There will be a lot of virtual ink spilled over Mad Men the next few weeks. As the story of Don Draper and advertising in the 1960’s comes to a close, people won’t be able to stop themselves from reflecting on the story. I want to stop myself from adding to the noise, but I can’t. Good art makes us talk.
It’s hard not to talk about the immersive set design and fashion. It’s hard not to add to the cultural commentary they’re offering about these crucial decades in American history. It’s hard not to dissect the tangled lives of Don, Peggy, Roger, Pete, Betty, Sally, Joan, Stan, and the kid who played Frasier’s son, Frederick. Every character is loaded with dimension but the center of the story is almost always Don.
Don Draper is somehow everything people want to be and don’t want to be all at the same time. His story will be used for years in conversations about identity, salvation, redemption, ego, and power. As I write this, there are still a few more episodes so we can’t really know for sure whether Don’s narrative will be a cautionary tale or heroic epic. We’ll see.
But for now, I can’t stop myself from speculating what it would be like for Don to meet Jesus. I don’t mean “meet Jesus” in the way kids do at church camp, when they encounter God and decide to claim Jesus as some saving figure in their life. I mean literally. What if Don was walking home from yet another bourbon-drenched sexual dalliance on the couch of his penthouse office and ran into Jesus? And what if Jesus offered to join him for one more nightcap at the corner bar?
Here are some things I can imagine Jesus saying to Don:
“Don, I think you should know that you have fathered at least 17 other children that you don’t know about.”
“Don, you are your best self when you are hanging out with Peggy. And she’s her best self with you. Stay friends forever.”
“You will always be Dick Whitman to me, son of a prostitute mother and an alcoholic father, high school dropout, and fraudulent Purple Heart recipient. Believe it or not, I love that guy.”
But for all the things I can imagine Jesus saying to Don, I know this: Jesus would say the thing I can’t imagine. Jesus would see something in Don Draper that no one else can see. Not even Internet commentators. Not even the people who made Don Draper up out of their heads. I know this because it’s what Jesus does over and over again in the Gospels. He says the things no one sees coming. He looks past the stories people tell about who they are and sees the truth that they cannot say. He is infinitely surprising.
As he speaks to people, he finds a way to name the one thing they are most ashamed of, or afraid of. He names the thing they most need to give up. He names the thing they need to heal. And almost every time, his words to people make them love him. His words translate into devotion. People give up their lives to follow him because of the things he says.
People of faith spend a lot of ink speaking for Jesus, sometimes even honorably. But if his own words tell us anything, it’s that all the best stuff is beyond our description.
Photo (Flickr CC) by MCC Current
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