Sign Up, Maybe? A Jubilee Parody

The CCO cares very much about "being good neighbors to the consumer next door." In fact, this tagline here at New Breed of Advertisers was inspired by my work with the CCO over the past 15 years, and also my work with The High Calling over the past four or five years. We care about every provider/consumer relationship, in fact, not just Advertiser and Consumer.

Doctor and Patient, Teacher and Student, Artist and Aficionado. Each one matters.

Since the late 70s, the CCO's flagship conference, Jubilee, has attempted to help college students and young professionals understand those relationships in a way that demonstrates love. Jesus kind of love.

Thousands fill the hotel and ballroom in Pittsburgh for conversations about work and faith. Veterans in a host of vocational fields share their stories—what works, what doesn't, what the Bible says about something like scientific research or accounting.

Navigating our work life is not always easy. It requires discernment, community, mentors, and faithfulness. But we can get the conversation started at least.

I'll be heading back to Jubilee again on February 15-17, 2013, and I hope you'll join me. The world needs more workers who love the consumer next door.  Jubilee inspires those workers. Jubilee is a great place to find encouragement as well as perhaps a calling for the first time to something bigger.

Enjoy this playful parody. It's obviously geared toward toward a young audience, though Jubilee has gifts for everyone. Pass it along to those who need to "Sign Up, Maybe?"

Read about how Jubilee has inspired my vocation here.


Bullying in Advertising

by Sam Van Eman

Transcript of this recording:

My daughter just entered middle school. It's the age of bullying, the life spell when kids find their way, sort each other out, make decisions about what fits and what doesn't.

Image by Chesi. Used with permission via Flickr.
Anti-bullying education has been a primary social focus in these first few months of her year. Videos, assemblies with outside speakers, a poster campaign, all of it to postpone the inevitable. Bullying seems to exist as an unavoidable rite of passage, a gauntlet for punishers and those who run between them. Both parties could use the extra help.

I'd like to think we grow out of this painful activity, but election year competition proves we don't. Stand-up comedy sarcasm proves we don't. Prime Time elimination shows prove we don't, especially when nationally televised audiences inflict flagrant disapproval upon the serious souls who risk self-esteem to stand before them.

And what of advertising? One print ad for Nike lacrosse cleats reads, "Made with absolutely positively no regard for your opponent's feelings." Blatancy looks more like exaggerated humor than bullying. I knew a lacrosse player who beat his head against the wall before games to stimulate adrenaline. If he thinks a shoe will boost his dominance over competitors (who wear the same laced promise), who can reason with him? He's a bully who feeds on being bullied.

Advertising works more often in subtleties. Though not regarded as a chief perpetrator of meanness, advertising—the sort we criticize for doing harm in the world—leaves its mark, whittling with a slow and consistent stroke. Consider the following example.

A magazine advertisement for the 2013 Lexus ES states, "May cause technolust." Creatively poignant, this phrase, though it is unclear who it marks as the target. Let's say it's you, the buyer on the lot. Lust is a longing for something you haven't got. You haven't got the all-new, tech-loaded Lexus ES. Lexus makes a light pass at your current status, and insecurity stirs beneath the surface. The seemingly benign expression resembles little of real bullying, perhaps confirming why the insult earns our pardon, if we have caught on to its malice at all.

Lexus 1, Consumer 0.

Now let's say it's your friend, not you, with the technolust. You converted $40,000 into magnificent wheels, and the showroom still lingers in the seat leather and bamboo trim around you. Your friend slides in and sins a little.

Lexus 2, Consumer 1, Friend 0.

Lexus gives you permission to do this stirring. You're nice about it, of course. Your friend is your friend. But condescension is never kind. Rejoice with those who rejoice, mourn with those who mourn, we're told. Instead, Lexus says, Rejoice when others mourn, mourn when others rejoice. 

Causing technolust isn't giving someone a swirly; it is a pricking we tolerate because it feels mild, clever even.

The call to become good neighbors requires abstinence, a willingness to set aside predictable factors that aggravate others' weaknesses. I can't stop advertisers from bullying. But I can refuse to play the accomplice; the bully who feeds on bullying. And maybe, if I employ some of the tools my daughter and her friends are learning in middle school this year, I can learn to ignore the pricking. Enough of us doing the same might even make the bullies go away.         

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Out of Context: Fast Company

Image by OAndrews. Used with permission via Flickr.

