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God as Found in Adbusters

This summer we are doing a series on books, movies and music and talking about where God is found in them. I did Adbusters Magazine and Lars and the Real Girl (which will be posted this week also.) So here is basically what I prepared with the quotes and everything, though the conversation is usually the best part.

Adbusters is a difficult magazine to nail down. They tackle a lot of topics and are always finding dirt with something that got famous. I started to realize though, after a while that there was a lot of values that Adbusters had that I didn’t, but that I probably should. The things they were supporting actively were a lot of the things that I felt the church and myself should be doing also. They were exposing what I thought needed to be exposed.

Today though my point won’t be to nail down Adbusters, but rather to take what I think is the underlying thrust of Adbusters and analyze it to see if it is in fact something that we should be thinking about, or if it has anything to offer our faith. My point also won’t be to say we need to follow Adbusters as if it is our new Bible and do whatever they are doing, or be passionate about what they are passionate about. Rather, I hope that their passion will help ignite our own and prepare us for what we need to be doing.

I linked to one of my first articles in the e-mail update that I had ever read in Adbusters because I think that article is what defines the problem that Adbusters is addressing. For those of you that haven’t read the article, I’ll read a brief part of the article that illustrates my point.

To demonstrate to my students how media content itself naturalizes consumerism, I used to show my students a clip from the 1991 movie Father of the Bride. In this clip, the father is horrified that his daughter wants him to spend about $130,000 on her wedding. He would prefer to have a simple wedding reception at the local Steak Pit, but the whole family rejects this idea. Even the adolescent son understands this is “unacceptable”; he comments, “I don’t think you want the word ‘pit’ on a wedding invitation.” When the father complains that his first car cost less than the wedding cake, the wedding coordinator bursts into laughter and says, “Welcome to the ’90s.” After the daughter agrees to downsize the wedding, her father discovers her, asleep, reading a magazine article with tips on how to throw a budget wedding. Suddenly ashamed of himself, he agrees to fund the extravagant wedding. Dad learns his lesson: consumerism-fueled expectations may be outrageous, but they are necessary, and failure to adhere to these expectations is silly, miserly, and downright unloving.

I quit showing this clip. It didn’t work. Oh, they got the point, that media content often promotes the agenda of advertisers. Unfortunately, the clip would inevitably lead to a version of the following:
A female student raises her hand shyly and says, “I understand why this is bad, but I want a big wedding.” A dozen ponytailed heads nod in harmony.

“I mean, not as big as the one in the movie,” someone responds, “but you know, the flowers, the cake, the dress, the ring, all that stuff. I’ve daydreamed about my wedding since I was a little girl.”
“Me too,” the first student says, and frowns. “Does that make me a bad person?”
Therein lies the trouble. The dreams, the memories, the rites of passage of Generation Y – all of these are intricately intertwined with consumerism. By placing wedding consumption under scrutiny, this student feels like she is being attacked personally. To this student, the suggestion there is something wrong with consumerism is akin to suggesting that there is something wrong with her.

This is what I think is one of the biggest problems facing the church. We as a church are so wrapped up and part of the problems of the world, that we are unable to separate ourselves from it and objectively criticize the problems we have. We virtually look no different from the world. Our divorce rates are the same, we want to go to war the same, we buy the same stuff. Really the only difference for most of the church is that people in the church are busy for a few hours every Sunday. Then instead of looking at culture critically and realize we are susceptible to its cravings we just try to improve our lives the best we can within it. Seven ways for God to answer your prayers, twelve keys to live a successful life and how to have a satisfying marriage are the kinds of sermons that run rampant all over the place. No one is really asking the questions wondering if anything that we do on a daily basis is actually healthy or good or kingdom building.

And this is why this is a difficult topic for me to talk about. Because I know how deeply ingrained these cravings and lifestyles are into who we are. They are so deep that when someone criticizes them or questions them, we feel like we ourselves are being criticized and questioned. Yet this is where I think the church is called to be. We are called to expose and bring into the light these ideals and lifestyles that have crept into our lives unnoticed. We are called to judge ourselves and see what is in us that doesn’t work with who we are called to be, and change and head in a direction that redeems the world. So like I said, I am a little nervous about jumping into some of these things and bringing up some of these things because for the most part, I don’t think any of us even realize what we are doing and we are much better at justifying our reasons for doing something then actually questioning if we should be doing it in the first place.

There is some things that we think are just so good, so right, that when we pull the lid off we realize that we are either completely wrong or strongly mislead. I remember growing up and a big topic in youth and with the guys was pornography and all the different ways to combat looking at it. There was books like every Man’s Battle and accountability groups and anything and everything to help us guys stop looking at porn and start to live a more pure life. In all those years I don’t think I ever had one person say stop looking at porn because girls are being devalued, demeaned, harmed, raped, tortured, forced and taken advantage of in this industry. When people participate in viewing pornography you are feeding this monster that is killing and hurting girls and women all over the world. Somehow helping guys stop looking at pornography became all about then and their personal sexual struggle. Then an organization comes on the scene called XXX church, and they start making a big deal about things like this. They not only help the individual but they jump in head first into the porn industry, setup at the adult conferences and start working from the other side, the side that we seem to forget. It’s a good question they are asking I think. Maybe just helping all these white western men stop looking at porn isn’t the entire point here, maybe the world is bigger than their individual problems.

This is what I think Adbusters does. They ask the hard questions of life: about the environment, what we eat, what we buy, who we listen to , what we do with our time, who we work for, what we sell and they put it out in the open to reveal it for what it really is. The magazine is called Adbusters, and that explains some of who they are, they try and show what is behind the ad and the image that tells us that something is a certain way. I think that is who we are called to be as the church, Adbusters, those that constantly expose ‘images’ for what they really are while looking more and more like our originally created image. Everything is up for grabs. Even their criticisms get criticized because their point isn’t to just annoy or to be unhappy with everything, but there point is truth, and they are not satisfied until it happens. Sometimes I wonder if we the church are actually seeking truth actively, or are we just promoting our beliefs for the world to see so everyone knows what we think.

I want to watch this video, that isn’t put on by Adbusters at all, but I think gives another great example of what it looks like to look critically at the world and how it evolves. Without videos like this, or more important, people who are looking at our systems critically and exposing the faults and problems of them, we just keep on living and head towards a world that is destroying itself. Yet as Christians, as kingdom builders, it is our job to head towards a world that is being repaired and we can’t do that without digging deeper into our regular way of life. So let’s watch this video and maybe it will teach us something about the stuff we have but more importantly I hope it will inspire us to think deeply about the things we do every day that we think don’t impact anyone and don’t impact the world, because they do and we are letting it happen.

After watching a video like this, I felt as if I had been mislead and lied to my entire life. I feel like someone should have told me these things while I was growing up when I was buying things. Why is it that I am 23 and I’m just starting to learn the things that are affecting my life and others people’s lives drastically. I remember a similar feeling after leaving Tyndale after my New Testament class, when our professor in one class connected the entire Israel story with Jesus’ story and thinking, why the heck didn’t I know this before? Why did no one make this connection for me? Why did I see all these stories in the Bible as a bunch of separate events that had no similarity besides the fact that they were in the Bible. Because of stuff like this, it has lead me to believe that it is not only our job as Christians, but as the church to be making connections for people. It is our job to expose darkness and praise light. Not with picket signs and yelling but rather with love and action. By making these connections we begin to realize that every decision, even from the radio that we buy at Radio Shack effects our lives and the people around us and especially now around the world. So as the church, we shouldn’t just be silent and sit back and let the world live a life unknowing of their purpose or what their actions are really doing. For instance…check out this statistic.

while 79% of university entrants in 1970 said their goal in life was to develop “a meaningful philosophy of life,” by 2005, 75% defined their life’s objective as “being very well off financially.” what happened?

What do we do as a church with something like that? Let’s talk about it. Is that healthy? How do we help people realize this? Is that our job?

Makes you really think about our nation and our stance doesn’t it? Do we really live like we are blessed or are well off? Or do we live more like greedy children who just can’t get enough?
Or they look at statistics and make a loud statement that things are going well. To me, this is what the church is called to be. We are called to be Adbusters. To expose the secrets of ads, unfulfilling lifestyles and model a life after Christ.

For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light (for the fruit of the light consists in all goodness, righteousness and truth) and find out what pleases the Lord. Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them. For it is shameful even to mention what the disobedient do in secret. But everything exposed by the light becomes visible, for it is light that makes everything visible.
Eph 5:8-14

The early church believed that a church was to be a living and breathing display of a whole new world that God was bringing about right here, right now. That is church. This group of people who by their compassion, generosity and grace that they extend to others you find yourself believing when you are around them that God hasn’t given up on the world.
Rob Bell – You

The church is here to be the Voice to the world; the Voice that does not claim great things for itself, but simply urges the world to get ready for the God who comes in the power and judgement of love. We are to live, and we are to speak, in such a way as to do for our generation, more or less, what John did for his: to demonstrate and to announce that there is a different way of being human, the way of love, the way of God, and so to bring the world the news that the creator of the world is also the comforter of the world.
N.T. Wright – For All God’s Worth – pg. 50

One Comment

  • Nathan – Great thoughts. This is the journey that I am on in many similar ways. The idea of stuff in embedded in our North American faith.
    “If you tithe you will have more.”
    “Ministry need to have a sound system, video screen and a weekly podcast”
    “Your church plant is legitimate when you have enough people to buy/rent space”

    As I wake up from the delusion that I am not affected by consumerism – I realize that it actually hurts to get rid of my stuff…. but like a band-aid pulling off, once it is gone the paid doesn’t last and I don’t miss the stuff. But I still find my self thinking that the next gadget will make me feel better….. I think this might be a long journey.

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