The Crooked and the Straight

Blog / Produced by The High Calling
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Some years ago, I had the privilege of meeting Dr. Billy Graham. I was one of possibly eight or ten people having a meal with him in a hotel restaurant.

He was asking about my background as a writer. I told him that for many years I had worked in advertising.

"But then she went straight," said the religion journalist sitting beside me. He knew me as the author of several Christian books. He thought he was being pretty funny, and I didn't want to argue with him. Not then.

I completely disagreed with this journalist's opinion. When I worked in advertising, I thought I was doing good work. Being a reflective type, I spent time and energy working out my own beliefs. I thought hard about the ethics and morality of my work. I felt confident that my talents were being used for good purposes, promoting useful products like soap and detergent, and sound values as well. Sometimes I wrote television and radio messages to encourage the teaching of literacy and in support of education. Such messages were sponsored by companies trying to do community service. But commercials didn't have to be social service messages. Even those commercials that were just promoting products could be morally good in my eyes.

Yet, why was I always wondering if my work and my Christian values were at odds with each other?

Partly, it was ideology. Some people I knew were more socialist than capitalist in their ideals. For them, advertising symbolized the greed of the capitalist system. They badgered me about this.

I knew there was greed and selfishness around, but I thought it was part of the human condition. I didn't think socialism was any more selfless than capitalism. And I believed that the darkness of the heart had existed long before advertising.

What did I like most about my work? It was creative. When I think about my days as an advertising writer, I think first about big pads of newsprint and colorful magic markers, a joyful, almost childlike creativity. I think of brainstorming sessions with ideas flowing freely. I remember days in production, casting sessions with talent, film studios, viewing the rushes, editing sessions, music recordings, watching the finished message in screenings or hearing them on air. Also, I knew many who considered advertising an art form. As it turns out, many commercial photographers and illustrators are considered, in retrospect, to be true artists.

How in the world, by what wild stretch of imagination, did I come to experience God in the secular work of advertising?

It's simple. Advertising is one of the modern fields that makes use of the most human and most creative part of ourselves. Good advertising sparkles with delight, with beauty, with human insight, with humor and lightness of heart. It turns cartwheels to gain our attention and wants to add value to our everyday lives.

No, I didn't try to explain all this to Dr. Graham at that meal several years ago. But since he is a man of insight, I feel sure he would have understood.