I’m a big fan of David Letterman’s comedic style and genius. While I had seen Letterman on The Tonight Show in the late 70s, what I remember most about those early years is tuning in during the summer of 1980 to his daytime comedy show. His skits, gags, and timing were hilarious. That show died after a couple of months, and then in 1982 Late Night debuted and I could once again get my fill. Since then, I’ve showed my kids numerous YouTube videos of old Letterman highlights and we’ve laughed together. The best bit ever? Letterman and the monkey lady. . . .
Recently, I’ve watched Letterman less and less, something occasioned by a growing lack of TV time and the fact that I just can’t stay up that late anymore!
Perhaps the most significant Letterman moment of all happened last Friday night when the humorous host took almost 10 minutes to tell his audience the story of his victimization by a blackmailer/extortionist. Not only was it a significant Letterman moment, but it was a significant cultural moment as well. Somehow, Letterman masterfully unwound the story and when he finally made his “confession,” he became the hero and recipient of applause. I’ve watched the clip a couple of times and I’m still trying to sort it out. I think it’s worth our attention as Letterman’s story, the audience reaction, and the continued response offers us a great wide-open look into the mirror to see what we’ve become.
Sure, Letterman’s sexual behavior was, as he says, “creepy.” But is it more than that? Is it “normal” because that’s the story about sexuality we’ve written in our current culture and choose to live/believe, or is it “creepy” because there’s really something wrong with what he did?
Let’s admit it, according to the Biblical drama of redemption and the Kingdom-story that’s unfolding around us, Letterman’s behavior is not really “creepy” at all. It’s something much worse. It’s wrong. And lest we self-righteously point our fingers at Letterman while thanking God that we haven’t gone down that road, think again. I can speak for myself. My post-puberty life has been full of sinful and fallen expressions of sexuality in thought, word, and deed. It’s also been a life marked by the never-ending struggle between managing (with God’s help and by His grace) the sexual thoughts, words, and deeds of my life that are not what they’re supposed to be, and living out my sexuality to the honor and glory of God. The struggle with sin is real. I suppose you might know what I’m talking about.
In the introduction to his wonderful book The Meaning of Sex, my friend Dennis Hollinger writes, “The issues surrounding sexuality and our sexual drives are far too significant to be driven by either cultural impluses or our hormones. And God knows we struggle with both. All of us struggle to make sense of our sexual beingness and our sexual longings. The temptations are powerful in a world where sexual images and impersonal sexual liasons are only a computer click away. The allurements send tremors through the core of our being with their potential to wreak havoc in our personal lives and covenants. They are already wreaking havoc in our society.”
Watching Letterman this last week reminds me of who I am. It reminds me of the need to be honest with myself and recognize the sins I’ve committed, the struggles I face, and the fact that before the Biblical drama concludes in all its glory. . . the battle will continue. But after watching Letterman, I truly wonder if most people in our culture. . . our kids. . . will even realize that a battle should be raging.
Maybe you and the kids you know and love should sit down and watch Letterman’s 10-minutes together. Then, talk about him, his humor, his behavior, and the audience reaction. Then, bring the Word to bear on the sexual realities of this rapidly changing world.