Lessons from Mad Men, Matt Weiner, and the Gospel of Luke

This is a long one, but bear with me. I think you’ll be glad you did.

I’ve been watching Mad Men. (#don’tjudgeme).

Image from here.

What??? Susan in the Boonies has been watching Mad Men??? (and yes, I said, please, #don’tjudgeme)

First, let me tell you why you shouldn’t (because I know many of you are wondering if I know why I shouldn’t. And I do.). It contains adultery, heavy drinking and smoking. None of which I endorse or recommend.

Now, I’ll tell you why I’ve been watching it.

Riveting story telling. Fantastic acting. Costumes, set decoration, and music that transport me back to my early childhood. Insights into how far we (the U.S.) as a society have come in terms of the opportunities that are now available to women and groups other than White Anglo-Saxon Protestant Males.

But the other thing I have been absolutely fascinated by is listening to the audio commentaries (watching it on Netflix DVDs) by the show’s creator, Matt Weiner. He has dropped enough little gems along the way that I feel that I have received a much deeper insight into why various episodes were written.

 I value that as a writer, first of all. It’s like listening to a Master Class on writing, taught by an amazing author. But also, I find it valuable to listen to the perspective of someone with great insights into the human condition, who was raised outside the church.

While I was listening to Matt Weiner describe the characters in the show and their world view, I heard him say that there are two central questions that each of the characters is posing. “What’s wrong with me?” (a question he says that most of the women on the show are wrestling with) and “Is this it?” (a question he claims the men are asking).

But I think, really, you know, he’s saying something more. He’s saying that these are questions that are central to all of us, non-Christian and Christian alike: “What’s wrong with me?” as a human being, many of us wonder, and, then, when looking at the circumstances of our lives, we find we ask ourselves, “Is this it?”

Perhaps the Christian take on these questions is different. “What’s wrong with me?” gets answered in the 7th chapter of Romans. (It’s our sin nature.)  And maybe the second question, “Is this it?” becomes : “Is this what I was created to do? Am I doing the works that God prepared in advance for me to do?”

But I think those two questions (“What’s wrong with me?” and  “Is this it?”) do exemplify deeply felt needs in human beings, needs that we see all around us, everyday.

And yes, I think they are questions that Christianity helps us address in our lives. Because our faith helps us to look outside ourselves. It gives us something, and more importantly, Someone, greater than ourselves to look at. Because chasing the answers to those questions within ourselves can lead to futility and despair. We know how rotten we can be. We know how selfish and dark our thinking can become. And always, always, we need “just one more thing” to make us happy in our lives. Don’t we?

So with those thoughts in my mind, this morning, I sat down to read the gospel of Luke. And I’ll be darned if I didn’t see both those questions raised in my reading this morning.

Here’s the reading. Let’s see if you see them, too. (Kinda like playing a verbal version of “Where’s Waldo?”.)

From Luke 5:12-16, the New International Version.

 While Jesus was in one of the towns, a man came along who was covered with leprosy. When he saw Jesus, he fell with his face to the ground and begged him, “Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean.”

  Jesus reached out his hand and touched the man. “I am willing,” he said. “Be clean!” And immediately the leprosy left him.
  Then Jesus ordered him, “Don’t tell anyone, but go, show yourself to the priest and offer the sacrifices that Moses commanded for your cleansing, as a testimony to them.”
  Yet the news about him spread all the more, so that crowds of people came to hear him and to be healed of their sicknesses. But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed.


The man who came to see Jesus had leprosy, a disease so terrible that he was forced to live in isolation, away from the community, away from his home and family. He was a true Untouchable. Talk about a guy who had the “What’s wrong with me?” blues, this guy had it. He knew he was deeply flawed, deeply messed up, deeply unworthy. And yet he longed to be welcomed back and accepted and at home again in his family and community.


So, he sought out the one glimmer of hope that he’d heard about in some time: the Teacher, about whom he’d heard. The Teacher, who even healed. And he dared to hope, against hope, that Jesus might be willing to heal him. 


Not only was Jesus willing to heal. Jesus was willing to TOUCH HIM, and heal. To touch the one who was deeply marred. Messed up by what life had doled out to him. I wonder if the man with leprosy was startled when he felt that touch, he with his face in the dirt. I wonder if he jumped a bit. Or flinched. Because he knew what was wrong with him.


I’ll say this for him: he was pro-active in looking for health! He heard about the help that was available, and he reached out for it. And his faith, put into action, was rewarded. He knew what was wrong with him, and he sought and received the cure.


And then, of course, the news spread like wildfire. And Jesus was inundated with crowds. Wave after wave of people seeking for Him. Longing to be healed as well.


“Is this it?” Did He just come to earth to heal? Why not set up a clinic? Run things more efficiently, with office hours, so as not to be crowded.


No. That wasn’t it. The healings were a sign, pointing to the authority that He had from God to say the things He said, to make the claims He did. But no: the healing, itself, wasn’t “it”.


Jesus came to do the will of the Father. He had a message to communicate. He had a destiny to fulfill. And to stay centered, so that He could do “it”(telling the good news of the Kingdom of God), He needed time alone with the Father in prayer. For eternity He had been in communion with the Father. And here on earth, He kept that relationship. He remained connected to the Father.


So…what does that mean to us, as Christ-followers?


First: Jesus is unafraid to touch you, in the areas where you feel most marred, most damaged. He sees “what is wrong with you”, but He is still willing. He doesn’t see you the way you fear the rest of the world sees you. He loves you, and is willing to touch you.


Second, we should be willing as well to reach out to the unlovely, the damaged, and touch, in the love of Christ.


Third, we were made to be in communion with God our loving Father in heaven. It is through that communion with our Father in heaven that we best understand what “it” is in our life: what we were created to do. Trying to do whatever seems to be “it” in our lives, without taking time to reflect and re-connect and re-charge with Him will likely lead to burn-out, and maybe pouring out effort in areas where we shouldn’t. 


Jesus. And Mad Men. Together in one post. 


As it should be. 


Jesus, Friend of Sinners.






Yum
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