Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Rick Warren Tips and the Darkest Timeline

Author. Tweeter. Meme Inspirer.

(Note: This post is an experiment. It's a normal post where I've included my self-critical internal monologue. My internal monologue is written in bold italics.)

by Ben Howard

A few weeks ago, mega-church pastor Rick Warren tweeted out the following rather cryptic message to his mass of followers:

“New churches: Buy land as soon as you can but delay building for as long as you can. Cant explain all the reasons here.”

Now that’s just a weird statement. It sounds like vague pronouncement of an apocalyptic future where property rights are still intact and you need a lot of land, or it’s some kind of financial advice that exploits a church’s status as a non-profit for financial gain (yay!).

This could actually be valid advice. Are you sure you aren’t just dismissing it because you don’t like Rick Warren? And if you don’t like Rick, why is that? Is it because he’s popular? Is it because people listen to him and they don’t listen to you? Are you mocking him because he said something dumb or are you doing it because it makes you feel better about yourself?

Since the internet is the internet, and Rick has a fairly well-established group of anti-fans (enemies is a bit strong), this tweet spread across the web pretty quickly. However, in this instance, the tweet is not the point of the story.

Anti-fans? Really? That’s the passive aggressive stuff you come up so you don’t have to say what you feel. That’s weak.

Late one night, a few people started sending messages using #RickWarrenTips. Essentially, they were absurd tweets full of vague and ridiculous advice, quotes from movies, TV shows, bizarre usage of clich├ęs; normal twitter stuff.

And then it grew, and grew, and eventually by mid-morning the next day, most of the people I follow were tweeting out Rick Warren Tips non-stop.

There's always money in the
banana stand. Can't explain here.
I wonder if this doesn’t say more about you and who you follow than it does about the level of humor or virality of the hashtag. Maybe you’re just at the middle of a giant ball of groupthink that keeps perpetuating a mass feedback loop.

A few refrained, they mentioned that it was in some sense dehumanizing to mock a pastor just because he was famous. It was belittling and beneath them to join in on this simple, yet arguably mean-spirited joke.

Then something interesting happened. Rick Warren joined in.

Did he actually join in? You know you’ve wondered about whether or not he actually sent those tweets. Do you know why you’ve wondered that? Because you want him to be a villain, and this kind of thing humanizes him. You’re torn between wanting to hate him as a personification of an idea you don’t like and knowing you need to treat him as a human.

His tweets weren’t particularly funny (he joked about the dentist and diarrhea), but it was interesting to see someone take something potentially insulting and spin it into something else. It was interesting to watch Rick Warren steer into the skid, or lean into the pitch, or whatever metaphor best exemplifies making fun of yourself so you can be part of the joke and not just the punchline.

You even go out of your way to say his jokes weren’t funny. Even when you’re including him in the conversation and commending his action you still have to qualify it.

I’ve always been a fan of this kind of reaction when celebrities do something worth mocking. Why react with indignation? Why take it personally? If you just take the joke and join in, it shows that you’re self-aware and you don’t take yourself too seriously. It makes people like you.

What about the times when we should be offended? What about the jokes that we shouldn’t take part in? What are we supposed to do when our desire to do right is more important than our desire to be liked? What then?

Fun with anachronistic weapons!
Last week I wrote about the Djesus Uncrossed sketch on Saturday Night Live and I was making the same argument for institutions. It’s easy to be offended, but if you take a little time to dissect what’s being mocked, maybe you can join in on the joke because it just might be worthy of mockery. The Djesus skit made fun of the relationship between the peaceful Jesus of the Bible and the military ideology of the Religious Right. That is a thing worth mocking.

Was that the really the joke they made? Or is that the joke you wanted to see because it validates your worldview? Did they say something profound or did you interpret something from it that wasn’t there? And if it wasn’t there, what did you really see?

Sometimes we’re wrong. Sometimes we should just join in on the joke.

And sometimes we’re still wrong, and we just haven’t realized it yet.


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  1. Ben, I liked this blog for 3 reasons: 1) It's a creative approach so it held my attention. 2) I laughed at several lines. 3) You exposed the tension inside of of us, that is- we rarely understand our our own motivations. I stopped assuming and judging other people's motives years ago since I can't figure out my own most of the time. The Bible says "The heart is deceitful" which warns that we all have a amazing ability to lie to ourselves about why we do what we do. (I think i'll tweet that now.) And yes, I post every tweet or comment myself. Np delegates. No automation. No ghost writers. Rick Warren

    1. Rick, thank you so much for the kind words. I really admired the way you handled that situation last week and I'm glad to hear you write your own tweets. It's very true that we can easily lie to ourselves and I try my best to keep that in mind when I write.


  2. Uh Ben ... I THINK Rick Warren Read something you wrote ... Just saying ... You either did something very Good or VERY VERY BAD ~

    I have tried emailing him like 10000 times to ask him for the secret ingredient to his Hamburgers ( I went to saddleback for a few years when I lived in California and he served hamburgers on Clean up days )

    Love THE Brett

    1. I can understand the feeling. I obsessively tweet Zach Braff about the best way to make a salad.

  3. This is good writing. I like this.

  4. Ok this is all good. Now let's make fun of Mohammad and Allah. That would be real funny and we can laugh and laugh hehehahahe....because laughing and joining in on the jokes is good for all of us. So, lighten up muslims here we go.......can't wait to see you and Rick's and Saturday night lives jokes!! (hehehe) sorry already thinking about them.....waiting...........