Sitting in the Wreckage

We broke up with the Evangelical church.

For a while we tried to stay on good terms, but it didn’t appear that a friendship  was going to work out either. As I found myself further and further away from the church that helped me discover the importance of Jesus, I decided I needed to express myself publicly.

I suspect if you are reading this, you might feel the same way, at least a little bit.

To be honest, I wish that everything that I needed to say had been said here.

In some ways that was easy to write.  Those feelings are easy to feel. But that was an important place to begin.   I am proud, in a tiny little way, to step in line with a long line of Godly prophets.

Because Those powers and principalities around us needed to be named as anti-Christs.  But after this is done? I think it becomes time to focus on us. The folks who have broken up, the folks who have given up on the idea that we can be friends.

Because the thing is, most of the prophets did not do very well with introspection: Jonah clung to his prejudice even till the very last verse of his story.  Elijah had an emotional breakdown after successes and miracles. John began to doubt Jesus as his circumstances turned difficult.

 

Aspiring prophets in our culture have an extra challenge.  We are not very good at giving mourning and lament it’s due time.  Most of the time we try and rush these processes. But because we do, there is also a part of us that never moves on, never leaves the dead relationship in the past.  All of us just keep looking back at the destruction, no matter how many people around us are turning into piles of salt.

As recently as twenty years ago, the term ‘deconstruction.’ was saved for obtuse philosophy courses.  Now, it’s so much a part of our lexicon that we hear it on cooking shows!  Deconstructing is largely the domain of the prophet. But if we end in deconstruction, all we do is walk among the wreckage of the Tower of Babel, never willing to move on, to try and create something new.

It’s kind of sad.  I can describe myself as a post-evangelical.  But all that does is describe where I was.  It does say anything about where I am, or where I am going. 

Where, my friends, is our reconstruction?   

It may not be time for yours yet.  But I think it’s time for mine. And the truth?  The truth is I really don’t want to. It is easy and safe here in the wreckage.  But there is nothing there for me anymore. So let’s walk up and out of the dust together.

 

On Toons and Hypocrisy

 

Like virtually any corporate giant, Disney is a controversial organization. I’d like to focus today on a Disney Creation that I haven’t seen too much focus on: Toontown.

Toontown is an online game/environment thingy. It’s one of these websites where players from all over the world interact, sort of like Web Kinz starring Mickey Mouse. Toontown, however, features a narrative, an over arching mission for players to engage in.

As I was watching my kids play and asking questions about the world of Toontown, quite an interesting (and hypocritical!) message emerged, hiding underneath the story.

 

At first glance, there’s nothing wrong with the message implied in the game. In broad strokes, it‘s archetypal. Arguably, the framework for this story is lifted right out of Genesis itself.

In the time before the game begins, toon town was this happy, colorful place. Like Eden, maybe., except that they use jellybeans as currency.

Something went wrong. The perfection became corrupted. The town was invaded. Buildings began to be taken over. These were robbed of their colors and turned into places that made more of the “bad guys.” The players are called to resist the invasion, to find new, joyful ways to combat the evils of the invaders, reclaim their land, repell the invaders.

So far, so good.

 But let’s explore the invaders a little bit. Collectively, they are called cogs. The cogs are made up of variety of types. These include telemarketers, micromanagers, head hunters, ambulance chasers, and yes men. The cogs use weapons such as rolodex, fountain pens, and brain storms against the players.

In short: the villian of the game is corporate America.

The idea is that Corporate America is coming like a virus to rob the joy, color, and life from the world.

This is emphasized by the terms of the battles which go on. The players lose battles with the cogs when they run out of happiness before there gags (thrown pies, squirting flowers, etc.) cause the opponents to explode.

A player who is defeated in battle is sad. He is returned to the playground, and rather creepily, can’t leave until he’s happy. (There’s probably a whole post alone in the subtext of a utopia based on the happiness police enforcing the joy  but I’ll save that for another time.)

The thing is, I can’t say that I completely disagree with this subtext. But it seems like the height of hypocrisy for Disney to be espousing this view. It seems like using a billboard to advertise for the “Billboards are evil” Campaign.

Without the real yes-men, micrmoanagers, and ambulance chasers in Disney’s employ, Toon Town never would have been created. I can see three possible objections to this critique: #1) Maybe Toon Town is created b y maverics who are trying to take the giant down from within #2) Corporate America owns the platform; anti-corporate voices have to use the platform in order to get their message out.

Obviosuly, if I thought that if any of these objections were valid I wouldn’t have written this. And I want to be clear. I just intend this post as food for thought. I’m not saying that we ought to boycott Disney. I haven’t even banned my kids from the game. But I have discussed it with them.

At any rate, I can imagine somebody pointing out that Disney has a long history of subversive artists working from inside the corporate structure. We all know how those wacky cartoonist snuck dirty parts into Disney movies. The argument might be made that maybe this Toontown’s subversiveness (is that a word?  Maybve it’s subversion )is for a better cause.

The problem with this argument is that corporate America has infected the arhitecture of the game itself. The basic version of the game is played for free. But my kids quite frequently remind me that all the cool stuff on the game is members-only. You have to fork over some cash if you want to access a variety of functions that make you a better player.

Bottom line: You have to send an enomorous corporation even more money if you want to be effective at fighing the imaginary, symbolic forces of Corporation within the game. If there are in fact maverics trying to subvert the corporation from within, they have been outmaneuvered by the cogs.

A slightly different objection to my post is that if anybody wants to critique corporations, they have to use the corporations to do it. The idea is probably half way true. For example, Shane Clairborne writes against consumer culture. He realizes he’s a part of that system he opposes when he sells his books to a publisher.  Which will then chop down trees to print his book and try to convince everybody that they need more stuff.   Or consider a quite a different example: George Lucas utilized the motion picture industry. And yet the message in the more recent Star Wars trilogy is quite anti-industry in a variety of respects.

There are distinctions between Clairborne and Lucas on the one hand and Toontown on the other: reasons that it’s more valid for somebody like Lucas or Clairborne to say that they need the corporation’s platform in order to denounce the corporations.  The reasons why this excuse doesn’t work for Toontown follows:

A) It’s clear that Lucas’ and Clairborne’s vision began in one person who actually atleast partially wanted to bring about change through their vision. This is not clear about Toontown.

B) Clairborne turned his profits over to his community.

C) Lucas sought to create new companies which didn’t inherit all the evils of the current system.

D) Clairborne recognized the difficulties with his position; he named the elephant in the room.

Is Toontown the most evil force in the world? No, of course not. But it is presents a world view that is radically oversimplified and quite hypocritically delivered. It’s easy to miss that, though, if we’re not paying attention.

This post was submitted to Watercooller Wednesdays, a cultural blog carnival over at Ethos, Randy Elrod’s blog.

Deconstructing the concept of “working stiffs”

Has anybody ever deconstructed/unpacked/contemplated the term “working stiff?”

On the surface, of course, it’s a way to say ordinary workers.  It’s aimed more at blue collar folks than white collar folks, people who are struggling to get by more than the affluent.

But the term “stiff” also refers to a corpse.  And this leads to several potential deeper implications.  None of them pretty.

The possible meanings of the term “working stiff”:

#1) The act of working a blue collar job kills the worker; much like we’d call somebody a walking corpse if they were close to death.

#2) Somebody who has a blue collar/barely surviving existence is already dead.  Much like we might say that watching too much TV is a zombie.

There are strikingly different idealogies hovering under each possibility above.  If #1 is true, the whole labor system is inherently corrupt.  It’s sort of a socialist-thing.  #2, on the other hand, implies an elitism, a natural superiority of the cultural elite, the wealthy, the affluent.

Either way, it’s not a pretty picture.