Tuesday, December 11, 2012

There's an ad for that. #KeepingAdvent

In today’s gospel reading, Jesus warns us: “Be on guard so that your hearts are not weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of this life…” (Luke 21:34, NRSV) “Dissipation” is not a word that we hear much anymore outside of the Bible, and many of us, I imagine, only know it as half of a rhetorical pair with “drunkenness” – a word whose meaning we are far more certain of!

Dissipation is a noun which is kin to the verb “to dissipate,” which we are probably more familiar with – a word which means to disappear, often through scattering, dilution, or diffusion. But as a noun, dissipation carries the connotation of disappearance through negligence – squandering. To waste one’s time, one’s mental energies, one’s money or posessions, usually by indulging one’s own desire for ease
or luxury – this is dissipation. Or perhaps I might just as well say, this is American leisure class culture.

A good Anglican, John Wesley, the reluctant founder of Methodism, was ever watchful against dissipation in himself and his flock. He could be very stern with himself about time spent in “unprofitable conversation.” I can only imagine what he would have made of prime time television.

Ironically, it is through a television program – Mad Men – that many more Americans have become aware of the aims and reach of the advertising that underwrites and drives the majority of our entertainment today. From magazines to movies to catalogs to billboards on the highway to television advertisements, the worries of our lives are exploited. Whether we are worried about whether we
are attractive or good parents or smart or thrifty – whatever it is that we can worry about, there’s an ad for that.

The aim of advertisement is to get us to buy, but the dirty little secret is that we don’t actually need that much stuff. So how can the Ad Men drive us to dissipation? Turns out, fear is a pretty good motivator when getting people to act against their best interests – whether voting for a particular candidate or buying one more product that will gather dust in the back of the medicine cabinet. When we are overwhelmed by the worries of this life, we are driven to drunkenness – to the desire to escape our fears. We numb ourselves with television programs that are interspersed with ads carefully calculated to amplify the very worries we were trying to escape with the show we were watching.

And now the advertisements come right into our e-mail boxes. In this season, we are bombarded with subject lines that scream “Flash Sale! BOGO!!!” and “Free Shipping, Today only!!” Each carries the warning, explicit or implicit, of “Don’t miss this opportunity!” These e-mails play on our fear of squandering, in an ironic bid to lure us into squandering our time and our money acquiring more things we don’t need.

Squandering. There are so many things I could write about – so many things each of us have squandered as individuals (time, opportunities, money), so many things we have squandered as a society (natural resources, goodwill, innovation).

But of all of this squandering was only made possible by squandering our inheritance as children of God. Jesus died for us so that we might have eternal life, but we fear that we will die alone and unnoticed. Through Christ we can do all things, but we fear that we are incapable of anything. We are made for community, but we fear anyone we do not readily understand. We are each one of us precious, but we fear that we are insubstantial.

We are loved, but we fear that we are unloved and unlovable.

In the words of Charles Wesley’s Advent hymn:
“Come thou long expected Jesus, born to set thy people free;
from our sins and fears release us, let us find our rest in thee…”

May you – lovable you – find your rest in Jesus in this Advent season.

Written by Sarah McGiverin
Follow Sarah on Twitter @SarahMcGiverin
Read more posts by Sarah @ http://jerusalemtojericho.com/

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