Image by Jonathan Nardi. Used with permission via Flickr.

Image by saturn. Used with permission via Flickr.

Image by ChvyGrl. Used with permission via Flickr.

Image by Nate. Used with permission via Flickr.

Image by Jason A. Samfield. Used with permission via Flickr.

Image by TC Morgan. Used with permission via Flickr.

Image by Mark Grealish. Used with permission via Flickr.

Image by henning. Used with permission via Flickr.

Image by Aitor Escauriaza. Used with permission via Flickr.

Just wondered what magazine advertisement captions would look like out of context. They look like this. All ad copy taken from the October and November 2012 issues of Fast Company magazine. 


I approve this message.

by Sam Van Eman

Transcript of this recording:

Dear Campaign Ad Writers,

You're probably still rejoicing, or mourning, depending on how last night's decision turned out. For months, you've invested time and your best talents to promote your candidate, taking information gathered by others to praise and smear, always in the hope of gaining an edge. Some of your top writing happened this year. You had 30 second spots to work with, billboard dimensions to hem you in, newspaper word counts, footage from archives to paint two pictures, perhaps cameras and lighting crews, a budget, an angle, and a mandate.

You were essential. Your work, done well, could change history, and you knew it.

Regardless of your mood this morning, there is, possibly, a reason for confession. While your project most likely rendered pride, there were times when beneath the celebration of dirt well-placed, even thick skin felt the hesitation of harsh words going public. You cringed. That was your text. Had you paused to feel for a moment, you know the same words could not have been said in person. You are kind at home, for example; a host or hostess who, though opinionated, enjoys good food, laughter, and respectable discussion with company. After pleasant evenings, guests always bid farewell wishing to return.

Public insult, though, from the norms of previous campaigns and from pop culture sources as far from you as American Idol, differentiated your work life. Insult was acceptable there. Harsh criticism thrived in a context where peer pressure affirmed it. In that arena, political aspiration, national attention, and the basic human desire to know that your work matters came together to create a second you. Success in the whirl of election excitement trampled civil discourse underfoot.

For the sake of winning, you sliced an opponent's career into talking points, five and ten words long. You edited, “Oh yeah?! Well you...” and kept everything after. 

As the election results wear off, you'll look back on your work. You'll remember that derision isn't you. It wasn't part of your childhood instruction. It wasn't endorsed by the professors who inspired you. It sits uneasily with you now, though you believe it was necessary for victory and for the aversion of perceived dangers that threaten American life.

Words have been your gift. People pay you to compose them just so. They come easily and you wish to use them well, though now you have the growing sense that you've betrayed them. 

The good news is that you can be forgiven.

Aligning with your candidate when he says, “I want to congratulate my opponent on a hard fight” does not cover months of slander. Assuming pardon when your candidate says of the loser, “I wish the best for you” does not erase distortion. It does not patch wounds caused by a year of playground antics and bullying.

As life resumes, I hope you find rest. I also hope you'll consider this citizen's request:

Please remember that nations around the world have observed your product and wondered what good exists in such ruthless strikes. Please remember that my children have observed your product and wondered, by way of message approvals, how your candidate's opponent could be such a bad person. Unable to discern adequately, my children assumed your messenger stood alone as the one source of good. (How many of us remain unaware just like them.)

For our sake, and for the sake of decency and respectability, please consider your actions and make amends. Do it this week. Enjoy the fruit of humility and a clear conscience. This is the high road for you and for us. I look forward to seeing your work again in the future. I will recognize it when it rings of competition fused with neighborly love.

Until then, peace be with you.

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Advertising and Book Burning

Photo by Dave Hogg.
Erin Straza's response to what turned out to be an advertising scheme:

"[G]ood advertising leads the viewer to think the thoughts they want them to think.

That’s what happened to the people of Troy, Michigan. As a vote for a tax increase to keep their public library open drew near, citizens became aware of a group called Safeguarding American Families (SAFE) that was against the tax increase. In anticipation of the tax’s defeat, SAFE planned a little post-election celebration: a book burning. SAFE promoted the book burning around town using yard signs and social media.

News of the book burning spread, as did a fierce response by the citizens themselves. It was the talk of the town, neighbor calling upon neighbor to prevent the book burning.[it]." 

READ the rest of Erin's reflection at Christ and Pop Culture.

READ the original article--with a thought-provoking conclusion--at Salon.


