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The concept of shock advertising is as simple as it gets: impress on people some kind of novel visual, story or concept that etches a memory that is hard to forget. It’s meant to deliberately startle or offend viewers by violating social norms and personal ideals. It breaks through the noise. Like everything in marketing, there are some great examples and then some lousy ones. I recall with fondness the one of an egg breaking and seen frying on a hot pan, with the slogan: “This is your brain. This is your brain on drugs.” But in the lust category, I’m way past exhausted from seeing half-naked androgynous bodies on the beach, puckering for or already all over each other, conveying phallic or sexual innuendos. If you ponder it for a moment, you’ll see — Christians should have a very deep familiarity with the concept of shock advertising. We don’t dwell on it too often but I’m sure you know what I’m talking about and have felt it yourself. It originates from many parts of our apostolic story: human/divine sacrifice, perpetual offering at Mass, abiding in, immaculate conception, mystical body etc.
The use of shock advertising in my efforts to transmit the faith to my children came to light a few years ago as I searched for an icon of the 2015 massacre of the 21 Christian Martyrs – 20 of them Coptic/Egyptian – on the coast of Libya. Like everyone on the planet, I had seen the news reports of the tragedy. I had even taken the calculated risk, within a few months, of showing my children a still news picture of the men kneeling resiliently before their executers as part of a prayer/lesson on martyrdom. My children were between 10 and 5 years old at the time and I knew I was doing something unconventional. Surely some persons might object, but we knew they were ready – at least on a cursory level – for a discussion on real-life martyrdom. The lesson went well. Since then, I’ve gone on to obtain a copy of an Icon written on the martyrdom and we consider it a precious religious piece in our home.
Thankfully, as disciples engaged in transmitting the faith, the shocking stories we’re invited to trade in are ones with hugely powerful learnings, based on important Biblical truths and proven up and down the centuries through the lives of countless saints. The message is clear: acts of selfless love, often times perceived as crazy to the world*, lead to joy and life. So the next time the topic of martyrdom or hell comes up, my humble recommendation is don’t push it away but, rather, embrace it and make a teaching moment out of it.
Here’s a quick sampling of “shock” stories that are a part of transmitting the faith:
Some tips when it comes to broaching these stories/topics with your loved ones: