American Values and Kingdom Living

Thanks to all of you who commented recently with words of encouragement.  I think that we all need encouragement more than we think and should give it more than we do.  That’s certainly true for me.  Thankfully, the Lord seems to provide it at unexpected times and from surprising angles.

This week is RD Retreat and I was away Monday through Wednesday at a beautiful cabin (more like a lodge) near the mountain-town of Idyllwild, California.  It was refreshing, as it always is, to get away from schedules and traffic and internet and noise and to-do lists and to read and talk and pray and hike and laugh.

I can’t think of a way to corral my stampede of different thoughts, so I’ll just go with the most recent one from tonight.

I saw a very cool commercial for the Navy SEALS tonight, but I think it bordered on false emotional advertising.  And it reminded me a little bit of the U.S. Army commercials that have been degenerating for almost a decade now.  The SEALS commercial was non-verbal (completely silent except for the sound of the ocean).  The camera focused on the same beach for the whole commercial.  A couple waves washed rhythmically onto shore.  Suddenly there were bootprints in the sand, coming up from the water.  Then the next wave slid onto shore, and when it receded, the bootprints were gone.  Navy SEALS appeared on the screen as the waves continued to flow in and out.  I think the idea of the commercial was two-fold: (1) The Navy SEALS do risky, covert operations; (2) risky covert operations are really cool, so you should think about joining the Navy SEALS. 

Pragmatically, and in terms of film, I think the commercial is great.  It makes you feel like it would be really cool to be a SEAL.  But I think that the message that they’re using to attract young American males is reflective of our culture.  The message says, “If you want to do something really cool, join the Navy SEALS.”  But in reality, being a part of the SEALS is to devote yourself to something bigger than just you and what you want to experience.  It has a higher purpose than your own idea of doing something “cool” and it demands weightier risks than simple goose-bump-inducing missions.

But both the SEALS and the U.S. Army have to advertise like this now, because we’re Americans and we don’t believe in ideals bigger than ourselves.  This is why the U.S. Army’s commercial slogans have degenerated from the already-individualistic “Be All You Can Be” (when I was in high school) to the recent “Army of One.”  Think about that for a second: Army of One.  Are you kidding?  That’s the farthest notion from the idea and purpose of an army as you can get.  Soldiers are called to give up their identity from the get-go and to join together with a mass of like-minded comrades who will sacrifice themselves for a cause that far outweighs their own personal desires and dreams.  But since that’s not attractive to Americans my age, the Army had to begin recruiting us by telling us that we can each be an “Army of One.”

(Interestingly, I just googled “recent army commercial slogans” and found a news article from 2001 in which military analysts make the exact same point about this exact same advertising strategy.)

Now, it would be one thing if this individualism were relegated to military recruitment strategies.  But it isn’t, and it hasn’t been for some time now.  It’s everywhere.  It is among us, and it is in us.  We (even as Christians) in America are gagging on our own luxury, suffocating beneath our own over-fulfilled desires, and drowning in our own materialistic drool as we salivate over Abercrombie & Fitch, the next Hummer, the latest blockbuster movie, the tan-ness of our skin and the tone-ness of our bodies, and the dream of living in a safe city in a nice suburb in a four-bedroom house with 2.5 kids and a pension plan that will enable us to retire early and buy a condo in Florida so that our 2.5 kids and our 7.5 grandkids can visit us and learn what it means to be rich, fat, and happy themselves.  And it’s all good because we’ll make sure to read our Bibles, go to church on Sunday’s, and keep the Ten Commandments.  We are Christians, after all.

My friends, the advertising gurus of our day know us better than most of us in the church know ourselves.  They know that we long for personal significance, that we’re addicted to the latest fads, that we’re unsatisfied with anything less than self-fulfillment.  So they fill our airwaves and our billboards and our minds with enticements that promise exactly that.

But the call of Christ is exactly and blatantly opposite.  Deny yourself, give up your dreams, reverse your ambitions, kill your pride, join the team, die every day, and live for a King and a kingdom whose glory and value are infinitely greater than you and yours.  I feel like I say this so often, but it’s because I sense that so few people get it, and because every day I have to kick and splash and sputter as I myself struggle to swim upstream against the overwhelming current of this present age.

We all walk around with the IV of American values coarsing into our veins, and the bag never runs dry.  And the only way to combat this is to pump your immune system so full of Scripture and eternity and the life of Jesus and the glory of God that a battle rages inside your soul every day.  Because the question is not whether or not there’s an enemy.  The question is whether or not there’s a war.


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