The past few weeks I have been highlighting some theological insights to be gained from Parenthood, which is now in its fourth season. As I said in the post on Kristina and the other on Julia, there has been much suffering in the Braverman clan lately, but today I wish to highlight a reason for rejoicing in the life of Max Braverman, Kristina and Adam’s teenage son with Asperger Syndrome who is played by Max Burkholder. I also wish to connect this line of thinking on Parenthood with some other discussions I have had recently as well on communication such as this one on myth busting and this one on comedian Jim Gaffigan.
Spoiler alert: If you are a Parenthood fan who is not up-to-speed on Max’s student council presidential campaign, you may want to bookmark this post and read it later.
Well, Max Braverman has my vote after delivering the best presidential speech of 2012 election season (Max for president!). I say this because he broke the fourth wall—that is to say, he broke through the invisible barrier separating the speaker from his audience. Breaking the fourth wall is a theatrical concept that has become de rigueur these days on prime time television with such shows as The Office, Modern Family, and Community, in which characters often speak directly into the camera with meta commentary. It is also present in such classics as Hamlet‘s soliloquy. When this is done in real life outside the stages of theater and media screens, it often involves communicators or interlocutors offering up some vulnerability. However, such vulnerability is not for the sake of self indulgence but honest communication that actually connects, thus standing out from the cacophony of the world with people taking turns talking at each other.
Back to Max though: If you’re not familiar with the storyline, in the past few episodes, Max has been campaigning for student council president of his middle school in reaction to the school removing vending machines. Thus, his platform is a simple one born out of his obsession with bringing back these machines because “it’s not fair!” Meanwhile, his parents are nervous that Max is doomed to failure due to his Aspergers and related social awkwardness. It was so bad that Kristina (a campaign manager by profession!) and Adam made a futile attempt to prevent him from running since they had no confidence in his ability to participate in the election while maintaining any dignity.
Nonetheless, Max won the battle with his parents, yet even up to the day of the election they were worried—in these final stages they were nervous that he did not have his speech written down; instead he insisted he would rely on his memory. The important moment of grace comes just minutes before his speech when his older sister Haddie imputes some much needed righteousness upon him:
Haddie: You know, Max, there actually are some qualities about you that would make you a good president.
Max: I know.
Haddie: Like, you’re super tenacious, and you’re funny.
Max: What do you mean by tenacious?
Haddie: I mean you don’t give up on things. You’re persistent, and if you believe in something, you follow through. And, also, you have a good memory. It’s like really scary good.
Max: I know right?
Haddie: Do you remember your speech?
Max: Of course I do. You just said I have a good memory.
And then, what begins as a rough and simplistic (and memorized) speech about vending machines ends up becoming an extemporaneous delivery from the heart about how everyone should vote for Max exactly because of his Aspergers, including all the reasons Haddie outlined above about his tenacity. The crowd full of undecided student voters stands and uproariously cheers because he was so penetratingly honest about who he is and what exactly he stands for. You can (and ought to) watch Max’s full speech here. We come to learn afterward that Max wins the election by a landslide much to everyone’s surprise.
Proclamation of the Gospel with Max-Braverman-like vulnerability that breaks the fourth wall of everyday life is what Mockingbird is all about and has been about from its inception. The end goal of blog posts like these is not to speak on cultural topics like Parenthood simply to be relevant but to be honest about what it means to be finite humans in relation to an infinite and holy God. And as a preacher, I cannot help but continue to apply the power of breaking the fourth wall (as Max did) to my sermons so that the Good News might actually reach those listening in the pews. Odds are though that you may not be a pulpit preacher, but you probably find yourself at times trying to communicate a very important Message. We do well to take a lesson from Max in these situations and break the fourth wall if we really want to touch people in a way that matters.
As a bonus, here are two clips from the current American presidential candidates speaking on communication with respect to political campaigns. The Obama clip is more apropos, but I include both to strike a balance: