The latest Churches Advertising Network campaign has caused a storm in a beer glass. Okay, I confess, I am a member of the independent and ecumenical group known as CAN. We have launched a series of radio adverts and poster for Christmas that asks, ‘Where do you find God, or Jesus, today?’ The intention is to start a debate about people’s spiritual encounters and to encourage thinking about Jesus’ presence in this broken, fragile, and seemingly hopeless world. There is much that’s good in Christmas celebrations but there is also a lot of emptiness. For some the ‘season to be jolly’ is very sad underneath the surface.
I have been more involved with the radio ads, but the image that has caused controversy is an ironic poster. It depicts an empty beer glass on which is an image of Jesus (or is it Santa?). It picks up on the current and obscure preoccupation for finding images of Jesus in everything from egg yolks to currant buns. The adverts seek to get the attention of young people and stimulate thought with the words, ‘Where will you find him?’ It then directs people to a web site www.myspace.com/isthisjesus – a global internet club that claims 108 million members! We hope that people will share their thoughts on this website this Christmas. I believe the Church has to engage with the world as it is, and that means reaching out to people with familiar symbols. Sadly, many find more interest in dubious faces of Jesus in bizarre objects than they do the Bible, and more people will immediately recognise an empty beer glass than a chalice. The Church needs to be with people wherever they are found and encourage them to think about the substance and good news of the Christian faith. The Salvation Army has been doing this for years, and as teetotalers!
The campaign is seeking to initiate an open debate about where Jesus is really found. What’s more, it is not trying to advocate, or encourage drinking. Rather, the adverts raise the question: Where is Jesus in a society where the culture of binge drinking is so dominant? We’re certainly not telling people that Jesus is to be found in drink, or that drinking is totally wrong. However, at Christmas many will find they are in a bar, club, or at a Christmas party, and it is so easy to be swept along and over-indulge when it comes to alcohol. There is a culture among young people that says the best way to have a good time is to go out and get legless. For many it’s a coping mechanism and a relief from pain or stress. But what happens when the party is over? The searching for something deeper begins.
I’m a Methodist and my tradition of faith calls for people either to abstain from alcohol, or to drink moderately and sensibly. I’m not teetotal, but I was very impressed by the ‘Thirst for Life’ campaign that was promoting discussion and thought on how we use alcohol as individuals and within the communities with which we involved. ‘Thirst for Life’ was triggered by issues such as the detrimental effects arising from binge drinking and the growth of alcohol related diseases. It challenged 1000’s of people of all ages and backgrounds to stop drinking for 40 days. This I did and found it most helpful and encourage those who are not teetotal to model responsible drinking, or to give up alcohol as a witness. Binge drinking is a serious problem for society and many individuals. Yet, when the froth of short-term pleasure disappears and life is empty, it’s my experience that people often ask questions about life’s meaning and purpose.
So, where’s the hope? In short: Christians believe it is in finding the real Jesus. After many have downed too many pints at Christmas, or swigged dangerous quantities of alcho-pops until sick, I believe Jesus is there to help: picking people up, bringing healing and transforming lives – if only they would let him. It’s possibly in the misery of hangovers and regrets that Jesus can meet the searching soul. That’s what the CAN campaign is all about, encouraging people to think about Jesus at Christmas time, and to look to him for real meaning in life.
And finally: If Jesus were walking the earth today as he did about 2,000 years ago, where would he be on his birthday? Surely, he’d still be seeking followers in controversial places. I believe he IS alive today, and by his Spirit he meets people in the most unexpected places … though probably not through a face in a beer glass!
Rev. Tony Miles
(Ecumenical Media Chaplain and Methodist Minister)
A supplementary quote from someone on the www.myspace.com/isthisjesus blog:
wow! i am sooo very happy to see something like this, even if it is in London and not here in the states! i’m not exactly a christian myself, but i have grown up in very christian surroundings. i’ve always been turned off by how some christians can seem so closed minded about so many things, especially when it comes to their religion. i know it’s something very precious, but if the goal is to get the message out there, connect with people, and bring them to God, then you have to be willing to do what it takes. it’s absolutely fantastic to see something so modern and so open, and i think that it will succeed. it’s a more comfortable, friendly approach. people are going to start talking about Jesus, and most likely their curiosity will lead them closer and closer to God. for that matter, even if they don’t become christians, they’ll at least have the knowledge and an experience that will help them to grow in a positive way =)