What’s The Meaning Of Mad Men?

mad-men-season-7-posterA lot of critics have been questioning this final season of Mad Men, as is their job. Seems like there’s been a rising tide of criticism that these last 6 episodes have not been up to the quality of the rest of the series.

One common complaint is that it seems like there’s no urgency to the story. Most people are wondering just what it is this final season and this show in general is all about.

For me this season it’s become fairly clear what Mad Men has been all about this whole time:

Mad Men is about the way Don Draper, and our culture as a whole, seeks meaning in meaningless things.

Don Draper has been trying to find his identity in all the things of the world ever since he became Don Draper, abandoning his birthname and his troubled past to try and be something greater in life.

Over the past 7 seasons we’ve admired him because he wants his job to have a greater purpose than just hocking chocolate and soda pop. But really that’s all advertising is. It doesn’t really have a deeper purpose behind it.

The way series creator Matthew Weiner has used the advertising world to showcase this over the past 7 seasons has been brilliant. Time and time again these masterful marketers sell cigarettes and fast food by manipulating their audience into finding deeper meaning in these everyday products. (It’s not just a story of how foolish earlier generations were to believe what they did; it’s also about how so little has changed in the past 60 years.)

So to escape the hollowness of his business Don turns to women. Unfortunately there is no escape there.

His relationships fail time after time because he tries to find his identity in these relationships. When he can’t, his mind wanders to the next woman who catches his eye, hoping maybe this one will be the one.

If you watch closely you’ll notice that Don has found himself without a home at the end of nearly every episode this season. He’s been rejected by Diana, booted out of his apartment by a realtor and removed from the comforts of the SCP offices. He’s continually being rejected by the things he thinks will give him meaning.

Finally, at the end of the penultimate episode, Don finds himself without a car and without any possessions (besides a Sears shopping bag of clothes) all alone at a bus stop. Stripped of everything he once found value in it seems like he might actually be on the verge of making a change in his life.

Anyone who’s ever looked to find their self-worth in the eyes of another can relate to Don Draper’s existential crisis – including me.

This has been a flaw in my life ever since I had my first grade school crush. I thought growing up that once I found the right girl, once I got married, I would feel complete. Everything would fall into place. All my worries and cares would go out the window – for marriage was all I ever wanted or needed.

Well, I’ve been married for 6 months now. I can unequivocally say this not true.

I do not feel more complete as a human being now that I am married. And I think this is a good thing.

To be clear: I love my wife dearly. I feel God has put us together for a reason. I feel He is blessing us through this relationship. I pray every day that we are able to live in wedded bliss for the next 75 years and that God would use our relationship to impact the lives of others.

I do not feel like my wife and I complete each other. I do not feel like we make each other whole. I do not feel like we give the other purpose.

I believe one’s purpose and value and meaning in life can only come from God. 

When you look for another person in life to complete you – to give your life meaning – you are going on a fruitless search. God did not create one person in life that was made for another person. He never intended for us to need another person to feel complete.

I believe wanting another person in life to complete you – to give your life meaning – is not what makes a relationship successful. I believe it is instead a fatal flaw.

My wife and I are a great benefit to each other. I have seen and felt this first hand. But we do not fulfill the other’s purpose in life. And I believe we love each other better when we remember this.

This was not an easy lesson to learn. It’s one I have to relearn constantly. Every day I must pray for God to strip away my connection to everything the world is advertising to give me meaning. Products, places, praises – even people. None of these will save me or restore me or complete me.

As Don Draper finds himself at the final corner of his journey, I hope he can choose the right path. I hope he can stop his life from slipping away from him and not become the man we see falling through the opening credits of Mad Men.

We want our heroes, even the make-believe ones, to make things right in the end. If Don Draper wants to ever escape the hollow cycle he’s found himself in, he must understand this lesson about meaning.

The meaning of Mad Men speaks to something deep inside everyone of us, and that is the desire for a meaningful life. The desire to be more than just a cog in the corporate machine. The desire to transcend the world tries to sell to us and to find something better.

If we are to find meaning in life, we must stop looking for meaning in anything in this life besides the Maker Of Life.

For more thoughts on infamous Series Finales of the past few years, check out Pop God’s posts on the ends of these beloved shows:

Parks And Recreation

Breaking Bad

The Office

 

 

Your Life Is An Advertisement

ChicFilABurgerzUnderrated aspect of living in Atlanta? Getting to see new Chick-Fil-A billboards driving down the highway everyday. When I see a new one I get as excited as Homer Simpson.

