Sunday, December 02, 2007

Ecclesiastes 10:19

having survived Advent One (only just barely) we're having church part 2 - watching, yes, I admit it - EXtreme Makeover, Home edition. No kidding - we are members of the Church of Ty. (Yeah, so the reverend's been in a little trouble lately, which I think is a minimum qualification these days.)

I am disgusted with this trend in TV (old hat by now) to shower expert help and material goods on 'deserving' broke people - they took in a houseful of foster kids! He coaches the underfunded team and tutors his players! She started a literacy program! Lets....give them stuff! They'll probably cry! It'll be great TV! Think of the goodwill! (Plus our sponsors will GIVE us all the stuff as promo, so it won't even cost anything.)

Even Queer Eye fell into this icky pattern in the last season or so. Oprah does it, and Extreme Home Makeover is the worst. And kind of the best.

We are powerless to resist its pull. It was Eric who started referred to it as church, but we both get some weird cathartic effect from watching it. Tears are hardly uncommon. There's a fairly formal liturgy - tale of the family, meet the family, demolish the old way of life (watch the family mourn and celebrate the demo in the same moment), gather the helpers, assemble the new life, conceal and then reveal certain bits of information...welcome home.

There are ritual phrases and actions. There is vile commercialism. There is the shameless promotion of the Disney corporation. It's the worst sort of appeal to sentimentality. It's gross.

And in one way - pretty much exactly one way - it's beautiful. There is a lavishness - a ridiculousness - to the giving. They give a sick kid medical treatment - and a new home. And in the new home, the sick kid has her own room. And the room has a huge professional mural. And a custom-designed, hand-built bed. And a library full of books. And a store's worth of toys. And some new clothes. Maybe a flatscreen. Teenagers routinely get musical instruments, multimedia setups, Joe Montana's helmet. And maybe a pickup truck. Maybe tuition.

My uptight northeastern Protestant-ness is a little weirded out by the lavishness, toys, the x-wing fighter bed, the TVs. Tuition? Mortgage payments? Medical treatments? All those things are great uses of Disney's money - they're things that will really make a difference, change the course of a family's future.

The themed bedrooms, though, seem wasteful and wrong. This is a needy family - does this little girl really need a princess bed?

Well, she doesn't. Nobody does. Nobody needs a flatscreen, or a whole new wardrobe, or more than one guitar, or all those toys.

But how beautiful is it - how precious - to keep on giving? Past the need? To completely bury the need under a pile of delight and color and silliness and music and giggling? To tie a hundred balloons to it and drape it in a bright orange mink coat?

There's a story I read somewhere, and I'm sad that I can't remember it properly - it's about a man in medieval Europe who gave ridiculous, lavish gifts to the poor. Warm clothes, and oh by the way some emeralds. Not just basic nutrition, but exotic gourmet feasts. Art. Bags of gold.

When people chided him about his ridiculous - even stupid - generosity, he would smile at them and say "Won't you be embarrassed when you get to Heaven, and see Jesus wearing your worn-out castoff boots? Your charity?"

Not that Jesus won't love you anyway, or let you in.

But that's what I think about. During church.

A feast is made for laughter, and wine makes life merry, but money is the answer for everything.

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