May 1, 2008

Considering Our Enthusiasms

Considering Our Enthusiasms 

2008 1512 barbie capometime very soon Barbara Millicent Roberts, originally of Willows, Wisconsin, should be receiving “valuable membership” information in the mail from the American Association of Retired Persons. This isn’t because she’s become old-fashioned or out of date. And she clearly isn’t ready for retirement yet. But she will reach the venerable age of 50 in 2009.
Ms. Roberts, popularly known as “Barbie,” made her first appearance in 1959, courtesy of Mattel. Wearing a now famous black-and-white striped swimsuit, her kit included sunglasses and shoes. And she came brunette or blond. All this for three dollars. Today collectors have paid as much as $12,000 for a Barbie doll in her original form.
At first confined to the world of domesticity, she eventually moved deftly into the career world as an airline pilot and physician—even, for a short while, as an astronaut.  Today she is most popular in her incarnation as Princess Genevieve.
But her road to fame hasn’t been without its critics. Peggy Orenstein has authored many articles about issues that affect girls. “I don’t know any other toy,” she says, “that has generated so much discussion and so much passion and so much, usually, ambivalence.”1
2008 1512 barbieHer creators knew right from the very beginning that Barbie would be controversial. Little girls loved her. She was a great toy for role playing. But parents were less than impressed: she was, well, physically mature. The leading retailer of the day, Sears and Roebuck, refused to sell the doll.
Since that time she has undergone many changes, but her popularity lives on.
Long before this point in this article, it’s probable that most of those readers with xy chromosomes have tossed it aside, figuratively speaking, with an air of superiority. An entire column on Barbie dolls? Give us a break!
But those of us of the male gender—young and old—have toys too.
In The Big Bang Theory, a new TV sitcom, four twenty-something men are drawn together by two shared characteristics: all are brilliant scientists and all are hopeless misfits. Because of their shared lack of social graces, they spend most of their time in the living room of an apartment that happens to be across the hall from a young, attractive waitress named Penny. In one episode, the four tech wizards have been working on a way to activate the appliances in the apartment through the Internet. From the keyboard of a laptop, they turn on the stereo and the room is filled with a stirring HD rendition of Strauss’s “Also Sprach Zarathustra,” the familiar theme from the classic film 2001 Space Odyssey.

Moments later Penny knocks on the door and asks the guys to reduce the volume on the stereo, which they do. When she seems unfazed that they have accomplished this with the computer, they ratchet up their efforts to impress her by enabling public access. Soon the lights in the living room begin to flicker on and off. “We have just made it possible for someone from Szechuan Province in China to control our lights!” they exult.
 “OK,” Penny counters doubtfully. “One question: Why?”
Four grown men in unison: “Because we can!”
Elaborate and expensive playthings are a part of consumerist culture. In fact, they have become a way of defining ourselves. Whether it is collectibles and memorabilia or achievements and experiences, we fill our lives with personal interests that are available to us at this moment in so-called human development simply because we can.
In a sense sin came into this world as a result of the concept “Because we can.” At its most sublime, this is an expression of God’s love, His willingness to let us have free will, to choose for ourselves.
We could have been created as automatons, mindlessly going about our existence with no moral implications whatever. God could have elected to obviate the possibility of sin simply by not allowing us a choice in how we can relate to Him. Yet He put the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil squarely in the middle of Eden. It wasn’t placed in some remote corner where it may have been overlooked or ignored. He knew that love in its fullest sense must include an element of choice.
Because we are human, we can sin.
But just because we can do something doesn’t mean that we should. The apostle Paul wrote: “You say, ‘I am allowed to do anything’—but not everything is good for you. You say, ‘I am allowed to do anything’—but not everything is beneficial” (1 Cor. 10:23, NLT).
To which biblical scholar William Barclay would add: “Our Christian freedom is given to us not for our own sake but for the sake of others.”2 This puts our choice for enthusiasms into clear perspective.
Yet sometimes, in our weaker moments, we wonder why God didn’t wipe out evil right at the very beginning—or, better still, not allow it in the first place. But when you consider the full implications, that in such a system we would be surrendering all that truly distinguishes us from the rest of the animal kingdom, who among us would have it any other way?
2William Barclay, The Letters to the Corinthians (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1975), p. 95.

Gary B. Swanson is associate director of the General Conference Sabbath School/Personal Ministries department.