I'm thinking, this evening, of my very last meeting at a former job. This was years ago, but I remember it almost perfectly. The job was a church job, and the meeting was a church planning meeting. We were trying to figure out how to encourage people to get to know their neighbors and to throw Jesus-like parties, and connect with people that they'd passed over. And while we were having this discussion, the question came up: were we personally going to do this? Who would we invite?
One of the people in the meeting was a good guy, about my age. Crazy talented, loved Jesus, super smart, the works. He had friends who were far from God, and this distressed him. He was convinced that they're never really understood what it was that they rejected; that they were inoculated against lame, boring, suburban Christianity but were dying to meet Jesus. I thought he was right. But then he said something I've never forgotten.
"Most of the 'neighbors' I'd invite don't actually live around me," he said. "In fact, if I do this I'll probably try to avoid my actual neighbors. They're all Christians, and they're the kind of people my friends are trying to stay away from. Inviting them would be bad for my personal brand."
I was so gobsmacked that I didn't say the first thing that came to my mind. And then the meeting was over, and it was two days before my last day, and I was already working my way through some depression, and I just didn't have the energy or desire or courage to say what I thought:
That's Satanic.Pause there. New thought.
What is the purpose of God in the world?
Heavy thoughts for the one AM on a Friday, but I've been laying in bed thinking and I figure this is better out than in. What is the purpose of God in the world? Surely the best way to tell is to look at Jesus. What was Jesus' primary purpose? What overriding logic applied to all of his actions and words on earth?
I would argue that Jesus' primary concern was the radical disruption of division. The division between God and His people, the division between Jews and Greeks, slaves and free, men and women, clean and unclean: Jesus' primary strategy was the destruction of barriers wherever he found them. It's intrinsic to the Kingdom of God. What did Jesus pray for with his last hours before the crucifixion? Unity.
I don't expect you to agree with that conclusion. It took me a lot more than that brief summary to reach it, and I wouldn't expect you to agree without seeing me show my work. But take it, for a moment, to be true. Imagine with me that you agree. If Jesus' primary strategy was overcoming the separation that people experience with God and with each other, then what would we expect Satan's strategy to be?
Yeah. I'd expect it to include a way to manufacture differences in order to increase division. To erect barriers wherever possible, no matter how arbitrary. There's a word for that activity: it's called branding. I accept (i.e., don't rail much against) corporate branding as a necessary evil, but there is nothing I distrust so much as a personal brand.
It's a crippling thought, because our entire civilization runs on brands. People who set out to cultivate a personal brand don't do so because they're evil, they do it because it works. You can't hardly give away a product without a brand. You certainly can't stay in business without it. But branding is, at root, nothing but differentiation. "This is better than that." "This is cooler than that." "Good/smart/funny/rich/moral people use this, not that." What can you do without a good brand? It's the system of our world.
But if Satan's primary tool is to create division, and if the primary purpose of branding is to create division, then shouldn't we be at least a little bit cautious?