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.


The System’s Broken

1 05 2010

I have a confession. I have student debt. Significant student debt. As in, enough to buy a house in a small town.

Yes, it was my choice.

No, I don’t regret it.

Here’s a graph that’s been floating around:

A lot of people are noticing that college is far more expensive than it used to be, and probably than it should be as well.

I don’t have a solution. I’m just saying there’s a problem. A lot of people are saying there’s a problem.

So, how do we address this? I think we’d better figure out a theology of education, then take a look at economics, politics, sociology, even psychology.

In other words, the answer’s going to take a whole lot of brilliant people in a whole lot of important fields. Well, that’s also true of global warming, international relations, poverty…

The Church’s role? (1)Prayer. (2) Having a theology to ground the answers we seek. If our theology says God created the world and it was good, then we have a starting place to deal with environmental issues. If our theology says that humans are made in the image of God, then we begin to address poverty.

The answers aren’t easy, but first, we need to see that there’s a problem.

Keep it Simple

30 04 2010

Been watching TED Talks on my lunch break at work. This one has given me something to think about.

The point: simplicity.

The definition: something functional, reliable, cheap, and inter-connectable.

The best quote: “Perfection is finally attained not when there is no longer anything to add, but when there is no longer anything to take away.” – Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

This is all in reference to design, the Keep It Simple and Stupid (KISS) principle.

But isn’t great writing equally elegant in its economy?

And our faith? A theology as simple as possible, but no simpler? (Paraphrase of Einstein)

A Cultural Frustration

27 04 2010

I’ve debated whether I’m better off writing a post every day, even if it’s hard, or waiting until I have something to say and the time to write it well. Considering my track record on this blog, I’d say that latter isn’t working too well. So, a random reflection for the day.

Cultural frustration moment: I have a vet I go to regularly. He’s a nice guy. Both him and his assistant speak English pretty well and seem to know what they’re doing. The other day, I even tried an experiment – I called for an appointment! He must have saved my number, because he answered with “Hello!” It was quite cheery. I happily made a grooming appointment.

So, later I stopped by with some friends to drop off Selah. I’ve taken her in before and they do a god job. So it should be simple. I told him I wanted her shaved everywhere, leaving about 1 cm of hair. He was clear on it. The assistant showed me another dog as a sample, and I joked, “No, I don’t want a naked dog. Just 1 cm.” He clearly got it also.

Then the vet saw that one of my friends was Korean. And, while her English is good, it’s no better than the vet’s. But suddenly, he wouldn’t speak to me. He asked her what I wanted. And she proceeded to answer! They spoke about line cuts and all sorts of other things in Korean for at least 10 minutes. My friend has never had a dog (and presumably doesn’t know anything about grooming) and she never asked me what I wanted. I even walked out of the room to see my other friend. Honestly, I was very upset.

Finally, after they agreed on something that did NOT involve shaving, I said, “No, just shave her to 1 cm.” As I said that, the assistant joked, “No naked dog, right?” He got it and I appreciated his easing the situation.

So, what happened here?

First, as far as the vet’s concerned, he probably assumed a friend of mine spoke better English than he did. I get that, although that’s just a sign of how much he under-estimates himself. Also, I get that he probably wanted her to play the role of translator, not realizing she would just answer him herself.

Second, I don’t really know this friend very well, so I can’t guess at what she was thinking. She seems to have mis-understood my directions about “1 cm”, because I think she was convincing him I didn’t want Selah shaved. Perhaps she thought “no naked dog” meant no shaving, just a trim.

Most important: Why was I so angry?

A lot of it is perspective. Now I have it; then, I didn’t. That’s a big part of living in another culture – recognizing that your perspectives are different. And honestly, they will always be different. So even if you don’t “get” what others are thinking, the key is to understand what they think, learn to predict how they’ll react, and be patient with it. After all, you’re the foreigner with crazy ideas / strange reactions.

But for myself – How was I feeling that made me angry? I think it was mostly feeling de-valued / de-humanized. They spoke as if I wasn’t in the room, or as if my opinion didn’t matter. It was like I vanished. It was terribly rude.

But finally, a lot of it is about control. It’s my dog, my appointment, and my money is paying for the haircut. So I want my say in it. I was mostly upset with the vet for asking my friend instead of me; it takes away my authority as the client in the situation.

However, I recognized my anger and tried to hold my tongue. I know the feelings still seeped through – I don’t hide them that well. But, I also made an effort and let go of the anger within 20 minutes. As Ephesians says, “Be angry, but do not sin. And do not let the anger stay for long.” It’s nice to know that God understands our emotions welling up. We’re allowed to feel angry.

Anyway, the cut turned out perfect. And Selah act light and free!

Best Sellers & Scripture

26 02 2010

Those two words don’t often go hand-in-hand: best seller & Bible. Unless, of course, someone is quoting that the Bible IS the ultimate best seller. Which it is. But I’m not.

