Follow the Frog
This is one of those commercials that strikes the keys just right that you almost imagine it couldn’t be more perfect.
The video is actually about two outcomes, a futile one and an asserted fruitful one. We begin with a good person who does tries to do everything right for himself and those around him, until he discovers it isn’t enough. Not only isn’t it enough, but he’s on the wrong track and he must radically turn his life around in order to not only become a truly good person but also save the world.
In the end of course his herculean efforts come to naught and the video presents him/us/you with an alternative pathway to salvation, “Follow the Frog”.
Part of what makes this piece work, just like most other commercial pieces that are either trying to sell soap, Viagra, food, or a political candidate, is that this rain forest crusader is an “everyman”. He’s better looking than we are, cooler than we are, “better” than we are, younger than we are, but generally speaking because of our biases we implicitly associate with him (or at least the target audience does) better because of these editorial changes. We are intended to identify with him and find ourselves mirrored in his self. That’s why we like him, and why the piece works.
Politics and Eschatology
Last Sunday I came across a blog post by Peter Enns that expressed my angst concerning Christians in this election season. His article was entitled “Dear Christian: If the Thought of Either Romney or Obama Getting Elected Makes You Fearful, Angry, or Depressed, You Have What we Call a Theological Problem”
Here is a quote from his piece.
If you fear for your way of life, that if the wrong person gets elected all is lost and you simply don’t have any hope for your future or the future of your children, you have accepted what we like to call in the industry a “rival eschatology.”
All political regimes are utopian. Communist, socialist, fascist, monarchic, and democratic. All of them. They all make promises to be the ones who will deliver the goods. They all promise that, without them, you are lost. They all claim to have “arrived,” to represent the culmination of the human drama, to be the true light, a city on a hill, that which bring you and all humanity true peace and security.
That is what “eschatology” means. It doesn’t mean “end of the world” in some video game apocalyptic scenario.
Eschatology means: “We have brought you to where things are as they should be. You are at the place where you can now–finally–have reason to hope. Trust in us. Fear not.” Eschatology means the pinacle of true humanity, where wrongs are righted, all is at peace, and the human drame comes to its fullest expression.
They all say that.
When we fear, or rage, or are depressed about politics, it means we have invested something of our deep selves into an “eschatology”–into a promise that all will be well, provided you come with us.
Christians can’t go there, because Christianity is an eschatology.
What I want you to see is that Donkeys, Elephants and the Frog, are all promoting an eschatology.
Paul the Everyman
Last week Paul was grabbed by a raging mob for defiling the temple. The irony of course would have been that if the mob itself had spilled Paul’s blood in the temple that would have been an act of defilement.
The Romans, fearing more political unrest, in time without much rest, rushed in to grab Paul and to try to figure out what had happened.
Now if someone had to rescue me from a mob intent on beating my life out of me because of their own hatred, bigotry and misinformation and I were allowed a moment to respond, I don’t think my speech would have sounded like Paul’s. I’d probably be hurt, angry, and looking to heap insults and violent words on the mob from the safety of a cordon of Roman soldiers. At this point I’d probably be ready to renounce my common heritage with those seeking to end my life and live as a Roman would, but not Paul.
Paul the Cosmopolitan Rhetorician
Paul politely asks for a word with the tribune in perfect Greek. The tribute is rather startled. He’d been spending his time putting down fanatical Jews like the Ethiopian mentioned here and in Josephus. Paul identifies himself not only as a Jew, but also as a person of status and education, possibly of a higher status than the tribune himself, in a culture that paid a great deal of attention to status. Paul knows Greek, he knows Hebrew and he knows Aramaic. He’s from an important city and he wishes to address his former brutalizers.
Paul the Zealous Pharisee
Now Paul turns his attention to the crowd and instead of heaping insults on them, he begins to tell them his story. He presents himself as THEIR everyman. He is a Jew from an important city. He had the best conservative education available in their time. He was zealous to defend the ways of his people, zealous enough to persecute “The Way” to the point of death being empowered by his community to prosecute their reform at its uttermost limits.
Paul’s Story of Transformation
Paul then tells the story about how Jesus of Nazareth appeared to him on the road to Damascus and how God used Ananias, a man assuredly respected by his audience to empower him to be Jesus’ witness to all the world.
It’s amazing that at this point the crowd is still with Paul. They don’t seem to have too much trouble with Jesus and seeing Jesus somehow in line with their tradition. Jesus in the past is always an easier Jesus to stomach.
