The Virtuous Vices of Television's Mad Men

If you want to see what sin looks like in a laboratory—a gorgeous, depressing, cinematic laboratory—then study AMC’s television series Mad Men. Its characters, although trapped in a very specific time and place in American history, reveal the universal way that human vice separates mankind from the divine. The show’s creators expose the massive divide between beauty and ugliness, a spiritual paradox where appearances deceive us on every level.

I find it hard to recommend Mad Men to most people, especially Christians. Its sexual scenes are uncomfortable; its vices are glamorous. I don’t let my children watch it. I watch the characters sin and then sin again with awkward fascination. I am both appalled by the protagonist and instructed by his self-deception. My parents, who met and married in New York City in 1960 and subsequently lived in real life with every cup, necktie, and piece of furniture on the set, would no doubt find the cultural references and costuming to be pitch-perfect. Yet I’m certain they would squirm at the debauchery behind the proper offices of Sterling Cooper. I have yet to recommend it to them.

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The Lost Virtue of Fidelity

My church is going to celebrate our 25th anniversary this week.  As you can imagine, we’ve gone through a lot in that time.  We’ve had our celebrations, births, weddings, funerals, baptisms, Christmases and Easters, retreats and advances.  We've met at a storefront, a high school, afternoons at another church, portable buildings, and finally our own performing arts facility built largely with volunteer staff.  There are hundreds of people to whom I have given my heart—in ministry and in life—for a season and for eternity. 

There are decades of memories wrapped up in this celebration, from special private moments with one or two people to countless moments in public congregational intimacy through worship and other artistic expressions.  There have been large numbers of people (numbers known only to God) who have committed their lives to Christ.  I’ve had the privilege of being able to share the creative process with hundreds—maybe thousands—of actors, dancers, musicians, producers, technical artists, poets, painters, graphic artists, recording engineers, writers, photographers, vocalists, artisans, visionaries.  And I have laughed so hard and so long, that I’ve gone to bed with a sore belly.

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Wet Blanket Believers

I wish I could've hung out with Thomas Aquinas.  He must've been a riot.  The name may conjure stuffy intellectual images but it shouldn't.  In his Summa Theologica, he draws our attention to an oft-ignored virtue: wit.

“Jokes and plays are words and gestures that are not instructive but merely seek to give lively pleasure. We should enjoy them. They are governed by the virtue of witty gaiety to which Aristotle refers (Ethics II28aI) and which we call pleasantness. A ready-witted man is quick with repartee and turns speech and action to light relief.”

I could totally see Thomas throwing down some sarcastic barbs at fellow members of the Domincan Order. Later Aquinas says:

“It is against reason to be burdensome to others, showing no amusement and acting as a wet blanket. Those without a sense of fun, who never say anything ridiculous, and are cantankerous with those who do, these are vicious, and are called grumpy and rude.”
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