About a year ago, I heard reference to A.J. Jacob’s The Year of Living Biblically. I put it on my list of “books to read” on my iGoogle homepage. A year later, it is still the only book on the that list – not because I’m not ambitious, but because I don’t iGoogle. Seriously, who needs iGoogle when Gmail does the same stuff?  Anyway, a year later, it fell into my lap (the book, of course, not iGoogle!).

Basic reflections: I could have told you exactly what would happen before I picked up this book. See, there’s only 2 ways for it to end: either he becomes a believer / follower or he doesn’t. And guess what? If it’s on the best seller list, I can guarantee I know how it ends.

He did everything right to create a best seller: He took religion (Judaism and Christianity both) just seriously enough to engage even the ardently faithful, but irreverently enough to keep it light. He did his research thoroughly, maintaining fairness to each side of the issues. He touched upon all the key debates, without any firm commitments to any of them. In fact, he laid bare his liberal, agnostic perspective, kept an open mind, and ultimately discovered “spirituality”. His words:

In a sense, they were right to worry. You can’t immerse yourself in religion for 12 months and emerge unaffected. At least I couldn’t. Put it this way: If my former self and my current self met for coffee, they’d get along okay, but they’d both probably walk out of the Starbucks shaking their heads and saying to themselves, “That guy is kinda delusional.”

But in the end, the spirituality he comes up with is nothing more than a post-modern sense of the divine. Is it true? Partially. But it misses the point completely. He admitted he learned to be thankful, that seemed to be one of his best experiences. However, even he confessed that it was thanks directed toward no one – that when he did try to direct the thanks toward some god, it felt even better / more meaningful.

I was hoping to find something useful for Christians in it, much like I Sold my Soul on eBay. But I didn’t. There’s no perceptive insight into Christianity. Yes, there’s an outsider looking in, but he just admires, shrugs his shoulders, and turns away. We can find no reflection of ourselves in him.

What we do find is a perfect reflection of American culture today. There’s a yearning for something deeper, an acceptance of “spirituality”, but a turning away from religious tradition.

The results would have been the same if he’d tried Buddhism.

Discovering Tegu: The Next Generation in Blocks

7 02 2010

I discovered a new toy: blocks!

When I was a kid, blocks looked something like this:

They were simple and easy to use. And. while we enjoyed them, we all knew Legos were better. In fact, as a kid, I remember think blocks were pretty boring and stupid (and not colorful and plastic).

So, why sell these boring toys? They’d been around for ages… kids played with them before plastic with all its wonderful colors was invented. Plus, they’re hardy – they last a lot longer. Still. . . I was kid. They were dull.

Then, a few years ago, a lot of adult friends started purchasing… blocks! Ok, well, technically they’re planks:

These are Keva planks. They look pretty awesome, right? The thing that made these different was precision. These planks are milled to be highly precise – perfect 90 degree angles, exact length and width for each one. This means they balance better. You can stack them end to end pretty high. It’s impressive. A new take on an old toy.

Well, I thought that was about as innovative as plain old blocks could get. Until I discovered the newest version:

These are Tegu. Notice they’re doing something blocks shouldn’t be able to do? They’re defying gravity! That’s because they have magnets inside. Pretty awesome. They’re also sold out at the moment.

So, what’s the point of this evolution of blocks? It makes me think of the evolution of theology. First, we start out simple and plain. Then we add a little color, some nuances. Eventually, we refine it to a precise set. See, we couldn’t do that before because we just didn’t have the technology to cut it so precisely (the archeological, sociological, historical, literary advances that allow us to cut with more precision).

Now, it seems like we’re learning how to put magnets in our theology. We’re making it do things it never did before. It’s kinda scary. And it goes against everything we think we know. It starts doing things like saying races are equal… and women can preach… and maybe homosexuals can marry. We’re seeing theology developed to support things we never imagined it could.

I don’t know where this takes us. Are Tegu magnetic blocks still blocks? Are they just re-defining how blocks act? How far do we have to go to lose the name “block”? Are Legos blocks? For my part, I respect what people are doing with theology. They’re trying to keep the value and still make it work for our modern, media-distracted, plastic-toy loving society. Sure, sometimes we’ll get it wrong. But at least we’re trying.

Pants on the ground

4 02 2010

I’m sure everyone’s seen Pants On The Ground. Everyone’s seen it, laughed at it. It’s the viral video of last week.

So yeah. I’m a little late writing this up. But as heard about it for the umpteenth time, it takes on new meaning when you get what Larry Platt’s saying: Wear a belt!

No, actually, he was telling men to act their age. Apparently, he said he’s worked too hard and sacrificed too much for the next generation to throw it all away. It reminds me of Eugene Cho’s post the other day, about the difference between manliness and maturity:

“There are many men that simply need to grow up, mature, be responsible, and take their faith in Christ…to heart.”

It’s true all around us – but how much more do Christian men need to model that maturity? Don’t we have the responsibility to speak to the culture and demonstrate what it means to be a mature adult?