Then Paul tells us a vision that hasn’t been mentioned by Luke in the book of Acts. It’s a bit of foreshadowing now told, that even though Paul might be considered the perfect test, case, everyman for exactly the people he is speaking to, he will never be accepted by them or believed. What tips the scales, the Gentiles.
Conflicting Missions to Save the World
Why are the Jews in this story so suspicious and resistant towards the Gentiles? Because in their calculation the Gentiles ARE the problem. For Romans of course, the strange, Jewish religion is an annoyance and at times a political problem that they will finally try to deal with in 70AD when they destroy their temple.
Paul of course also has a world, saving, eschatalogical perspective. He believes that in Jesus of Nazareth the resurrection has begun and that the end of age of decay has already begun in him. He desperately wants his brothers and fathers, his people, his tribal family to embrace Jesus and follow the path of transformation that he has taken.
Just a Matter of Perspective, Right?
As a culture we think we have this conflict thing understood and figured out. We admonition people to practice empathy, to “walk a mile in another man’s shoes” and if we can somehow understand the other, if we can help them to see that they are just like us, then we’ll all be on the same page. Then we’ll all agree because at heart this is all really just a misunderstanding.
It’s important to note that this is exactly what Paul tries to do with his speech. He is the best guy to talk to these people because he is the perfect everyman for them.
One of the things I love about the “Follow the Frog” video is how perfectly it plays out the cultural narrative. Our goal is of course to save the earth and saving the earth requires doing some thinking about tactics. Taking the first path, of quitting your job, moving to Nicaragua, leading the tattooed pangean revolt goes nowhere, better just switch your brands of bananas, chocolate and coffee keeping your job, wife and kid. That’s the message.
Christianity is About Fallen Fruit
Our Americanized Christian expectations are thoroughly results oriented, but the timing is usually all wrong. We share the same cultural values as both sides of the Follow the Frog campaign. What saves the world? Direct action! Direct action either in path one, going native, or path two, being a more selective consumer.
I suspect that if this scene in the book of Acts were in an American Christian movie some old Jewish man in Paul’s audience would have started to slowly applaud, followed reluctantly by the rest of the crowd. By virtue of Paul’s “I’m one of you” speech the crowd would have been turned and they would have gone from trying to kill Paul to hoisting him on their shoulders, calling him their hero and loving Jesus too. The Romans would have just started to smile and think about following Jesus too.
Any reader of Acts would know this would not happen, not in real life, and not in the book of Acts.
Jesus was killed by Romans spurred on by Jerusalem leaders and a mob.
Stephen was killed by the mob in Jerusalem over exactly the same issues Paul has been assaulted for.
The way forward for Jesus followers is almost always the way of fallen fruit. Paul will be the best everyman they can imagine, make the strongest, most eloquent case they can hear, will do what he can to turn the other bloody cheek, and it will do no good. It almost, never does, at least in the moment.
I love the scene in the video where he loses his pangean revolt. The guys with machetes and bulldozers win. I think the frog is a great idea and if you’re in the supermarket why not look for it, but even if this campaign does some good, all of us know that the challenges this world faces go far beyond just this issue. Most of us, even if we have a political preference also know that neither Democrats nor Republicans will turn this planet around either. Our problems are seriously deep, whether they be personal or global. The world is living on borrowed time and its only moving one way.
Paul does not opt for the road of escapism. Paul does not decide, as we will see in a few weeks, to opt for a path clear of trouble. Paul has an eschatology and he’s sticking with it. He doesn’t plan on simply keeping his head down and hoping to have a nice ride from zero to 80 maximizing pleasure and minimizing pain, he wants to bear witness to the resurrection and he wishes to do it both in as winsome as way as he can, even if it appears futile in the short run. Although beaten, he does not return the hostility of the mob with more hostility, but invites them as gently as they can into the global redemption, gentiles included, that Jesus has begun.
Both Ways Aren’t Bad
My friend who posted this video on Facebook commented “They’re both sensible approaches, if you ask me…” and I’d be prone to agree, with one caveat. Both approaches produce some good, whether giving your life for a good cause, or making better consumer choices, but both paths also lead to the same place.
You cannot keep your life in the age of decay but you do have the choice of how and to whom to give it. As Americans we watch the video and imagine “see all the painful sacrifice and it all came to naught” on the first path. We don’t think about how many other campaigns like the second path came to similar ends. Neither following the frog nor going native will save this world.
Paul gladly offers himself up for the people he loves, because he believes that the world is already saved and he just wants his family in on the celebration. We get the same choices.