Consumer Objectivity Down the Literal Drain

  by Sam Van Eman 

Transcript of this recording:

Two years ago, we bought a foreclosed home. The loan stipulated that we finish the upstairs bathroom which previous owners must have started but couldn’t afford to finish before being evicted. It was all studs, insulation, and exposed plumbing, and I argued that we didn't need to finish it yet since we had another one downstairs. I promised to take on the project myself, but the bank didn't budge. So we compiled a list of item numbers and paid a contractor to finish the job.

It's been two years, and we've never really used the downstairs bathroom I originally claimed would be sufficient. Turns out that except for a few emergencies, it served better as a tool storage for current projects. My wife was right: It really was a mess.

Last week, with tax return in hand and help from a friend who knows more than I do, I began gutting what had become the tool storage. I checked off his to-do list, even squeezing under the crawlspace for inspection and digging (By the way, a cubic yard of dirt is a lot to move while lying on your back in the dark).

Every trip to both local and box stores, I bought supplies based on what caught my attention from the shelf. Not willy-nilly decisions, but reasonable decisions. Products complement each other so well that if I saw an item on sale, I could pack it into the cart and take it home, knowing I'd find its match later.

Then yesterday evening, after comparing prices of what seemed to be rather different items, a reflection drew me out of the shopping trance. I realized that these items were not rather different at all; in fact, they demonstrated such a lack of creative variety that they suddenly appeared quite the same. I thought about the toilet, and then the shower fixture, and then the sink, and mirror, the light and fan, and all of it together appeared in my mind like every other bathroom of every other person who has a Lowe's within driving distance of their house.

Part of the problem lies with building code, which isn't too different than, say, car design. Just as you can only do so much with a side-mirror or a bumper before you risk driver safety, regulations for plumbing and electricity behind the scene influence aesthetics right in front of you. Certainly color and shape vary, but the stipulations are strict and the freedom, little, especially for the vast majority who can't afford gross distinction. Still, I ask, Why am I limited to few real options? Am I actually limited? And what convinced me to see the array of selections as more different than similar in the first place?

It's like a kind of shopping socialism had taken over and I was suddenly aware of its tight fit.

The project will move forward. It has to. I'm looking forward to problem-solving and installation—activities which make me appreciate being human. But now I feel tied. No matter how I’d like to escape cultural bounds, every member in my family views the world in their own shaped way, which means I can't simply claim the entire vote for what gets installed and what doesn't. I have to consider their aesthetic wishes too.

And even if they agreed to my requests, I'm still left with the effects of social influence. I want what others have. When Lowe's sells a product that I swear I've seen in a wealthy home, I feel drawn to the suggestion of elevated importance. When the cheap items are listed as "Basic" or "Our Most Popular Model," I feel poor and want to be above the tier of consumers who look for those items. (Design doesn't happen in a vacuum, after all.)

But here I am in the aisle, alerted by the trance and asking myself a perplexing question: How would this bathroom look if I could build it outside of the cultural parameters currently guiding my opinions?

I really don't know. Unless I've traveled abroad, or, conversely, grown up in isolation, contrast is hard to find. Innovation is difficult to consider. This fact reminds me of a former Disney employee whose boss said, "We purchased some land, build something." The employee replied, "You mean, like a theme park?" to which his boss replied, "Whatever you'd like." The employee's reaction was limited to what he already knew. He had to be given permission to think beyond it.

I don’t have the money for gross distinction, or even for sliding down the aisle past Basic in most cases. So I want permission. I could go with Our Most Popular Model and let someone else—the entire middle class, in fact—determine how to decorate our home, but I want permission. I feel alive when I create. I feel emboldened, empowered. Human. That's a spirituality I can enjoy—walking in the footsteps of the Creator.  

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Book Publicity as a Cultural Act

Image by Mikko Saari.
I needed a Stephanie Smith about seven years ago, before I gave up on publicity and a book I felt compelled to share with the world. It is what it is now, but I'm encouraged to know that service is her focus in a world of too many self-serving, megaphone-toting, insecurity-driven authors. I am happy to share her marketing view with you this morning at
"In between the dozens of drafts and the time their magnum opus hits the printer, some authors get cold feet. They feel it’s still an important book, but suddenly, to spread the word about it through a publicity campaign would be disingenuous. Suddenly, it’s not God’s message, but 'self-promotion.' They feel more comfortable in the high art of the writing process, and want to leave the 'dirty work' of promotion to me.
I count it my professional privilege to debunk this illusion. I understand that when you’ve poured so much of yourself into a work, it becomes harder to discern the lines between yourself and your art, and easier to equate book promotion with self-promotion. But these don’t have to be one and the same. What often makes the difference is our motives: Are we serving ourselves, or are we serving an idea that we believe will influence lives for the better?"
READ MORE about Stephanie's philosophy in Everything Matters: Book Publicity as a Cultural Act. is a site about faith, work, and God.


