The Common Good

Glenn Beck, Come Drink Some Kool-Aid with Me

I used to be just like Glenn Beck, only without the multi-million dollar TV show: I used to get attention by angrily, and humorously, attacking politicians. I'm ashamed of how I acted back then. And now, of all people, it's Glenn Beck who's attacking me on TV for it:

Instead of "hitting back," which is what I would have done in the old days, I want to extend an invitation:

Glenn: Come to Kansas City, share a meal with my family, let me introduce you to people here of all different political and religious persuasions who are working together to create a world that works for everyone. Every time I watch you on TV, you're calling someone "left-wing," "Marxist," "Fascist," or "anti-American." Last night, it was me! Why not come back out of the partisan bubble to the real America and get to know one of your "targets?" I really believe it could change the way you see America and help you discover a new purpose for the enormous megaphone God has given you.

I created a political parody Web site way back in 1998. I got on TV, got laughs, and enjoyed the attention. But something in me knew I was doing harm. That bothered me, because I wasn't just a comedian -- I was someone who wanted deep down to see the world work better for everyone.

My online parody of George W. Bush's campaign started as a little joke to show my friends. It blew into a big story when the Bush campaign tried to shut it down. I found myself on television or the radio every day for a few months. Every time the story died down, the Bush campaign brought it back by renewing their attack. At one point, candidate Bush even called me a "garbage man" and when questioned about shutting down the site, even explained, "There ought to be limits to freedom" -- on camera!

In my gut, I knew my antics were counterproductive. But snarky anger and bitterness are so widely accepted in our public culture that I had unlimited ways of justifying my behavior. It wasn't until I became a part of a Christian community -- as unlikely as that was for someone raised a liberal atheist -- that I finally discovered an explicit rule to counter all my justifications for snarky anger: Love Everyone. I was so blown away by that rule, and that millions, unbeknownst to the rest of us, actually lived by it, that I drank the Kool-Aid: I took a leap of faith into the worldview that allowed them to do the impossible and truly love everyone, or at least try their best to -- even people they disagree with, even people who attack them.

The reason I'm writing this instead of simply ignoring Glenn Beck's attack on me last night is because Glenn Beck has described his own dramatic transformation upon joining a Mormon community for the very same reason. With great interest, I've watched him in several TV interviews and read in his books as he told the story:

A Sunday school teacher told him about "Zion" -- the LDS church's anticipated future world, akin to the Bible's "Kingdom of Heaven."

Glenn asked, "But how does it happen?"

The teacher answered, "The only way this happens is if I truly love you and you truly love me. We may not agree with each other, but we can love each other."

Beck says, "I realized that he was the most genuine person I have ever met." He thought, "I don't care if there is Kool-Aid in the basement, I'm drinking it."

It put his past life in a whole new light: "The way I treated people or the things I did in my life, I still blush at times..." In fact, as a shock jock DJ, Beck really had put a lot of people -- not politicians, but just ordinary, innocent people -- through hell on his show.

The day after he "drank the Kool-Aid," he got a call from his agent who offered him a big new show, rescuing his career from the trash heap it had been under for several years.

"We were baptized on Sunday, and an agent called me Monday," he remembers.

"Do you ever feel like someone upstairs is watching out for you?" his agent asked.

"Yes sir, I do," he answered.

So Glenn, what I'd like to talk to you about, and why I think you should really come out to Kansas City, is this: God did give you an amazing opportunity when he gave you your new career. But where in the world do you find justification for what you've done with that opportunity?

You've based your career on demonizing "targets" as "left-wing," "Marxist," and "anti-American." I know many of the people you've attacked. And I know they don't fit under any of those labels. I've heard you say you follow the ten commandments, but I've seen you bear false witness against dozens of people, and I don't even watch your show very often. I actually share your frustrations with some of the people you've attacked. But if your politics, or your career, only draw energy from hate, then surely you can see there's something wrong.

Maybe that Kool-Aid you drank 10 years ago has started to wear off. Want some more? We have it here in Kansas City. Come visit.

Zack Exley is a strategic consultant with ThoughtWorks, Inc., where he advises organizations on communications, organizing, and technology. He blogs at RevolutionInJesusland.com.

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