Swagger Wagon Meet Country Squire

19 05 2010

I first have to say, this video cracks me up!

Advertising is about selling a story – and their story is loud and clear: Yeah, you’re a parent, but you’re not…. your parents. You’re cool. You’re hip. They start off with the dad “rolling hard through the streets” (:30) and the mom “used to party as a college chick”  but now she’s “cruising to their playdates looking all slick” (:50).

Advertising is about knowing your target audience and knowing what they really want. Then tell them that you’ve got it… and what they really want isn’t a car – it’s a lifestyle, an image.

So, I googled and found a comparison for you:

Wow, we can debate racism in the Sienna, but how does that Ford strike our modern feminist sensibilities? Notice they’re only speaking to “the American man [who] is many things” (:08). Compare that to the Sienna wife who handles the money (1:26).

Also, to target their audience of the do-it-yourself breadwinner, they list the load space and engine features (:45, 1:00). Because, you know, men have to care about that stuff, even when they’re looking for status at a low price.

Their story? It’s about having a vehicle that is versatile – beautiful and practical (:19). But if you notice, there’s a subtle message of wealth to go along with it. Just look at the names for the different wagons: the Country Squire and the Park Lane.

Anyway, back to the story being told by Toyota. They’re telling it loud and clear with a whole series of videos that aren’t commercials. Well, they are, they’re just not paying big money to put them on TV. Another example of how times are changing – the best advertising now is viral.

Oh, so you wanted some Christian take on this. Okay: What story are we telling? Is it clear or are we confused ourselves? And also, Christians could learn something about evangelism from marketers…. know what people want / need first, and then tell them about the gospel.


Pursuing Holiness in the Minutiae

14 05 2010

Just a few posts ago, I wrote about how the prophets are incredibly sensitive to the presence of evil and a period of time in which I felt the same. I’ve been praying about returning to that intimacy, but today I remember why it’s so hard: It’s the little things.

I’ve been doing a kind of spiritual cleansing – taking a week to pray through and repent of evil / sin in my life. It feels incredibly good – in the evening, after an hour of prayer and making some necessary phone calls or emails, I am surrounded by peace. But at those times, I’m intentional: I sit down, I pray for the right attitude, and I’m ready to face it all.

But it’s the slap in the face that is so hard to deal with. It’s the sudden and unexpected.

Situation: there’s been a person that’s hard to deal with. He has a good heart and means well, but we’ve been working together on something and he doesn’t always “get” what we’re supposed to do. He’s got ideas – often great ones, but often beyond the scope of our project (too time-intensive or unnecessary, for example). So, sometimes he gets shot down (usually by the boss, sometimes I try to warn him that it won’t fly). Anyway, I wanted to work on our relationship, so that the “shooting down of ideas” was in no way a reflection of who he is as a person. In other words, spend some time with him to develop a friendship to make our work relationship better.  I thought it was working.

Until today he sent me an angry email, criticizing me and trying to “push my buttons”. Everything about the email was designed to get a response out of me. Even his word choices were purely accusatory and character-oriented (Any basic communications class / conflict discussion will tell you never to attack someone’s character, but to focus on the actions and how you feel. For example, “I felt disappointed when you forgot to call me.” instead of “You’re so irresponsible!”)

Okay, so here’s the real point: I got angry. The button-pushing worked. I hit “reply” and started to (1) justify myself and (2) return with my own accusations. Well, I quickly knew that I shouldn’t write a response while angry, so I stopped. But then I was just reading and re-reading the email. And getting more angry. The sort of thoughts going through my head:

You have no right to say these things!

And I was trying to be nice to you!

I don’t have to work with you. I can be done with this. That’s it. I’m done! I’m going to email back saying I won’t work with you any more. Then see how you like it – I won’t be your buffer. I don’t have to take this!

Well, you get the point. And I’m sure we’ve all been there. I was really starting to get worked up (this all lasted about 2 minutes…)

Then I heard the smallest prompting from the Spirit. Just last night, I made promises about seeking to be holy, pursuing unity and compassion and grace and forgiveness. The memory of those promises tugged at my soul. The Spirit was telling me to stop. To let go of the anger and pray about how to build up this relationship – even apologize for the things the person criticized if needed.

But I didn’t want to. And here is the crux of all of our choices – in that moment, I knew what God wanted and I knew what I felt. And they didn’t line up. And because I knew that so clearly, I also knew I had a choice to make – the knowledge of the difference between God’s will and mine at that moment made me eminently more responsible than if I’d sent an angry email in the first few moments. Because once you know something, you can’t “un-know” it. At that moment, I knew I was wrong with certainty and clarity. Any action I take after that is nothing but clear, direct rebellion.

Still, even as that all became clear, I hesitated. Then I remembered – I loudly commanded the enemy to be silent, and put myself at the mercy of God. I knew the difference between right and wrong, but had no strength to choose the right in that moment. So I told God that he’d better take over.

He did. And now I’ve written this post. And in a moment, I will pray about how to respond – whether to send out an apology, an explanation, to send nothing, or to make a direct call / arrange a time to get together and talk about it. Ultimately, done with the right spirit, any of these could be the right action. Conversely, with the wrong spirit, any of them could just make it worse. That’s why it comes down to guidance. And in the perspective of the prophets, it’s about “Sensitivity to Evil” and “The Importance of Trivialities”.

What Manner of Man is the Prophet? (Part 2)

13 05 2010

So, continuing with the characteristics of a prophet. . .

3. Uses Luminous and Explosive Language

A prophet writes in a style both “poetic . . . [and] charged with agitation, anguish, and a spirit of nonacceptance”. His words are “designed to shock rather than to edify” and his “images much not shine, they must burn.” The prophet speaks out boldly and loudly to get attention to the issue, disregarding social conventions or matters of style. He’s not an eloquent public speaker trying to convince the audience of his side of the issue – he stands out and condemns the wrong and call people to repent and change what’s wrong in this world.

The reason he speaks with such conviction and power: “his life and soul are at stake in what he says and in what is going to happen to what he says.” God holds Ezekiel responsible for delivering God’s word, however unpopular it might be. God says that if Ezekiel doesn’t deliver the message, the person’s / nation’s sin is on Ezekiel’s head. But if he delivers it, their sin is on their own heads for not listening to him. That’s a huge responsibility. And, as the prophet is a member of the society to which he speaks, the prophet equally shares in their fate.

“Authentic utterance derives from a moment of identification of a person [prophet] and a word [that he’s delivering]… He is one not only with what he says; he is involved with his people in what his words foreshadow.” The prophet cannot speak prophetically until he identifies himself with(a) the message and (b) the subject to whom he will speak. This is similar to Christ becoming human – he doesn’t have the right to speak to us until he is one of us – and in so doing, he becomes the message. This isn’t so strange as it may seem – a person speaks most passionately when they truly believe what they say, and even more convincingly when they’ve experienced what they say. In this way, the best messenger must identify himself with the message (although we must not confuse the two).

What Manner of Man is the Prophet? (Part 1)

12 05 2010

Christians should be reading far more Jewish theologians – they have beautiful perspectives on God. Abraham J. Heschel (d. 1972) is one such academic, though a bit more of a spiritualist than anything else. I obtained a copy of his The Prophets and began reading. It’s…. powerful.

Also, although he himself believed prophecy had ended, I challenge those with charismatic leanings to compare his words to your understanding of a prophet. I find that, while his perspective sounds different, it rings quite true of prophets today – of what prophets today ought to be.

I was going to simply list the characteristics of a prophet he gives in his first chapter, but instead I want to meditate upon them. So, I will present them just one or two in a post, with some reflections.

1. Sensitive to Evil

A prophet has a “breathless impatience with injustice” and “is a man who feels fiercely”. This is in contrast to the rest of humanity, whose “eyes are witness to the callousness and cruelty of man, but  . . . we rarely grow indignant or overly excited”. I’m reminded of an intense period of time when I was spending more than 8 hours a day in prayer, when God’s voice was clear and his presence tangible. During that time, every slight sin, every cruel word from my mouth, or impatient action felt like a wall going up between me and God. The wall was so painful, that I’d immediately repent and take whatever action I could to apologize or change. Just before bed one night, I spoke sharply to someone. The wall between me and God was so intense, that I couldn’t sleep. I was only able to feel at peace when I promised God that I would ask their forgiveness as soon as I awoke. Indeed, I was up before sunrise and looking for the person I needed to apologize to. What intimacy to feel the smallest prick of sin!

