Tag Archives: Mad Men

Binge Living

Lately, I’ve been making my way through Mad Men, which is, to my mind, a terrific morality play about the vanity of human wishes and all of that sort of stuff. The central character, Don Draper, seeks and seeks for something, but he never seems to find it.

Today, however, I really don’t want to focus on the hard-drinking, hard-smoking, womanizing Draper but upon the non-drinking, non-smoking, monogamous me. Yesterday, you see, I watched an episode of Mad Men. Or perhaps it was two. Okay, having looked back on it, I see that it was actually five. Five episodes of Mad Men in a single day.

To be fair to myself, I finished up an outside writing assignment a couple of days ago. There’s no grading to do, and the weather is too chilly for yard work. Nothing else was demanding my time, so I spent nearly five hours watching the ad men of the 1960s muddle through their complicated lives.

In reflecting on those five hours this morning, I was reminded of the lead-in to Jesus’ parable of the rich fool. In those verses, after refusing to arbitrate the inheritance dispute of two brothers, Jesus broadens out the point, warning everyone to beware of greed, because “one’s life is not in the abundance of his possessions.”

While that parable is rightly used to discuss the folly of people who think too much of their possessions–people who perhaps worry about where their financial security will be found or who get a little proud and cocky about the magnitude of their 401K–I’m taken with that quotation above from Luke 12:15: “one’s life is not in the abundance of his possessions.”

What the Greek indicates there is pretty clearly indicated in the King James and other translations: a man’s life consists not in possessions. The version quoted above uses a perfectly acceptable although perhaps less elegant English word, “is.”

This “is” translation allows the verse to be read in a different manner. What Jesus pretty clearly meant to say is that we should not measure our lives in terms of things. However, when we read “one’s life is not in the abundance of his possessions,” we can take it to mean that a person’s lifespan is not as abundant as a person’s possessions. In other words, “Your days are less abundant than your things.”

To be clear, that’s not what Jesus meant to say, but I think it is a useful concept for us and certainly not doing violence to his overall message. When we waste time, when we, like the rich fool, “take it easy; eat, drink, and enjoy,” we’re not tuned in to the things of God. When God blesses us with extra time, he expects us to steward that time just as surely as we are to steward the riches he might put within our grasp.

We’re warned in Proverbs 23:33: “a little sleep, a little slumber,
a little folding of the arms to rest, and your poverty will come like a robber, and your need, like a bandit.” Let’s recall that not all poverty, not all need can be measured in terms of dollars.

Meditation for Everyone?

YogaWhat could meditation possibly hurt? It’s not some wicked thing like Christianity. We all know the terrible things that Christians do. You know…there were the Crusades. And the Crusades. Oh yeah, and the Salem Witch Trials. That was only 400-plus years ago. And Christianity today is just as deadly, right?

On the other hand, meditation is all smiling people on hillsides saluting the sun and becoming mindful. It’s all about living in the moment. After all, wasn’t it the Buddha who told us, “Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own”?

Yes, these thoughts might be an exaggeration of the attitudes of popular culture’s view of meditation and “mindfulness” practices as no-brainer, harmless, non-religious practices, but they are not utterly off base. A lot of people thought that Don Draper going to a meditation retreat at the end ofMad Men looked like a good idea. What would they have thought had he gone off to commune with Dominicans or Billy Graham? If Aaron Alexis, the Navy Yard shooter, had been a Presbyterian, don’t you think the critics would have been all over that? Instead, he was obsessed with meditation.

From a purely anecdotal standpoint, if Russell Brand thinks meditationis terrific, shouldn’t we be skeptical? Just a thought.

As it turns out, a fair amount of literature by reputable researchers has been suggesting that meditation might not be quite as benign as people have been led to believe. A couple of recent articles (here and here) have given an overview. David Shapiro of UCLA did a study of a small group and found that 63% of them had negative outcomes from meditation.

The negative effects included anxiety, panic, depression, pain, confusion and disorientation. But perhaps only the least experienced felt them and might several days of meditation not overwhelm those who were relatively new to the practice? The answer was no. When Shapiro divided the larger group into those with lesser and greater experience, there were no differences: all had an equal number of adverse experiences.

