The voice of the Lord is speaking to me through a beer commercial, which is interesting because I have a strange history with beer commercials.
It started innocently enough. Our Junior Varsity and Varsity basketball teams would always travel together to away games. Put a bunch of teenage boys on a bus, all hopped up on athletics, competition and machismo, and something’s bound to go wrong eventually.
In 1990 — my eighth grade year — Miller Lite was toward the end of a marketing campaign with the tagline; “Tastes great! Less filling!”. Lite beer was pretty new to the scene, and Miller came up with a commercial that ended with groups of men declaring their vote for which was better in Miller Lite. You were either a “Tastes great!” man or a “Less filling!” man. But as often happens with marketing ploys, these became cultural catchphrases, something stupid with which to have fun. Here’s the first commercial in that campaign’s run, from back-in-the-day 1987:
Anyway, our school’s two basketball teams were on the way back home from a rival school. I think we won, because the bus was pretty excited. At this point, you should know that I spent 5th-12th grades at a small, private Christian school. Very conservative, very fundamentalist, not big fans of beer. This Miller Lite “Tastes great! Less filling!” campaign was big at the time, and for some reason, somehow, the whole bus full of boys ended up yelling these phrases. One half of the bus cried, “Tastes great!” Then the other would yell in reply, “Less filling!” I was a “Tastes Great!” man, yelling it at the top of my lungs as my friend across the aisle, Tim, screamed back at me, “Less filling!”. Back and forth it went for maybe thirty seconds or so…it seemed to me the whole bus was having a blast with it. What I didn’t know was that the coaches and teacher chaperones on the bus were horrified — very upset about it — and pulled the bus over to put a stop to it as soon as they could.
In hindsight, it was a bunch of kids getting carried away and doing something dumb. In the moment though, I learned quickly how big a deal this situation was to the authorities at our school. The next day was full of player interrogations on the part of school administrators, who handed down some pretty severe punishments to some of the high schoolers they deemed responsible for instigating this debacle. All of us received a strong lecture about worldliness, spiritual purity, and how easily we had all ruined our testimony. What if someone was driving next to us with their windows down in the middle of January in Pennsylvania had heard those words coming from our our bus whose sign declared we were a Christian school? Did we want to cause someone to stumble? We were told that all of us who had shouted those phrases had serious business to do with God, and needed to strongly consider just how separate from the world we were called to be. I even think a letter went home to parents about it. Maybe it was bigger than I remember or know, maybe there were some issues with underage drinking at our school at that time, I don’t know.
What I do know is that experience scared the heck out of me. I had no idea God took beer commercials so seriously.
Perhaps this situation jaded me against the beer commercial, I dunno. I’m not a marketing analyst or anything (though I do feel a level of expertise as a result of watching Mad Men) — and like I said, it may be Pavlovian — but beer commercials tend to have a grating effect on me. I am polarized by them — either love ’em or hate ’em — and most always, I hate them.
Beer commercials are a staple of the American consumer diet. They span the full gamut of quality, ethics and professionalism. At their worst, beer commercials objectify women, dressing them (or more like undressing them) to play to the inherent darkness in the beer company’s prime target demographic: the American male, objectifying women for the purpose of selling more beer and making more money. That’s as bad as a beer commercial can be, and these corporations ought to be ashamed of themselves.
A second strategy is the meathead approach, wherein a group of men are gathered together in some sort of activity — playing sports, watching sports, poker, camping, ogling women, etc. The commercial is structured to arrive at a point of humor based on the general stupidity and/or artificiality of the gathered men. I hate these too, because while every man can be a stupid meathead, no man actually wants to be known as one, and these commercials glorify stupid meatheads. Men were made for strength, nobility, tenderness, humility and courage — not buffoonery.
I haven’t looked to or opened the door for God to reveal Himself through beer commercials. Rarely is any advertising redemptive, but I am quite sure that I’ve never seen a beer commercial that is redemptive. That is, until now:
To create redemptive expression — film, painting, music, writing, and yes, even a beer commercial — it requires an alignment on some level with the character and work of God. This commercial by Guinness gets it right. The men gathered are in line with redemptive masculinity. They love their friend and act nobly, with strength and tenderness and it calls to the soul of a man to be that which his image-bearing-ness designed him to be. I beg God to birth this perspective of masculinity in me, my sons, my friends and the men I lead. The community and strength of these men is the backdrop for the beer, not vice versa. This commercial leaves me wondering who it is that I can serve; I am not left thinking about Guinness.
I think that’s some gutsy advertising. It is good to see the image of God reflected in an art form and arena I don’t think about often, have a bad history with, and of which I am consistently cynical. God is so good to us for His faithful revelation of Himself through so many voices and in so many ways, even in ways that we deem off-limits or are unaware.
Balaam’s donkey spoke for God.
Jacob was a whining, lying, momma’s boy who birthed the structured nation of Israel.
Moses didn’t stop the unrighteous prophets from prophesying.
Samson was sexually ready-to-go 24/7 and was a judge of Israel.
Rahab was a prostitute and is included in Hebrews 11.
Saul prophesied naked.
David exposed himself to the whole country while dancing, and he was an adulterer and murderer.
Isaiah declared God’s word by walking around naked and barefoot for three years.
Everyone in the area thought Mary and Joseph were sexually promiscuous.
Jesus struck up conversations with loose women and let them kiss his feet.
Trees clap their hands and rocks declare praise.
God will speak and move in some crazy, creative ways, and if we’re not listening and making room in our thinking and paradigms for God to speak and act however He desires, we will miss His voice.
The heart of the Christian faith is this: anything and anyone can be redeemed. No one believes this more than God Himself. That is grace.