Toyota, Recall This Commercial

The first time I saw the commercial I laughed a little.  Well, I did not laugh out loud, but I did chuckle on the inside.  At first glance, the commercial appeared cute.  Frankly, it would be difficult for a commercial featuring an elementary school-aged boy with shaggy blond hair not to be cute.  Where Toyota messed up was in airing the commercial of their Highlander too many times in one ballgame.  Before Monday Night Football was over, I had seen it four times.  By the fourth time, I was no longer chuckling on the inside.

Four times I had heard the cute little elementary school-aged boy explain that in spite of his low tolerance for “dorkiness” his parents insist on transporting him in a vehicle that screams “geek.”  Four times I watched him climb into the neighbor’s Toyota Highlander, after which he pointed out to his audience that just because you are a parent, does not mean that you have to be lame.  You get the picture.  If your parents will or can not buy a Toyota Highlander, then they are lame, dorky, geeks.

I have seen an untold number of commercials in my lifetime.  Why did this hit me the wrong way?  Maybe it was because our church had just completed our Family Promise host week.  This is a ministry that networks local congregations together to provide shelter for homeless families.  We hosted three families, each with their own stories of how difficult it can be to keep a family together.  When I looked at the parents in those three families, I did not see dorky, lame, geeks, but parents who were working and hoping as hard as they knew how that they would be able to take care of their children.  I saw parents who were facing challenges head on and in need of assistance, not a manipulative commercial designed to make them feel worse than they already did.

In fact, when I see parents doing what they have to do to keep their families together, I don’t see lame, dorky, geeks.  I see heroes.  What the cute little boy in the commercial may not be aware of is that not all parents provide for their children.  For the almost half a million children in the United States who live in foster homes, whatever vehicle their parents could provide for the family would be inconsequential compared to the immense satisfaction of  being able to be with parents who are doing their best to be good parents.

What is glaringly absent from this commercial is civility and gratitude.  The elementary school-aged boy walks out of a house, past a minivan, and at least one of his parents, without a hint of gratitude.  He may not have a Toyota Highlander, but neither does he have any appreciation for what he does have.  While we might be surprised to hear words like lame, dorky, and geek from an elementary school-age boy, their use in this commercial takes on a sinister hue when we realize that they were put in his mouth and directed at his parents by the advertising department of a multinational corporation that usually tries to portray itself as responsible.   Responsible adults should not have to resort to such childish language to sell their products.

The bottom line is that cars don’t make families; time spent together does. Lots of time spent together on special days, and on ordinary days, make families.  In cars and out of them, at home and at parks, families become stronger and richer when parents invest themselves in their children.  That may sound lame, geeky or dorky, but that is what it takes to build strong families.

What I don’t understand is why does Toyota need this sort of manipulative and demeaning advertising?  They make great vehicles that last forever and have great resale value. Why isn’t that enough to sell their product?

Please keep us in your prayers.

I found a note in my box Sunday morning. Someone found it stuck in one of the doors coming into our building. The note asks for prayer. It also tells a story about the times in which we are living.

Dear Reverend,

Hello, my name is ___ _____. The reason I am writing, is because you may or may not have noticed my vehicle,(a maroon ford) parked behind the church most nights. I purposely do not park here on Saturday nights so that I in no way interfere with Sunday morning service.

Unfortunately, I was laid off from my job 3 1/2 weeks ago. My wife, my 10 year old daughter lost our home very soon after. As for the two special ladies in my life, they are able to temporarily live with her grandparents. Due to space issues, I cannot live there. I pray nightly that our situation will soon change for the better, as I tirelessly search for new employment. I just wanted to assure your congregation, as well as yourself, that I mean no harm towards this beautiful house of God. My wife and I are trying our very best to save money so that, God willing, we will soon be reunited under the same roof. In closing, I want to thank you for your understanding.

Please keeps us in your prayers as we struggle through this very difficult and trying time in our lives. If there is anything that I can do for the church in exchange for me sleeping in the parking lot, by all means let me know. Again I thank you and may God bless you.

Sincerely,

___ ______

If you pray, will you please join me in prayer for this family and others who share their plight. I cannot add anything to what this man has already said, except to say that there are many hurting folks out there who need our prayers. There are many more who are just a paycheck or two away from sleeping with grandparents or in a car in the church parking lot. May God’s mercy and strength be theirs as the journey through this time of trial.

in the Front Yard

Do you ever wonder why you feel the way you feel? Sometimes you find yourself feeling a certain way and you are just not sure why you feel like that. Something has happened in your life that was subtle and not so noticeable. That something has had an influence on how you are feeling. You find yourself wondering “Why do I feel this way?” Whatever that something was that caused you to feel the way you are feeling did so gradually with little fanfare.