Seriously – the people at Chick-Fil-A aren’t just experts in deliciously addictive food. They’re also masterful marketers.

In 1995, Chick-Fil-A launched their definitive and often hilarious “Eat Mor Chikin” campaign. Surely you know the premise well by now: a group of cows band together to show off their talents (excluding spelling) to prove how they can be more than just food, imploring customers to eat chicken sandwiches instead of burgers.

How effective are the cows in marketing chicken nuggets?

The billboards in Atlanta featuring the cows don’t even mention the name Chick-Fil-A. Yet everyone driving by knows exactly what the billboard is advertising.

That’s pretty incredible and effective marketing in my opinion.

Chick-Fil-A has been using the cows as pitchmen for 20 years now. The persistence has paid off. The cows are so synonymous with the brand that you don’t even have to mention the company itself in the ad.

Besides the cows, another thing people associate with Chick-Fil-A is Christianity. The business is heavily influenced by founder Truett Cathy’s strong faith. A lot of pastors like to point to Chick-Fil-A’s business model in sermon illustrations as a way to talk about loving and serving others.

I think there’s another way we can learn from this fast-feeder.

I think as Christians our goal should be to reach the same level of effectiveness in our marketing as Chick-Fil-A.

A lot of people think Christians should be extremely aggressive in their marketing. Want proof? Just look at the T-Shirt racks at Christian bookstores filled with cheesy puns parodying popular culture and inserting a Jesus reference.

What if instead Christians advertised their faith so effectively that we didn’t even have to wear Jesus’s name on our t-shirts? What if the way we lived our lives could be as synonymous with the love of Christ as cows are with Chick-Fil-A?

Your life is an advertisement.

There’s no getting around it. The way you live is representative of someone or something.

As a youth pastor, one of the lessons I tried to impart on students was to remember that people are always watching you.

You may not want to believe this, but think about it: aren’t you always watching the people around you? Consciously or not, you take notice of the actions of your peers. That means they’re doing it to you as well.

Like it or not, there’s no slipping through this life unnoticed. Whether at work or school or home your life is an advertisement.

The question then is what will you be an advertisement for?

I truly believe it’s our duty as believers to proclaim the name of Christ in all that way do. Often times that means being explicit and intentional about using Jesus’s name.

I also believe we can’t just rely on stamping Jesus’s name on a t-shirt as our sole form of marketing. Our lives should become so synonymous with our faith that people recognize His presence in everything we do even when we don’t label it.

So as people drive by the billboard of your life today, ask yourself this: Will you be content with advertising your faith by wearing Jesus’s name on a t-shirt? Or will you take a page from Chick-Fil-A’s playbook and let your life become so synonymous with the One you represent that His presence is always evident even when you don’t make it obvious?

For more lessons from the world of advertising, check out these posts:

How To Turn Hate Into Love

Your Life Is Not A Beer Commercial

Doughboy Joy

When Your Story Goes Up In Flames, Remember This:

IMG_5092This past weekend my wife and I got the incredible opportunity to spend some time working at Pioneer Plunge, a majestic Young Life camp in Weaverville, NC.

If you’re not familiar with it, Pioneer Plunge is unlike any other Young Life camp. Nestled high in the mountains and hidden away at the top of Windy Gap (another Young Life camp), Plunge consists of only 3 minimal cabins, a pond and a garden. There’s no electricity or amenities of any kind.

The purpose of the camp is to provide young people with a chance to live in the wilderness for a week and discover God’s calling unhindered by any distraction.

Kate and I met as Young Life leaders and look for any chance we can to give back to the ministry. We never had the chance to visit Pioneer Plunge when we were leaders so when the chance came up to participate in a Work Crew weekend at the camp we jumped at the opportunity.

Unfortunately we didn’t see the camp in all it’s glory. In August of 2014 the main cabin at Pioneer Plunge burned down in a tragic accident. No one was hurt by the fire and it was miraculously contained to just the one building.

Still, it was clear from talking to the staff at the camp that the loss of the building was a painful blow.

The staff members all shared their deep personal connection to the building at Plunge. They had attended camp there as students years ago. It was in that building where they made memories and decisions which shaped their life and laid the foundation for their faith.