Angry Birds Matter

Sourced via Flickr.
In March, I began hosting a series at called Everything Matters. The premise is somewhat simple: What you do during your day is a cultural act, and it will either create, manage, or consume the world God has given to you. (Consume here has no negative connotations—rather, think consuming art or consuming broccoli.) Whether I'm digging out a new flower bed, balancing my checkbook, or, as I said, eating broccoli, I'm participating in the world as a cultural being, one who is called to create, manage, and consume the goods that surround us.

The most recent series entry was written by Kevin Schut, a professor of media + communication at Trinity Western University in Langley, BC, Canada. Kevin tells people he plays video games for a living, and it’s partly true. His book Of Games and God: A Christian Exploration of Video Games will be released by Brazos Press in early 2013.

Here is an excerpt of the article. I hope you'll join the conversation.

My new iPad contains several dozen worlds. There’s a boy’s bed where little wind-up robots protect him from scary dinosaurs. There’s the Caribbean, where I get to sail, hoist the Jolly Roger, and relieve Spanish merchants of their sugar. There’s a fantasy kingdom under siege from hostile orcs and skeletons. And, of course, there are rooms of boxes, glass, and stones erected by pigs desperate to stave off assaults from irate avians.

While it is amazing that one digital device can be a doorway to so many imaginary places, not everyone is excited about this... (Read more here.) hosts conversations about work, life, and God.


The Root of Criticism

by Sam Van Eman

Transcript for this recording:

I haven't watched TV since the Super Bowl and the result is that I'm low on blog content. I do have a sizable stack of ads and related quotes, articles, links, notes scribbled on Subway napkins and squares of toilet paper—a travelogue of potential material. But fasting through Lent did what it usually does to my advertising sensitivity: it put the critic to sleep.

Months away from TV and I forget what used to be on and who sponsored it. I go to bed earlier, realizing that Leno and company lack real stimulation power. I miss the 30-second appetizer bites and celebrity influence. I read more, like pieces from Fiction 100, a short story anthology; and from Deuteronomy 31 where the decision between light and dark, life and death, seem so obviously easy yet so surprisingly hard.

I'm out of content because I've been taking a new mental path to work. I'm not still simmering on last night's musings; on the death-knell of simple living, or the faux-invigoration of card-swiping for things I couldn't possibly need (but really do want).

This isn't to say I've been entirely unplugged, just filtered. I caught a handful of movies since February. Hugo was cleverly done, the French-made Microcosm captivated us with its ants drinking water, and both Art & Copy and Objectified—two documentaries up my alley—kept my ad-mind more on standby than a full snooze. Still, a month of blogging inactivity?

Fasting from too much TV inside also coincided this year with an abundance of growth outside. Our late winter and early spring were exceptionally warm, feeling more like late spring and early summer. I've exercised more, mowed more, walked the kids to school more, pulled weeds more. All good, like a thorough cleaning.

Clutter in general has a way of forcing me to tolerate limited space. If your desk is busy, like mine often is, you know exactly what I mean. You haven't got an entire desk, just something the size of a legal pad. The rest is for clutter. Lent, in a way, wipes it all clean. It helps me see what's there, what isn't, what could be that usually can't be. I'll go back, of course. Back to the mental confines. I do every year once the weather changes. By mid-fall, I'll be looking forward to this or that sit-com, and sitting around on Sunday afternoons watching football.

And that's when I'll get more material.

Just in time for Christmas deals and my own reawakening of consumer lust, I'll get more material because it will be material for me; for my own struggle to tread what feels like shoreless water, a commercial-made sea of desire and want. I'll want to drown in it like the humans in WALL-E, who lounge in chairs with, as one reviewer described, a "constant feed of TV and video chatting. They drink all of their meals through a straw out of laziness and/or bone loss...."