“Prophecy is the voice that God has lent to the silent agony” of this fallen world. This incredible sensitivity to the presence of evil is not intended to be a personal matter for the prophet – it has a social orientation. The prophet is obligated to speak out for injustice and to speak out on a large scale. That is, some today seem to feel that prophecy is just a gift for God to speak to the individual person – to speak words of encouragement or guidance. But, according to Old Testament prophets, it has a much large scope.

2. Knows the Importance of Trivialities

The ways and plight of humans are insignificant compared to God, but God chooses to be “preoccupied with man, with the concrete actualities of history rather than with the timeless issues of thought [philosophy].” The prophet is also concerned with the trivial and the details, agonizing over imperfections. The main point here is one of the contrast between the philosophic / theological and the prophetic. I think this ties in nicely with the sensitivity to evil, as a sensitivity to details and imperfections. But it’s also a sensitivity to how the little things add up in life – daily choices take us on our whole life’s course, and I think the prophet has the ability to see that. The prophet can look at those little things and see what they’re adding up to.

Having a Book on Hand

11 05 2010

Living in Korea means that English books are hard to come by. I mean, not impossible, but you really have to make the effort. So when I get the chance, I check out or buy books. Of course, I’m often far too ambitious and check out a dozen books… and proceed to read a chapter of each. But I’ve discovered something more valuable – the random used books. Whenever possible, I pick up a few used books with no intention of reading them. They’re something that catches my eye, that I might browse for a bit in a book store. There’s no particular category for these – some fiction is great, but even theology or history books will do. I take them home and forget about them. They don’t call to me, I don’t feel guilty for not getting around to them. They just sit on my shelf, hidden and forgotten.

Until the restless evening when I find myself staring at the shelf. I’m usually surprised at what I find there. I pick something up, flip through it, and then proceed to read about half of it. I usually manage to finish it in a few days. I’m discovering that this is a highly effective way to read in Korea. Strangely, I’m sure this wouldn’t work for me in the US – I think I’d buy too many books, or feel “obligated” to read them because I bought them.

Of course, having access to a university library means I can usually find the books I really want as well. So, although I’m intentionally restraining my reading (I get lost in ideas easily & anti-social), it seeps into my life wherever I go. Books I’m currently reading:

All in all, my reading is pretty slow at the moment, thoroughly eccentric, and pleasurably entertaining.

A Two-week Challenge

10 05 2010

It only takes about a month to gain a new habit. Seriously. And honestly, it doesn’t even matter if you fail a few times (ahem, a lot) during that month. But even that month depends on the first two weeks. So really, it takes about 2 weeks to kick off a new habit (or stop one).

For example: You want to go to the gym four times a week. That’s a good number, gives you some room for missing out. Or eat more vegetables. Or pray daily. Or write a journal / blog. Or not smoke.

All you have to do is: (1) make a commitment to just 1 week and (2) connect it to a “trigger” action.

(1) A week is short and definable, it’s easy to see the end of it. If you “really want” to do something, you can usually use that to get through the first week.

(2) Find a realistic time to put it in your schedule. Waking up an hour early to do it probably won’t work. But going to the gym after work, or praying between brushing your teeth and going to bed – those are reasonable. Smokers – a little trickier as there is a chemical addiction, but deal with the physical habit. Try chewing gum. Take a smoking break like before, take a long stick of gum, and chew it slowly, by biting off small bits. In other words, make it as similar to smoking as possible. Try to connect it to your real schedule so that something you already do will “trigger” the newest habit.

Suspending the Critic

6 05 2010

I fired my critic a few weeks ago. She was driving me crazy! Everything I did, or everything I heard, she was picking out the faults. Of course, she was generally right. And I have to give her credit – she didn’t nitpick. She usually reserved her critiques for the important things, and only pointed out one or two major flaws. She especially liked finding the flaws with logic or theology.

But a few weeks ago, she was hovering over one book I was trying to read. She wasn’t saying anything, just hovering with that watchful eye in a fairly restrained manner. But still, hovering. I could sense her breathing down my neck, waiting to find a major flaw in the writing, the ideas presented, or the author’s perspective.

So I fired her. I told her to get lost and never find her way back. I told her that I appreciate her caution, and that she is well-trained with a good eye and discipline. But I also told her I won’t be needing her services at the moment.

The amazing thing? She left. Instantly. Didn’t return stealthily or whisper negative thoughts in my ear. I haven’t heard a word from her. I know that if I ever need her, she’ll return at a moment’s notice. And she may even creep back when I’m tired or otherwise irritable. But for now…

The spirit of criticism left.