Sometimes you don’t even think about how you are feeling because what you are feeling is so large that it takes all of your energy just to feel it. Analyzing what you are feeling when whatever it is that you are feeling is so overwhelming that it is not an easy thing to do. This is so because that feeling is often not just one feeling but a collection of emotions layered like clouds over the soul. Maybe the feeling is fear, but there is also anger and disgust in there. Perhaps the feeling is joy along with surprise and wonder. Sorting through what we are feeling, while we are feeling it, can be a complex endeavor.

Last Wednesday night, I was feeling in a rather large way. Before I left church, my wife called to inform me that a home in our neighborhood had gone into foreclosure. What she said did not register with me. It would not really sink in until I made my way home and drove by the house.

What I saw was shocking. The contents of my neighbor’s home had been moved to the front yard. Everything that was in the house had been removed. Some of it was in boxes. Much of it had been thrown into large trash bags. Just from looking, you could see that whoever did the removing was not terribly concerned about how things were packed. No, their priority had obviously been on getting the job done as quickly as possible.

Driving by what used to be their home, I felt terrible for my neighbors. For someone to have to go through such an experience is devastating. I can only imagine what it feels like to actually experience it. Like most everyone these days, who keeps up with the current events, I have heard and read about the trials and tribulations of the banking industry. As I heard and read, those problems seemed removed, somewhere else, not here. Maybe people in New York or Washington are wringing their hands — but not here.

A few days have passed since that Wednesday night and now I find myself drawn to the prophets of the Hebrew Bible. I read their words again, not because I wanted to know the future. Hebrew prophets never saw themselves primarily as foretellers of the future, but as forth-tellers of the word of the Lord. I read their words to hear a word about where we are and how we got there.

  • Thus says the Lord: For three transgressions of Israel, and for four I will not revoke the punishment; because they sell the righteous for silver, and the needy for a pair of sandals — they who trample the head of the poor into the dust of the earth, and push the afflicted out of the way. (Amos 2:6-7a)
  • Who oppress the poor who crush the needy (Amos 4:1)
  • Because you trample on the poor (Amos 5:11)
  • I know many of your transgressions and how great are your sins — you who…push the needy aside…(Amos 5:12)
  • You have turned justice into poison (Amos 6:12)
  • Hear this, you that trample on the needy, and bring to ruin the poor of the land. (Amos 8:4)
  • The time is surely coming, says the Lord god, when I shall send a famine on the land; not a famine of bread, or a thirst for water, but of hearing the words of the Lord, (Amos 8:11)

These words from Amos make it clear that he was preaching in a time, and to a people consumed by self-interest. While other Hebrew prophets certainly preached similar messages, the preaching of Amos is particularly interesting because it is delivered to the people of Israel at a time when it looks like the nation is at the pinnacle of prosperity and power. When everything is going well, it is easy not to hear the word of the Lord. From the sound of Amos’ preaching, Israel had already stopped listening long before he announced the famine “of hearing the words of the Lord.”

Watching cartoons on Saturday morning as a boy was the thing to do. Those cartoons were made possible often times by the makers of breakfast cereals. The cereals that were advertised were naturally geared to children. Some of them were so focused on satisfying the taste buds of children that they did not always pay much attention to meeting nutritional requirements. To further entice children to get their parents to buy a certain cereal, prizes were often hidden inside the box.

Looking at the current state of our culture, I wonder if we have not patterned our religious diet after those enticing cereals from our childhood years. That is to say, we swallow lots of sweet tasting sugar, but little spiritual value. The people of Israel never stopped being religious. Even when rebelling against God, they went through the motions of being religious to the extent that it met their needs and satisfied their desires. So the prophet Micah speaks for God: With what shall I come before the Lord, and bow myself before God on high? Shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves a year old? Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams, with ten thousand rivers of oil? (Micah 6:6-7)

Here Micah is talking about worship and asking if this is what God wants. The oil, the rams and the calves seem odd to us because we have never offered those kinds of sacrifices or associated them with worship. What we do offer in worship are prayers, hymns, sermons, anthems, and tithes. Micah’s question applies just as well to what we offer in worship. His answer points us in a different direction: And what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God.

The people of Israel had learned to worship without doing justice, without loving kindness, and without walking humbly with God. We seem to be living in similar times. We are very religious, yet our religion seems to have less and less to do with justice, kindness, or humility and more and more to do with satisfying our religious appetites with sweet sounding morsels that remind us of our goodness while doing nothing to feed our souls.

We live in complex and confusing times. So what is new about that? I suppose most people at most times have thought the same thing. To see events playing out right in front of us, that reveal the depth of the pain that some among us are experiencing, is disturbing and makes us more than a little uncomfortable. We are called to do justice and to stand with the needy. We are called to love kindness and lift up those who have been trampled. We are called to walk humbly with God and not push the afflicted out of the way. Ultimately, what we decide about God must be more than a feeling. It must be a commitment to live toward a world where we do not come home and find everything our neighbor owns sitting on her front lawn.