That material, the hyper-critical kind I'm prone to invoke, often comes from me trying to push the straw away. In those soap box moments I'm treading desperately to avoid being one of those people; I'm playing the preacher who rails against pornography only to be discovered as the audience to his own sermons. We fight against what we know best, right?

This is the root of criticism. It is my own struggle to keep from drowning in pleasures that pull me beneath the surface. For now, I'm enjoying dry ground. But I'll go back. It's inevitable, this draw toward heaven when hell offers the easiest substitutions.

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Three Little Pigs, The Guardian, and the way forward.

I'll be hosting a series about culture on Fridays through April and May at It's called "Everything Matters," which is a phrase I borrowed from the CCO's Jubilee Conference. The conversation started with me looking for some guidance, and it would be an understatement to say that I knew exactly how to proceed. There is simply too much to know.

Culture is so very complex and my insight, so limited. The following commercial for The Guardian reminds me of these facts in a brilliant choreography of images and words, based on the Three Little Pigs:

As soon as I--or The Guardian for that matter--believe I have the angle on something, new evidence is introduced. New factors come into play. So it isn't the first reporter who has the story right. She's just first. Additional voices add depth and uncover misreads and challenge running opinions. Sometimes the whole truth eventually makes it into the light, though usually it doesn't; it just gets more complex.

Culture is like this. Evasive, perplexing. Yet I don't always have the choice to stand by waiting for it to unshake into knowable pieces, which means that sometimes I have to step in when it's still unclear. Sometimes, not always. Wisdom comes from spending time in the thick of it, but wisdom also--maybe more so--comes from stepping back and seeking counsel. 

Read the kick-off article, Creating a High Calling Culture, and then tune in over the coming weeks as practitioners share how they see and interact with culture according to specific disciplines. They won't parse the latest headline happening; we're employing a less myopic view here. But in doing so, they'll teach us to see better. They'll give us a way of looking at the world that can help make sense of the complexity. And practically, they'll call us to create, manage, and consume culture in a way that reflects God's own creating, managing, and consuming. I hope you'll join us.

The High Calling is a site about work, life, and God.


Bug-eyed for Culture: Help Me See

Image by Thomas Shahan.
Dave fixes my car. Dave also coaches Little League. Both are work, and both are cultural acts, even though only fixing my car earns Dave a paycheck. We are, as Andy Crouch says, “culture makers.” Some make improvements to cars for pay, yes, but we also make toys, music, houses, apps, children, communities, stories, language, history, libraries, justice, noise, and play.

Culture is all day, every day. Fascinating, isn’t it?

Help me create a sharper vision for the culture content at To do that, read the rest of this post and my invitation here. Thanks!


Oscar Night: A Call for the Good and the Popular

by Sam Van Eman  

Transcript of this recording:

I missed the Oscars Sunday night because I’m on a TV hiatus. But I didn’t really miss the Oscars. I watched a couple of the nominees via Netflix but wasn’t too impressed. Then I read a recap this morning in the New York Times about how the Oscars needs to deal with its antiquated formula: extensive advertising, long months of telling potential viewers about the show, countless blog posts and movie trailers and pre-vote casting opportunities. As the article goes, nearly five months of marketing are aimed at one hopefully spectacular, star-studded, entertaining, successful celebration.

Yet many think it fell flat this year.

Brooks Barnes and Michael Cieply wrote the review that caught my attention. It’s entitled, Fears Grow That Oscars’ TV Allure May Be Resistible. They said, “With films that most of America hasn’t seen continuing to dominate the Oscars—“Hugo,” a winner of five trophies on Sunday, has been a box office dud—the Academy seems to have effectively eliminated one of the crucial measuring sticks of the past: the ability of a picture to move the masses to buy tickets.”

For me, this is the crux of the matter. Good vs popular. On one hand you may have good films which weren’t popular but win Best Picture. On the other hand, you may have popular films which weren’t exactly good but win Best Picture anyway. The former highlight the power to amaze us or shift our worldview; the latter, the power to fill seats.

But good vs popular creates an interesting dilemma. If all of the Oscar nominees are good but not popular, viewers have to force themselves to preview the line-up prior to Oscar night or else they won’t have a clue about who’s in the running, and therefore have no real buy-in to the show. If, however, all of the Oscar nominees are popular but not good, viewers will naturally tune in like sports fans to see if their pick will win. (But then people like me end up questioning the voting system and wonder why such-and-such an incredible no-name movie didn’t get noticed.)

