knots with the straw from the thousands of straw men I create. And it’s good to talk, it’s good to work these things out and question and ponder.

But theology isn’t just about talk.  It isn’t just about the debates or late night discussions about predestination.

I think the rubber hits the road when life smacks you in the face.

Last week I was watching a programme where cameras followed around 4 families in their every day life. One family had a daughter and her partner expecting a baby but their were complications. They lost the baby. During this the mother makes a comment about religious people having faith and believing in God and how he comforts them. I think she really wanted that, deep down I think she yearned for that comfort.

Thing is, it’s easy to have a sound theology and all the right arguments, but when something like this happens its hard, it’s messy. It isn’t so black and white. I wanted to tell them that Jesus really loves them.

As Christians when suffering comes along we are caused to wrestle with the truths of scripture and God’s character. We ask: Who is God? Is He good? Does the death and resurrection of his Son matter? Does God understand my suffering?

I guess the heart of theology is believing in the middle of my suffering.
It’s clinging to Christ while in pain.
It’s believing in the resurrection when death knocks on your door.

I think theology tastes and feels different when you walk that road. It also sounds different when you walk that road with friends.

I haven’t really gone through great suffering, but ive walked with friends who have. The way they talk about God is different, theology has a different musical note. It’s no longer pies in the sky, but its real and it has to be wrestled with. It’s not about being right or wrong as in a debate, but it’s about clinging to Christ and finding joy and hope.

I think theology is good to talk about. But things aren’t always clear-cut. The part where it really takes effect and really matters is where theology meets real life.

And so, rich theology often comes alive when you go through an experience. Suddenly theology is no longer abstract but its earthy, weighty and holds more significance for you. The Hymn “O Love that will not let you go” by George Matheson, was birthed out of a painful experience of rejection and loss. The reality of the Lord’s love and comforting promises in a time of suffering becomes not just mere words, but wonderful truth to cling to, so that he can sing in his anguish verses like this:

O Love that will not let me go,
I rest my weary soul in thee;
I give thee back the life I owe,
That in thine ocean depths its flow
May richer, fuller be.

O Joy that seekest me through pain,
I cannot close my heart to thee;
I trace the rainbow through the rain,
And feel the promise is not vain,
That morn shall tearless be.

What beautiful theology! What a beautiful Christ we have! This is theology in action and I feel the best kind of theology there is, a theology that doesn’t just stay at the edges of the table, but overflows into our lives and helps us cling to our beautiful saviour in times of trials and darkness.

When the Broken Walk in

gloryflowerTwo years ago a mother walked into our church holding her baby called Lexi. Her baby had cancer and she had run out of options. Could we try praying? I remember this mum standing up the front asking Jesus to help her and our Elders calling us to pray. Cancer go away. Be healed.

Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18, ESV)

Pray without ceasing. Two years went by. During this time of praying Lexi’s mum met Jesus. He turned her life upside down. You can see the difference. You can see the joy.

This mum first walked in clutching her baby with cancer and seeming to have no hope at all. Then she met Jesus and she changed from no hope to having every hope and expectancy.

The father of Lexi saw a change. Lexi’s mum was different. The hope and new life she has is infectious. The change is life changing and people notice. Lexi’s father met Jesus and Jesus changed him too. Welcome to the family.

This is almost like the story of the paralysed man. People bringing him in from the roof in desperation and Jesus saying “your sins are forgiven”… they and you cry – “But you missed the point Jesus, he wants to walk!”

But Jesus says – “Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Rise, take up your bed and walk’? (Mark 2v9)

Jesus says – which is more important? Healing of our body or of our heart? Jesus cleanses the heart through his blood and gives eternal life.

Jesus did that with Lexi’s mum and dad. He said to them – “Your sins are forgiven”. This is a beautiful miracle in itself. We rejoice in this!

The story could end here. It does for many people and there is still reason to rejoice at this point. Even though its painful. There can be an element of yearning and sorrow in our rejoicing. “Though I walk through the wilderness. Blessed Be Your name”

But the story doesn’t stop there. Not today.

We got told on Sunday that another miracle has happened. Lexi has been healed. At this point she hadn’t had any treatment however the cancer had gone. It is impossible. No more cancer. No more tumors. No more. Gone. Miracle.

