Saturday, November 17, 2007

The Dark Side of Happyland

(No Country For Old Men... or young men either. What we think is a game, as it is on the website, is really indicative of a truth that we're missing) --->

My room was getting smaller. I'd been sitting on my chair with my feet propped up for the past five hours, taking a much needed break to watch some Sunday football, and I found myself fidgeting in my chair. The room hadn't changed, or had it. I looked over at my corner desk and the stacked pile of boxes outside the closet door. My room was about ten feet by ten feet, most of it taken up by my desk. There was no room to walk, and room for only a single chair.

I turned back to the game. What was I thinking? Had I left it all back in Ottawa for this? A commercial came on, I didn't see what it was advertising, but a young family was playing in the front yard, the dad smiling confidently as he leaned on a silver Mercedes. I abruptly clicked off the TV. I hadn't watched much television since I'd moved to Toronto, I didn't have time. I'd grown used to going days without seeing any commercials, and after basking in them for the past five hours, I could feel the change. It wasn't as if the commercials were negative. It was exactly the opposite. Everyone was so happy in them, and the guys seemed to have the perfect life. Wife. Kids. Dog. House. Car. Clothes. I looked at my tiny closet, which was jammed open because of the lack of space. Three dress shirts. One pair of casual shoes. Five pairs of pants. And this tiny room.

I flipped on my jacket and decided to go for a walk. Watching five hours of Happyland commercials had produced nothing but sadness and a strange sense of emasculation, especially as a single guy who DID like and hope for a family one day. "Yeah, I know I only have a room, but I'm a really good guy!" Whatever women tell you, including Christian women, stability is important. And it should be. For me, however, it was another sour reminder of what I'd left behind.

The problem with commercialism is that it is so infectious we don't even see it. Studies reveal that once people reach $10,000 GDP (when we're basically able to feed ourselves without too much difficulty) our level of happiness is directly correlated to the people around us. In other words, if we don't look at what other people got, we're much happier. In our world however, we're forced to look at what other people have when we expose ourselves to too much media. And even the best of people don't realize how much they're being influenced.

For example, in the Coen brothers new movie, No Country for Old Men (based on the novel by Cormac McCarthy), they tell the tale of a cowboy, a good man, who comes across the scene of a massacre. A suitcase of two million sits with a dying man who's asking for water. What do we do? What would we do? Take the money and give the dying man some water, right? Isn't that the North American way? (We can have our cake, and have it served in a marble dish.)

Well, he does just that, and than all hell breaks loose as an assassin comes looking for him. Now McCarthy is a uniquely American writer, and he layers his simple tales with moral complexities. Well, for him at least, taking the money IS a complexity. For some of us, and I include myself, there are days when I'm not sure it would be all that complex. Maybe God wants us to have the money. Maybe we tithed and this is our reward.

I stroll down the sidewalk. The air is warmer than I expected. The sun is fading, and I breathe deep the quiet stillness of the street. The whole experience has reminded me of a story I heard two weeks ago at a seminar on The Emergent Church.

The presenter told us about a church plant in Michigan that had sprung to life in a downtown bar. The bar owner thought it was a cool idea, and every Sunday night he closed the bar and let the people in the neighbourhood have 'church.' A big denomination saw the growing young church, and offered three hundred thousand (yes, thousand!) to the young church. There was one condition. They were uncomfortable with the idea of church in a bar. So, in order for the church plant to get the money (and the young church had just $37 in their account at the time) they would have to move to the suburbs.

Despite the temptation, the church refused the money.

There is a very dark side to Happyland. Sometimes, great filmmakers and writers need to show just how vividly dark it can be. Sometimes we get lost in the commercials and it helps us feel good about the extra purchase we just made, the new car or the new sound system or the new clothes. But maybe all this purchasing isn't such a good thing. It isn't to say that we can't treat ourselves, or that we can't celebrate hard work, but it does mean that we should think twice about the idea that money is an automatic sign of God's blessing.

An assassin probably won't rip apart my life, but when the years are passed, when I've worked so hard on the things that don't last, when I've spent all of my energy working overtime and storing up treasures in my downtown bank, will all my time spent building my own Happyland be worth it? Will I be able say thank you for more than just a bigger room.

May God remind us this week that the world we see on 2D is not the real world, that the good life is made up of the friends and family around us, and that while Happyland may be a nice place to visit, you don't want to live there.