I have to confess. My peculiar tastes aside, I don’t trust the masses. They are—and don’t take this personally; I share it as what I think of as basic sociology—ignorant, emotionally driven, and generally lacking in good taste. Crowds follow each other with a certain blind excitement that dampens objectivity when it comes to valuing cultural artifacts. What is popular is not always promising. What is mass is not always remarkable. But without, as the article said, “the ability of a picture to move the masses to buy tickets,” the Oscars—at least in its current format—will eventually die.

Preachers know this. Marketers know this. Authors know this. TV show producers know this. You can have a great message, but if you aren’t filling seats, it’s going to be an awfully poor and lonely road ahead, if there even is a road ahead.

I ask whether the Oscars’ TV allure was resistible this year because a handful of the nominees were neither good nor popular. Such a combination does not bode well for anyone.

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You go, library.

Promoting something I love, and could afford to love more...the public library. Courtesy of Amy Corr at MediaPost.


Interview on Advertising and Why We Shouldn't GoDaddy

John and Kathy were kind hosts to me yesterday at WORD-FM. We covered GoDaddy, roofing, Triscuits, Jubilee, and more about advertising and the stuff I love. The clip is 18-1/2 min long. Open the "Tuesday, February 07, 2012" link and then start at 01:13:05 in your media player.

Find the link here, or simply get the iTunes podcast for Feb 7 here.


Chevy Silverado 2012

No telling if Toyota owners will make it through the Mayan apocalypse in 2012, but I'll plan to be driving mine on December 21st just in case. This clever Super Bowl ad for Chevy shows a preview of the fallout and what will remain. Where are the cockroaches, I wonder?


Pepperidge Farms and Fame-lust

by Sam Van Eman

Transcript for this recording:

Henri Nouwen once spent seven months in a Trappist monastery in an attempt to escape from his fame-lust; to find, as he put it, "a quiet stream underneath the fluctuating affirmations and rejections of my little world" (The Genesee Diary, 14). While in the monastery, Nouwen worked on their assembly line which produced 15,000 loaves of raisin bread (Monk's Bread) each week.

Consider this journal entry about an observation he made:
"Theodore found a little piece of metal between the thousands of raisins he pushed through the raisin washing machine. He showed it to me. It looked as sharp as a razor blade. Well, someone eating his raisin bread is saved from a bleeding stomach, thanks to Theodore, who will never hear a grateful word for it. That is the drawback of preventative medicine" (112). 
Drawback of preventative medicine? Yikes. This is exactly why someone with fame-lust like Nouwen's needs a time out.

But hold on a minute, Sam. You know precisely what he means. Mixed with even the few generous acts of your own—especially the unrecognized ones—is a hope for praise. You admire Spider-Man for his masked altruism, but you also love the moment when Mary Jane is about to find out who's behind all those good deeds. Don't be too quick to judge.

The Pepperidge Farms magazine advertisement here says, "We're bakers. But we're parents, too. That's why we bake our wholesome bread the way we do. With plump, juicy raisins, sweet swirls of cinnamon—and lots of love." I appreciate the heart at the center of this image. Maybe it's real. I hope, at least, that it's more than a clever graphic, because I'm sure that some of those who made this ad (and this bread) care less about the customer and more about fame.

There are many problems in popular advertising that call for Spider-men and women to address. And there are also many elements that require Theodores to execute selflessly, year after year. Theodores may need to extract the occasional metal shard, but their main focus is on "lots of love," and on the continual production of beneficial goods and services. Not fame.
Theodore found more value in making good bread than in heroically avoiding dangerous bread, or in people knowing he made bread at all. It feels impossible for me to be Theodore. Dreams of accolades and promotions too often over-shadow the importance of the work itself, and I find myself needing to remember why it's been given to me in the first place.

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Vocational Surfing: Will Someone Puhleeze Ride that Wave?

by Sam Van Eman

Transcript for this recording:

Hey, it's Friday and you're either glad the work week is over or you're bummed it's coming to an end. My friend and stump-preaching vocation specialist, Byron Borger, refuses to eat at TGI Friday’s for theological reasons. Work was given to us before the fall of humankind, not after. So for that reason, despite the callouses, work is a good thing. And, honestly, because it has service and cultivation at its roots, work brings goodness into the mess that surrounds us. Byron may be onto something.

