A Farewell to Mad Men

If Mad Men wasn’t the greatest show in the history of television (geez I loved The Sopranos and Breaking Bad), it certainly was the greatest “business” show in television history, but really that doesn’t come close to covering it. What Mad Men was can best be called an “era” show – capturing the very worst parts and very best parts of a certain era of American culture-history, and pretty much sparing us from everything in between. The series lasted eight years, made stars of some, resurrected others, and generally captivated its audience with its disturbing but nobly honest portrayal of the most unfortunate reality in our heroes: their virtues and vices are often impossible to separate.

Don Draper was a complex person, which is not to say he was likable or sympathetic. He was as selfish as humans can be, which did not make the scene in a early season where he basically brought Peggy back from the land of the lost any less meaningful. Sociopaths have hearts. And Don Draper was a sociopath, and he certainly had a heart. But Matthew Weiner didn’t tantalize us with Draper’s heart – it was his mind that crested the life he had. He was a genius, a creative genius, but also just a genius. Rarely was he ever not the smartest guy in the room throughout the eight years of Mad Men. And THAT is what tore the audience up – how someone that smart, could be that stupid.

The iconic portrayal of Madison Avenue life in midtown Manhattan was worth the price of admission for the entire show. It was a tapestry like I have never seen in any form of screen art. I am a sucker for 20th century New York aesthetics – an obsessive sucker. I have, on many occasions, taken 30 minutes to walk from the elevator to my hotel room door in the Park Avenue Towers of New York’s Waldorf Astoria Hotel where I have stayed over a hundred times, for the simple reason that photo by photo in the hallway I am distracted into stopping, and if not in a hurry, gazing. Mad Men was sixty minutes a week of beauty – pure, uncompromised fashion, decor, culture, and history. If there had been no narrative, no characters, and no plot, but there had still been that imagery, I would have kept watching.

But narrative and characters there were – in abundance.

The series ended Sunday night and bloggers and critics alike are out in full force with their take on the highly memorable ending. Don Draper did make that Coke commercial, and he didn’t make it as a result of having his soul fixed by two days of yoga. He was a deeply broken man and his smug hillside smile was the personal revelation that he is irreparable, but can hide in materialism and crass shallow marketing – successfully – forever. He was gifted in a sort of irreplaceable way, but his depravity held him down. I’m positive he made the commercial and positive he did it back at McCann-Erickson, still broken – just smarter. Weiner had no reason to make it a redemption story. He threw romantics a bone in the final episode with Pete, with Peggy, and even Roger. But Don was broken, and Don was brilliant. The ending gave us both, fully interwoven, in all their paradoxical luster.

The story of broken, brilliant men intrigues me because I am half of one of them. I am broken but redeemed, and when Hollywood (or real life) gives me a look at a broken man without redemption it gives me a look at the God who makes all things beautiful. From Madison Avenue to the grotesque life Don Draper grew up in (Dick Whitman for you literalists), God makes it all beautiful. Many broken men don’t find that redemption, but for those of us who have, it makes the shows actually capturing the reality of human depravity all the more powerful. And that redemption is a tapestry with which even the New York skyline cannot compete.

The Real Dilemma Facing the Hillary Campaign

It would be easy for a logical and moral person to assume that the email scandal with Hillary Clinton was going to be her downfall. Her explanation does not merely amount to, “I deleted a TON of stuff illegally, and you have to trust me that it was all benign” – rather, that is her EXPLICIT explanation. Whether it be what you want to be the case or believe ought to be the case, no one else on God’s green earth would survive something so audacious. It would be like having an affair with someone your daughter’s age in the Oval Office and coming out of it with 68% popularity. Okay, maybe one other person would get away with it.

It also would be easy to think the Clinton Foundation scandal would be her downfall. Americans hate cronyism when they know about it, and even the leftwing press has hit her for this little mystery. I suspect there has been damage done through this, but the fatal blow has not yet ben struck.

Her overall liability or lack thereof may very well be her political downfall, but it is too early for me to say that, and I am not objective enough to be the arbiter of how the rest of society perceives her. I know of very few people this side of Gloria Steinem that can honestly say they like her, and I do not believe unlikable people win elections in a media age unless their opponent is George McGovern. But Hillary has a certain demographic advantage (if she can hold it) that said at least in 2012 that the Deems are the team to beat.

So what is the dilemma Hillary faces that I see as THE SINGLE BIGGEST ISSUE WE SHOULD BE WATCHING? The extraordinary tension that I honestly cannot fathom how she will wrestle out of is essentially this:

On one hand, the big pitch is, “remember that 1990’s prosperity under the last Clinton where we got stuff done with Republicans, the economy was growing, profits were soaring, unemployment low, free trade booming, stock prices climbing, business rolling, and American competitiveness smoking, well vote for me to see all that come back”.

But now the pitch has to be, ”remember all that big business nonsense and income inequality of globalization evil and stock market wealth and corporate profits and corporate greed and disregard for the environment, well vote for me to see all that go away”

The argument that she would represent the second coming of the 1990’s is probably deeply flawed, but it’s a heckuva political argument to make. It would be better than Jeb Bush promising us another Iraq war or housing bubble collapse, right? I cannot imagine Hillary prosecuting an argument without making her campaign a subtle contrast between 1990’s prosperity and Barack Obama doldrums. She cannot risk losing the coalition that Obama has and so she will not be able to go negative on him, but she can go positive on Bill and the 90’s, but what was positive about Bill and the 90’s besides economic prosperity, growth, a reduction in capital gain taxes, growing wealth (including a growing wealth gap), free trade, etc. And ATTACKING THOSE VERY THINGS is the HEART of what the Democratic platform and party stands for right now. She has no choice but to appease Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders, Daily Kos, and Rolling Stone (the pillars of leadership in modern liberalism) by running as a card-carrying Sandinista. Is she going to go on stage with Robert Rubin and Larry Summers and Goldman Sachs executives and talk about wealth redistribution? Dear Lord.

This is not going to be an easy needle to thread. I’ll be watching. So should you. The reality is that the winning message is one that promotes a gospel of economic growth and prosperity for ALL people, not to accomplish a class flattening or to make connected people richer, but rather a pro-growth agenda that creates opportunity in this, the land of opportunity. The Democratic party cannot and will not run on that because they do not believe in it. If the GOP does not tell that message against this email-destroying scandal-wrapped cronyistic centimillionaire elitist who is running as a Sandinista college student, then we seriously do not deserve to win.

The Hillary Saga Lacks Any Explanation

If you believe that Team Clinton is the cream of the crop, hyper-prepared, hyper-ruthless, “A team” of American political strategists and consultants, and I’m fine believing that, then you have to believe that this email scandal is a way for Hillary to bow out of this “inevitable” race, OR you have to believe something that escapes my limited imagination.

I am not a conspiracy theorist, and in fact loathe those who are.  I also have absolutely no doubt that there were really bad things in the emails that HRC wanted to hide (and likely did just that quite successfully).  No one on either side of the political divide can say with a straight face that this is all benign.  I don’t believe the hidden emails say, “let’s kill our own ambassador”, but I believe there is SOMETHING incriminating in there.  And so do you.  And if you hate my guts and love Hillary, you STILL do.  So for the love of all that is decent and good, can someone explain what she thinks is going to happen here?

You could argue that they are praying for a Monica-situation, where the voters reject perceived overreach from a desperate Republican minority.  But the voters sided with Bill then because 50% of them were cheating on their spouse, and because the stock market was smokin’ hot (that is my academic synopsis).  Most regular people have had something bad happen because of an electronic communication gone awry, and it isn’t going to sit well that the wicked queen thinks she is above the law.

But that is exactly what she thinks, and the reason she thinks it is because it is totally and completely true.  Scandals follow this creepy family like a hangover follows a bad night of liquid excess.  And as is the case in my dubious simile, at some point people just ought to know better.  

I don’t know what else is going to happen here, and I can’t imagine why the “A team” thought that presser yesterday would help.  The reality is that she is in a bad situation here, because if 30,000 of the emails weren’t self-determined to be unimportant, and she did turn them all over, there would be something there that would end her campaign and therefore lifetime pathological obsession.  With her having destroyed property of the United States taxpayer, the skepticism, cynicism, and distrust cannot be extinguished.

With the Clintons, sometimes it’s better just not to know.  

Tim Keller: My Intro and Some Thoughts

Because my church in Newport Beach, St. Andrews Presbyterian, is committed to the growth of the believer’s mind as well as their heart, we have frequently brought in guest speakers over the years to accomplish just that: Spiritual stimulation that involves the whole of the believer.  Yesterday I was honored to introduce Pastor Tim Keller of Redeemer New York at the 11:00am service at St. Andrews.  I wanted to share my introduction and make a couple quick comments.

For whatever reason, there are few people I receive more criticism of in my inbox then Tim Keller (within the tiny land of Reformedville, that is).  The criticisms cover things people are upset that he did say, to things people are upset about that he didn’t say.  Any google searches or time spent in the cyber-world would reveal this same leel of often hostile controversy to be there (though I would sooner take on cutting as a habit than spend time in said cyber-world).  I don’t have the time or interest to devote an extended piece to the subject of defending this remarkable teacher, but I thought five very quick points would be helpful.

(1) If enemy #1 on your list is Tim Keller, your priorities are really skewed.  Like, REALLY skewed.

(2) The absolute vast majority of criticism of Tim Keller within Reformedville are not remotely rooted in theology or ideology, but rank, sick, juvenille jealousy.  Some are more self-aware of this than others, but it is the prevalent cause.

(3) “Issues”:

– I have not heard Tim say anything about the role of women in worship that made me uncomfortable.

– He has stood his ground on Biblical marriage.

– He doesn’t seem to me to be offensively wrong on economics, as much as I suspect he simply doesn’t have the full economic worldview picture down the way I wish he would.  I could be wrong about this.  I would spend any amount of money to facilitate a private rendezvous with Father Sirico at Acton and Tim Keller, where I suspect they would find a lot of common ground.

– I haven’t heard Tim express openness to the non-historical Adam but it does appear he is more open on various forms of theistic evolution than his confession may allow.  Not my cup of tea personally but nothing that keeps me up at night.

– His vision for church planting across lines that are not denominational not only doesn’t bother me, it endears me to him more.

(4) The idea that when one discusses someone who is having tremendous Kingdom impact and with whom there is common ground on the vast majority of issues that there needs to be all sorts of qualifiers and “yeah buts” is a reflection of immaturity and frankly a totally bizarre view of human interaction.  I hold no such hope and have no inner need for some “leader” out there who bats a thousand on my ideology test.  Who cares?

(5) If one does not see the net net positive in the life and ministry of Tim Keller, particularly as it pertains to his irrefutable case for Christians reclaiming the cities, they have something wrong in their life spiritually.  Disagreement here and there on certain issues is not a big deal, but Tim and his ministry are doing world-changing things, and I don’t know why anything else matters in the context of what we are saying here.  Issues like the ones in point #3 come up because of people struggling with point #2.  That’s really all I have to say about it.  See below for my introduction, and please pray for Redeemer City to City, as they march on in their efforts to plant churches in the world’s great cities.  Using Acts 8 as a model, there is an effort for organic, integrated, scattering that is going to change the world.  No “yeah buts” about it.

*****

It is a privilege and honor to be able to introduce this morning’s guest preacher to the St. Andrews community. Pastor Keller and I do not know each other well but I like many have been blessed by his teaching and writing ministry, and much of my business is in a city – the world’s greatest city of Manhattan – that has itself been dramatically impacted by Pastor Keller’s teaching and preaching ministry.

My name is David Bahnsen. My two brothers are named Jonathan and Michael. Pastor Keller’s three sons are named David, Jonathan, and Michael. My father married someone named Cathie; Pastor Keller’s wife’s name is Kathy. My late father was a Christian author, apologist, and pastor in a Reformed Presbyterian church. Pastor Keller is a well known Christian author, apologist, and pastor in a Reformed Presbyterian church. My father did his seminary studies at Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia; so did Dr. Keller. But no, Pastor Keller really isn’t my dad. Other than all of our family’s names being the exact same and the actual profession he is in relative to my dad’s and having come from the exact same seminary etc. there really is nothing in common. (ha ha)

In all seriousness, more than the coincidence of overlapping life circumstances and family names and connections and all of that kind of stuff, Pastor Keller and I do share something else in common, and it is frankly something he has blessed me with in ways I am incapable of adequately articulating. And that is a zeal and passion for seeing the gospel transform the culture, in the great cities, but beginning with our own hearts. Pastor Keller is no pietist – his message of a soul-saving gospel is never MERELY internal, but also something that becomes transformative in our families, our jobs, our communities, and the world around us. He also is not doctrinalist – meaning, while sound and orthodox in doctrine and teaching, he holds no such hope that merely get the doctrine right will in and of itself be enough. He is rather, and forgive me for those who haven’t heard this term before, he is a true Kuyerpian in the spirit of the magnificent Dutch theologian Abraham Kuyper – a gospel-centric, world-impacting theologian, who knows better than anyone I have read as an adult the gaping holes that exist in our souls until we find Christ, and the gaping holes that exist in our world that only Christ-filled believers can seek to fill.

A self-admitted workaholic like me found his book on a theology of work, Endeavor, to be one of the truly great treatments of the subject of a believer’s relationship to his vocational calling . I also found his devotional work, Counterfeit Gods, to be truly humbling and convicting. Pastor Keller can share with you more about the core that drives his thriving teaching ministry. But what I want to share as someone who has grown up loving apologetics, loving Christian theology, and fervently desiring the application of that theology to the whole of our lives and the world in which we live, is that I, like all of you, have also grown up in a time when the best-“selling” parts of American theology were rapture fever escapism and name-it-and-claim-it prosperity theology. Today, Tim Keller has brought to Manhattan, and through his books and church planting to so many more, a message about a transformative gospel rooted in the person and work of Christ. That message, especially from a man of Dr. Keller’s simply extraordinary skills, is one that we all should be praising God has found the audience it has. And today, we are blessed to be that audience. St.Andrews, please welcome from Redeemer New York, Pastor Tim Keller.

DLB

The Motives Behind Bad Policy

One thing I have learned from Thomas Sowell over the years is that it is the LEFT that obsesses over the alleged motives of a policy rather than its efficacy.  The thing my conservative friends miss with the childish obsession about Obama’s this-and-that is that fundamentally the policies are all that matter.  Sincere and deep love for country followed by idiotic policies is not to be commended any more than a goofball agenda followed by idiotic policies is (case in point: Pat Buchannan). All the talk of Obama as a Marxist Muslim colonialist Kenyan freak can be true or false, or WORSE, he could just be a Harvard Law grad (the scariest thing in this country).  But it all doesn’t mean squat beyond “what is he proposing for this country and will it work?”.  His policy prescriptions are across the board demonstrably wrong.  So just focus on that, and the results will be meaningful.