Currently, researchers in England have been looking into the practice, especially as it has been adopted as a more mainstream psychological therapy.

And one in 14 of them suffered profoundly adverse effects, according to Miguel Farias, head of the brain, belief and behaviour research group at Coventry University and Catherine Wikholm, a researcher in clinical psychology at the University of Surrey.

Granted, Farias and Wikholm have a book to sell,The Buddha Pill, but there findings should be enough to at least warrant some concern. If a medical procedure had severe negative effects for 1 in 14 patients, would the FDA permit its use?

It shouldn’t surprise the Christian thinkerthat Buddhist-style meditation, in which the practitioner attempts to emptythe mind, would lead to negative results. The human mind doesn’t empty very readily, but it can shake off the restricting forces that keep our worst thoughts at bay. Left to its own, hopelessly sinful, devices, mymind can go to some exceptionally dark places, places I don’t want to visit without the Holy Spirit along for protection.

Betty Draper Indulges Her Cravings

Betty DraperI will confess that I am writing this out of a measure of ignorance, having not watched all of theMad Men episodes released to date. However, with the first five and one- third seasons under my belt, I feel confident in claiming that Betty Draper Francis is a woman living in the flesh.

Certainly I could have just as easily laid that charge against her ex-husband, the complicated Don Draper, but since Betty seems to drag a great deal less baggage in her wake her flesh-focused life seems less justified and more lamentable.

Somewhere, in the years before Betty found herself swept away by Don, in the murky prehistory before Season 1, Betty would have seemed to have it all: Bryn Mawr education, a sturdy (if not wealthy) family, dazzling good looks, and, upon Don’s entrance on the scene, a dashing husband going places. What more could this fifties woman want? Yet it wasn’t enough.

By the time we meet Betty, she, like her husband, is self-medicating with nicotene. Don might have been in the majority–something like 54% of American men smoked in the early 1960s–but Betty belonged to the roughly one-third of women who indulged in that habit. Betty also drinks, sometimes to excess. Yet tobacco and alcohol do not sooth the pains that this woman feels. During Season 1, she visits a psychiatrist, ostensibly because of psychosomatic numbness in her hands.

While Betty fantasizes at least a couple of times about being sexually unfaithful, her indulgence in this area seems decidedly amateurish compared with Don’s continual transgressions. Still, at the end of Season 2, she picks up a complete stranger in a bar and retires with him to a back room. This, unsurprisingly, does not satisfy her.

After divorcing Don and marrying the enigmatic (and somewhat dull) Henry Francis, she seems for a moment to be satisfied. But her misery continues, visited on her ex, her children, and husband number two. Eventually, the show inflicts the ultimate indignity on the lovely actress and presents us with “Fat Betty.” Food, though, fails to satisfy this woman. I dread to see what the remaining run of the show will drag her into. Betty the junky?

You wouldn’t know it from looking at me, but I am Betty Draper–or at least I have been. At one time or another, we are all Betty Draper, vaguely unhappy in the flesh and convinced that the right combination of fleshly stimuli will scratch that itch. We might try food or liquor, smoke or sex. We might think that the right clothes upon this body, the right car in which to move it, or the right house for it to call home will do the trick.

More to the point of my interests, we might seek to sooth that bodily dissatisfaction with actions that seem like absolutely positive things. “If I can lose ten more pounds and get my six-pack abs… If I could only eat organic, free-range, humanely raised food… If I can get just my golf handicap down or my bench press up… If I can only run a longer race or a faster time, then everything will be great.” The fleshly idols of today are different from those Betty worshiped, but they can be idols nonetheless.

If I could counsel Betty, I would advise her that cigarettes or booze are poor choices. (We might differ on the latter, but that’s a matter for another day.) But her other wants are, in moderation and, especially, with the right outlook, positives. It is the same for us. The inclination to eat right, to exercise, and to pursue other matters of the flesh can glorify God or they can simply be what they are for Betty: an attempt to fix a spiritual ache with a physical medication.