This morning I came across a surfing video. It's amazing. I've surfed only once but even my three-foot waves made me appreciate water's power and the need I would have for excellence to both understand and work within the ways of that power. In the video scenes where you look into the empty curl, you'll wonder if a surfer will emerge. In the scenes where you watch the surfer under a closing wave, you'll wonder if he will make it.

I didn’t intend to share this in order to create a point, but I couldn't help thinking about the surfing montage and work. TGIF (not the restaurant) is the relief statement of someone who can't seem to emerge. They either lack the vision, or the know-how, or the willingness to ride out what seems like pending doom. And sometimes it is pending doom. Plenty of jobs will eventually reach right over our heads and take us under. But every time?

I would like to see more of us ride this thing beyond Friday.


Enjoy the video below. If you don’t think about work while you watch it, that’s okay. The wave is still amazing.


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Super Bowl Commercials and My Spiritual Tipping Point

by Sam Van Eman

Transcript of this recording:

It's early January and the perennial conversation about the Super Bowl game versus Super Bowl commercials has reached the living room already. Last night, after an overtime loss took the Steelers out of the running, a friend surrendered: "Well, there will always be the commercials." Even my seven-year old reminded me this week why she likes watching football: "I love the commercials, Daddy."

Of course, behind-the-scenes talk began months ago. This year's 30-second spot line-up was sold out before Thanksgiving. At a record-high $3.5 million a piece (about $117,000 per second), NBC is more than happy to host both the game and the high-fare entertainment.

Seth Winter, senior vice president of sales and marketing at NBC’s sports group, said, “We have shattered any recent revenue stories in regards to the Super Bowl."

Super Bowl commercials aren't predictably Jack's beanstalk for companies who commission them, but companies certainly hope their millions will become that. At the very least, with Ash Wednesday only weeks behind America's favorite game, it's as if they hope this will be the Mardi Gras of consumption until Black Friday resurrects their sales again.

My Mardi Gras

The Super Bowl is also my Mardi Gras; a last hurrah of pleasure and shiny lights before the darkness sets in; a cultural feast followed by a religious fast. I give up television each year for Lent because I watch too much tube leading up the Super Bowl. Charlie Brown specials, mid-winter sit-com reruns, play-off games, more play-off games. By the time I wake up the morning after the big event, I can't watch another minute of anything.

(Well...except for Netflix.)

The cycle does my body good. Unplugged, I'm invited to have expectations beyond wanting to see which Doritos' submission got chosen out of the more than 6000 entries for its 30 seconds of fame. Unplugged, I'm invited to wait for provision - the Easter kind no ad or product can produce.

For now - and since my team is officially out - we'll be talking about the commercials around here. I'll call my kids into the room when age-appropriate gems air, I'll talk with peers about their favorites, I'll reflect on the influence of advertising on our 21st-century hearts and minds. I'll also hope for more neighbor-sensitive commercials, pray for those creative types behind the scenes who have more power than they realize, and reflect on my own role in the machine that is consumerism.

And then, on February 6th, a day after partying with food and friends, I'll come home from work and find something else to do besides watch TV.


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Streetwalking in 2012

by Sam Van Eman

Transcript of this recording:

Here's how it feels. I've come just around a city block corner onto 2012 Avenue and I'm thinking about both the last street and this one. The last one wasn't ugly or dark. It feels more like a friend's house with a decent dinner and pretty good company; the experience keeps me warm on the walk home.

More of my mind is on the next street. I've just popped out of the New York City subway and turned the corner. I've got a meeting address in my pocket. Haven't been there, haven't met the people. But the city scape is alive and the meeting promises. I see it as a brainstorming session of sorts on a topic I love to discuss. That's the feeling, anyway, rounding this corner.

As critical as I am, and as often as I complain about this issue or that discomfort, I get this feeling every year. I'm glad for a perennial optimism. I won't set New Year's resolutions (I wouldn't keep them). I'm not trying to clean last year's slate with a fabricated belief that this year will be my year. I won't even lie to myself about what potential I might or might not have. I know what I have to work with, and but for grace, those tools could sink me or save me in a few short steps.

So here I am, looking forward, eager to get to this meeting but not wanting to rush it either. The conversation I'll have there has significant implications on my work, family, and faith, all of which, as I get older, mean more to me. For everything that shapes these implications, I thank the Lord.

Here's to a walk with anticipated stops along the way and an unusual measure of grace to help 2012 surprise all of us.


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