For six seasons, the AMC series Mad Men has been one of the best shows on television. Mad Men chronicles the lives of Madison Avenue ad man Don Draper, his family, and his co-workers. Aesthetically, the show is a joy to watch. For an hour each Sunday evening, the viewer is transported back to the 1960s.
Mad Men’s characters appear suave, brilliant, and in command. But though the clothing, dialogue, and cinematography of Mad Men are lovely, in truth the lives of Don Draper and the other characters are not. Their debonair sophistication is only an outward appearance. Don and the other characters deal with addiction, urban blight, crass materialism, dog-eat-dog ambition, religious cults (yes, religious cults), and more.
For the viewer, one feels a perpetual heartache when watching Mad Men. The show’s characters are viscerally real, and the anxiety and regret they experience are what we often encounter in the real world outside the television set.
In the current season of Mad Men, the characters are working on an advertising campaign for the fast food chain Burger Chef. The advertising execs visit countless burger franchises. Over onion rings and milkshakes, they wistfully reflect upon the many ways their lives are spinning out of control. They lament that they have no sense of permanence, no rootedness to anything enduringly valuable. As they sit in Burger Chef, the ad men realize that often the most authentic community people experience is during the few minutes they sit together over a burger at the corner fast food joint. In a frenetic and ever-changing world, the burger place is a sanctuary of sorts.
As the advertisers sit in the fluorescent, formica-laden glow of Burger Chef, character Peggy Olson develops the ad campaign’s tag line: “What if there was a place where you could go where there was no TV, and you could break bread, and whoever you were sitting with was family?”
For a Christian viewer, the tag line drips with irony. In our real world, there is indeed such a place, and it’s not Burger Chef. In truth, our lives are no better put together than the lives of the characters on Mad Men. If there is anything sophisticated about us, it is outward appearance only. But in the church, we are brothers and sisters in Christ. Here, our souls are fed in the bread and wine. Here, sanctuary awaits, granting us peace from the world, redemption from our flaws, and the renewal of our hearts experienced through God’s abundant grace. This summer, I pray we will frequent Eucharist more than Big Macs at McDonald’s. In church we’ll rediscover that we are, indeed, rooted to things enduringly valuable: God and one another.