The faith of the church was raised on that Sunday. My faith has risen too. Not because of the sign itself but because of who the sign points to. Jesus.

Thank you Jesus.

It is good to be church. It’s good to be a part of this family where broken, hopeless people are welcomed, they meet Jesus and their lives change. It’s good to cry together and rejoice together. The roof was raised on Sunday. Together we prayed, together we praised, together we felt a part of this. Faith was raised together in church.

Thank you Jesus for the church. Thank you for Lexi and her mum and dad. Thank you that you do heal, but more so thank you that you save.

“I say to you, rise, pick up your bed, and go home.” And he rose and immediately picked up his bed and went out before them all, so that they were all amazed and glorified God, saying, “We never saw anything like this!” (Mark 2v11-12)

A New Name Review

I finally got my hands on Emma Scrivener’s new book – “A new name – Grace and Healing for anorexia”. This is such a good book that I read it in a day and just found myself very moved and challenged by Emma’s story. When you pick up this book you may thinking that it isn’t for you because you don’t have anorexia, but as my friend Emily wrote on her blog – “So why read A New Name? Because we are all sick, and we are all sinners. And Jesus is the one who has come, like light into a dark, cold place, to bring life and freedom by giving us Himself.”

This is a story that all of us could read and on different levels identify with whats going on. I think Emma is a fantastic writer, her words grip you on every page and she carries you along her story that can make you laugh or move you to tears. She is honest and open and that’s what I like about it, she connects with the audience and isn’t afraid to paint the real picture of anorexia and the real picture of having idols.

The part that captured me most was when Emma met Jesus and saw the Lion and the Lamb. As I read her experience it seemed truly breath-taking. It reminded me of who Jesus really is – a husband sacrificing himself for us and inviting us  to be with his Father who has his arms wide open for us. Emma found her identity in Christ. This is a wonderfully testimony to read and she is honest in saying it’s not all over, she isn’t riding off into the sunset with a Happy Ever After Flag…she is still fighting and from her blog she is not hiding her battles but she is reminding us who she is in Christ.

This is why all Christians and non christians should read it. We are all broken and all running after idols that never satisfy us. Emma is really honest about this, yet often we aren’t. Often I am not – I want to hide away my sin and idols. But what Emma has taught me is that my identity isn’t in them but in Christ and those idols don’t own me because I am free in Christ, therefore I don’t need to hide or prove myself to anyone and neither do you. She shows us that there is always hope and that Jesus will never leave us.

Buy this book. Read her blog. Encourage her and be encouraged that Jesus loves you and your identity is in him.

Thief in the night

You think I am going to talk about the return of Jesus, but I am not. I am talking about a real thief that appeared in the night in our house a few days before Christmas and took several things. Burgled. Now here comes the point where you bite the bullet and you realise how much you don’t actually believe in forgiveness if its something that has happened against you. You sit awake in the middle of the night with anger on your heart and fear in your soul because you don’t want those feet of the thief trawling through your house while you sleep again. And you despise that thief for taking away not so much your things but more your peace and safety. Home can never be a refuge again and perhaps it never should have been and sleep was stolen not by crying babies or even bumps in the night but by little devils writing shadows on the walls and whispering fearful thoughts. Soon a climax is reached where you either break and crumble realising your weakness and such need for help or the fear breaks into a fever and clings to you forever more, allowing the little devils to continue using the nighttime as their playground for mischief.

It would be better to crumble to your knees then to allow those little devils to win. And in that crumbling you soon recognise that it’s not much that you don’t believe in forgiveness but that you need the forgiver more than life itself. Once that thought trembles past your lips you begin to see little specs of light, hope echoing ever so softly the wonderful words of “Perfect love casts out fear” and you welcome it, embrace it and are warmed by it. That thief may of broken into our house, took a few nights of sleep and some possessions, but they never took away the hope that remains in our soul, the true refuge and treasures above nor the joy that resides in our hearts because we know that there will be a time of no more tears and all fears will be cast out by perfect love. And we can echo this verse from “After the Storm” by Mumford and Sons:

“And there will come a time, you’ll see, with no more tears.
And love will not break your heart, but dismiss your fears.
Get over your hill and see what you find there,
With grace in your heart and flowers in your hair.”