As I worked with the staff shoveling dirt and listening to their stories, I started to wonder: Why would God allow such a special place to burst into flames and burn to the ground? Why would He let something so terrible happen in the story He’s writing?

A beautiful story went up in flames. The legacy and the memories of this building at Pioneer Plunge were burned to the ground for seemingly no good reason.

It wasn’t too long afterward when the answer hit me:

IMG_5112Why would God allow something so terrible to happen in His story? Because the story isn’t over.

If the fire had never happened at Pioneer Plunge, chances are Kate and I would never have had the chance to visit and work at the camp. Because of the fire, we were able to experience the camp in a special way and write our own Plunge story.

More importantly, part of the Pioneer Plunge experience for students is getting the chance to work on various projects around the camp. Because the rebuild of the cabin will take 3-5 years, hundreds of campers will get a chance to rebuild the Plunge cabin as part of their story.

Because of their work thousands more campers will then have a chance to have their own Plunge story years down the line. It’s almost as if God meant for it to happen this way the whole time.

As a post on the Pioneer Plunge Instagram page put it, “The richness of Plunge is not found within the logs of the cabins but in the presence of the Lord in the community of people living in it.”

The story of Pioneer Plunge didn’t end because of a terrible accident. Instead it got a new beginning.

It’s hard to see past the smoke when a fire disrupts the story you’re telling.

But when your plans go up in flames and you wonder why something like this is happening in your story, remember: the story isn’t over. 

The Way To Move Past Your Breaking Point

How far would you go to prove a point?

That’s the question at the center of the film “Unbroken”, a powerful true story about Japanese POW survivor Louis Zamperini. If you haven’t seen it yet, go out of your way to make it the next movie you watch – it’s that good.

Louis is a man who, without hope of rescue, decides instead to prove a point that his captors will not break his spirit. He would keep defying and keep fighting until his body could go on no more, inspired by the words of his brother who trained him to be an Olympic-level runner: “If you can take it, you can make it.”

Louis Zamperini decided if he could not defeat his captors then he would die proving something to them.

The most powerful scene in the movie comes after Louis has already endured months of torture from his captors, especially by a prison guard nicknamed “The Bird”. “The Bird” had it out for Louis from day one, as he wanted to prove a point of his own: that the Americans would bow down to their captors.

Louis’s strong spirit is a thorn his captor’s side. One day the “The Bird” decides to punish Louis by commanding every other prisoner in the camp line up and one by one punch Louis in the face.

The prisoners refuse at first but Louis begs them to hit him. He insists that each man punch him full force in the face. He knows the guards will punish them all severely if they refuse to obey.

Louis takes the abuse so that the rest of the prisoners do not have to receive a greater punishment.

It’s a heartbreakingly beautiful act of courage. You can’t escape the Christ-like symbolism in this scene.

For Jesus was out to prove a point with his life as well.

I think sometimes we don’t talk enough about this aspect of Jesus’s sacrifice. His death was not just to save us, which of course was of the utmost importance. But I believe Jesus died in the way that he did for a reason.

Jesus went to the lengths that He did – dying in such a dramatic and public fashion, in a story that would be told through the ages – to prove a point about how far he would go to save us.

unbroken-movie-poster-2-760x815He wanted His death to not only rescue us from sin, but to provide a picture for us to look toward for inspiration when we reach our breaking points.

Later on in the movie Louis endures another harsh punishment. He is forced to lift a heavy wooden bar above his head. “The Bird” says he will shoot Louis if he drops it.

I don’t think I’m spoiling the movie by telling you Louis holds the bar above his head far longer than he should be able to. The other prisoners and guards stop  everything to watch him. They cannot help but stare in awe and wonder at Louis’s might and determination. His acts of courage and defiance in the face of fear inspired everyone around him.

In the same way Jesus knew the importance of of not just the act but the image of Him holding the cross. He wanted us to have a picture to look toward in our hour of need that would encourage us to stand tall and push the bar of despair over our head with an otherworldly strength.

Most of us will never be pushed to our limits like Louis Zamperini was. But for some it’s a great struggle to just make it through the day without reaching our breaking point.

So when you get pushed to your breaking point, close your eyes and reflect on the picture Jesus painted.

Look to your savior who took the beatings and the temptations but remained unbroken through it all. Reach out for his hand – pierced but steady, beaten but unbroken.

Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world. (John 16:33)

Have you seen Unbroken? What did you think? What do you do when you hit your breaking point?

How To Survive Being Stuck In An Elevator

FullSizeRenderI work on the 21st floor of my building. As such I’m very dependent on the elevator to take me where I need to go each day.

It’s a ridiculously fast elevator too. As in so fast it makes my ears pop and my stomach queasy (seriously). Sometimes I’m afraid it’s going to fly out of the roof of the building like at the end of “Willy Wonka And The Chocolate Factory”.

Of course not every ride is so quick. If I leave right around 5 then the elevator will usually have to make a few stops on the way down to pick up other riders.

Riding this elevator everyday for the past few months I’ve observed a lot of interesting tics and habits people have on their rides. One of these in particular makes me chuckle a little every time I see it.

It happens at least once a week. Someone steps on the elevator. The door closes. We ride down a few floors before having to stop again.

Just before the doors open words like this come out of the person’s mouth:

“Oh come on.” “Are you serious?” “You’ve got to be kidding me!”

People riding the elevator get frustrated when someone else needs to ride the elevator as well.

Confession: I’ve been this person sometimes. You probably have been too.

But if we’re getting frustrated at the mere act of stopping at an extra floor then I think we have a problem with our elevator psychology.

It’s a pretty silly thing to get upset about. After all, the other people getting on the elevator are just like us, just trying to get where they need to go.

But we’re in such a hurry that the 7 seconds it takes to stop at another floor makes us roll our eyes in annoyance.

Is it right for us to be annoyed when someone interrupts our journey?

The next time someone interrupts your elevator ride, consider this:

Elevators are incredible machines which take us exactly where we need to go, through no effort of our own.

If we want to reap the benefits of this machine which gives us such an incredible gift, shouldn’t we be content with a few interruptions along the way?

In the same way, when we ask God to take us along for the ride we can’t get upset when He stops to let someone else on. After all, some of the most important moments in life start out seeming like annoying interruptions.

Here’s a suggestion for the next time you’re on a long elevator ride: Instead of rolling your eyes when the doors open, say a prayer for each person who steps on. If you’re braver than me go even further and start a conversation with them.

Believe that every second of your life can be filled with meaning and that every interruption can have a purpose. Even on an elevator ride.

I don’t know. Maybe I’ve been spending too much time riding up and down the elevator and this all sounds like the rantings of a crazy man.

I’m just saying that instead of dragging your day down the interruption of 15 seconds on an elevator has the power to lift your spirits, if you let it.

Are you an eye-rolling elevator rider? Or are you an engaging one, making the most of the opportunities on your way up and down the floors? How can you make the most out of even the smallest opportunity today?

Why The Apple Watch Might Not Be Terrible

watch-dmI’ve been pretty steadily hate-reading test reviews of the Apple Watch. I don’t know why I’m so interested in reading about a product I think is so dumb.

Seriously – ever since Apple’s announcement back in the fall I’ve been shaking my head at this new digital wearable.

Maybe I’m being short-sighted. I just can’t see myself ever purchasing one. Of course I said the same thing about the iPhone when it debuted, and I finally came around to those in 2012.

There is however one feature of the Apple Watch I find intriguing. Apparently the watch has an innovative way of delivering alerts. They’re called Taptic Notifications.

The Apple Watch buzzes every few minutes, always reminding you of its presence and of your connection to your various networks. Continue reading

What The Church Can Learn From The Masters

IMG_4995This is the first time in over 20 years I won’t be spending Masters Week as a resident of Augusta, GA. I have to admit I’m missing the sights and sounds of the spectacle. It’s the biggest holiday on the calendar for the city.

If you’ve never lived in Augusta, there’s nothing really to compare Masters Week with.

I guess the closest thing would be to when a city hosts an event like the Super Bowl. But even then it’s a different city every year.

For 7 days every year the city of Augusta totally transforms. Washington Road becomes the golf capital of the world. Golf Carts are lined up in front of every business. Even members of One Direction show up.

Corporations take over abandoned buildings and parking lots and turn them into pop-up party tents and memorabilia shops. Thousands of residents flee the city, renting out their homes to tourists and travelers and the golfers themselves.

For one week the city of Augusta becomes a spectacle. Then, the Monday after the tournament, everything goes back to normal. Continue reading