Saturday, April 20, 2013

Eleven Years Today

Saturday, April 20, 2002

Hard to believe.  And we love each other more now than we did then.

Friday, April 19, 2013

Cynicism and the new Dove ad

You've seen the new Dove ad already, right? If not, you should see it. It's really an incredible piece. Watch it full screen, it's worth it.

As I said, this is really an incredible piece, for all kinds of reasons. It's a phenomenal concept... the experiment alone could easily be someone's doctoral thesis. The execution is perfect: on a purely artistic level, it's brilliantly shot and edited. And the message hits hard. I don't know a woman that wouldn't be impacted by this. Heck, I'm far outside the target demographic and it still got to me. They did a great job with it. And it's not even the first one of these Dove has made. Remember this?

And yet by the middle of the first viewing all of my warning bells are going off. Are there some good thoughts in here? Absolutely. Are most women too hard on themselves? Sure. As a man, can I make blanket statements about women without being labeled a sexist? Probably not. But the point stands: while there's a ton of good in this ad that will be helpful for a lot of women, it doesn't change the fact that this is an ad. A brilliant ad, a clever ad, a well-produced ad, but still an ad. Dove isn't running a charity, here, they're trying to sell more soap.

How much money per second do you think Dove spent on this ad? The typical Super Bowl ad is, what, 100k per second? More? How much do you think they spent for a 180-second video? Do you think Dove execs think this was a good investment? If you ran a beauty supply company, how much would you pay to have women forward the following quote to each other while crying about it?
I should be more grateful of my natural beauty. It impacts the choices and the friends that we make, the jobs we apply for, how we treat our children, it impacts everything. It couldn't be more critical to our happiness.
I'll let others deconstruct the ad itself... notice the use of word clusters: "thin" and "pretty" with "happy," "fat" with "sad," etc. At $100,000 per second, there's not an unintentional word in there. I'm not particularly anti-corporate, so it doesn't bother me that the same company that sells women-empowering Dove soap also sells a soap brand for guys: the extremely progressive and women-empowering Axe. I'm not even stressed about the fact that about 10 seconds of the ad is devoted to women who aren't blond Caucasians. Gotta work the FPLM magic somehow. I just want to point out the thesis of the ad: beauty couldn't be more critical to our happiness.

I know that I can be cynical. I'm not necessarily proud of it. But when I see something like this, I can't help but ask "What does the author want to be true?" and "Should I believe that?"  It's shocking how frequently the second answer is "No."

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Jesus and the Pharisees and Moralistic Therapeutic Deism

Now there's a mouthful.

'Jesus' photo (c) 2007, tonystl - license:

I wouldn't say that I'm a terribly fearful person. I rarely make choices based on fear; in fact I would frequently do well to have a little more fear. But one fear I've had over the past year or so, in the background of my mind, is the fear of ending up a Pharisee. Especially as I've watched some of the Christian debate in the public sphere, I've asked myself both "What would Jesus do?" (and I mean that as non-trivially as possible) but also "What would the Pharisees do?" I don't want to be a Pharisee.

I've been listening to the New Testament in 2013, and it's been fascinating. These people seriously got Jesus' goat. Last week, we covered this on our reading plan:
You study the Scriptures diligently because you think that in them you have eternal life. These are the very Scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life.
I read that, and I thought "Please God, do not let that be what you say about me. I don't want to be that guy." But over the past six months or so, I've also been spending some brainpower on America's national religion: Moralistic therapeutic deism, or MTD for short. According to El Wik:
Moralistic therapeutic deism ... is used to describe common religious beliefs among American youth.
  • A god exists who created and ordered the world and watches over human life on earth.
  • God wants people to be good, nice, and fair to each other, as taught in the Bible and by most world religions.
  • The central goal of life is to be happy and to feel good about oneself.
  • God does not need to be particularly involved in one's life except when God is needed to resolve a problem.
  • Good people go to heaven when they die.
It's not hard to imagine where this comes from: it's taught in churches all the time. People pick MTD up out of the air in America... it's not just teenagers that believe this. Over 90% of Americans believe in God, but the vast majority of them believe in this. It's not Fosterism (yet), but we're getting there. People are into Jesus because he sounds like this.

Except that he doesn't. He doesn't at all. Perhaps the most shocking thing for me, as I've been listening to the Gospels again, is how much of what Jesus says goes expressly against MTD. To the extent that such a belief system is compatible with Christianity, it's at the fringes. To the extent that these five ideas are true, it's as incidental to the core things that Jesus taught about himself.

And so the takeaway for me, as I've been watching the myself and the church over the past few months, is that I need to beware MTD just as much as I need to beware "Pharisee-ism." Both sides are equally seductive, and equally dangerous. I need to live in the constant tension between John 5:39-40 and  an equally terrifying verse: Malachi 2:17.
You have wearied the Lord with your words. 
“How have we wearied him?” you ask. 
By saying, “All who do evil are good in the eyes of the Lord, and he is pleased with them” or “Where is the God of justice?”
Don't be that guy. 

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

What I Pray For My Kids

Every night, I pray for Liam as I put him to bed.  On Tuesdays, when Judi is at school, I pray for Jenna too.

Every night I pray the exact same thing.  The words may vary a little bit here and there, but my desires for them are consistent and so I try to make my prayers consistent as well.
Dear God, 
Thank you so much for Liam. I love him very much.

Please help him learn to love You, and to love all of the people around him.

Please help him to make good choices, and please keep him safe and healthy.

In Jesus name,

There are other things I can think to pray.  Before I had kids, I thought praying for safety was overrated.  Instead, we should pray that God would use them powerfully!  These are things that make more sense before you have children.

Every prayer that you pray in front of your kids has to be an honest one to God (kids can tell when you don't really care), but it also has to be something you're teaching your kids.  "This is how I talk to God, kids," or "This is what I want most for you."

If I can pray anything I want for my kids, I want them to learn to love the 1st and 2nd commandments, to learn to make good choices, to be safe, and to be healthy.  Maybe someday I'll add to that prayer, but not today.

Take care of my kids, God.