Buying gifts for men is no fun. Underwear and socks—ugh. John Beekman is making gifts fun again. He’s the founder and CEO of Man Crates, an irreverent men’s e-commerce brand. It’s the sort of company that makes for a better brand of Christian apologist.
Each year, one-tenth of U.S. retail is spent on gifts, a +$300 billion industry. For men, however, the gifts are usually uninspiring. This is why 15 percent are returned and another 15 percent of gifts are discarded. Beekman decided enough is enough. He launched Man Crates in 2011.
I met John last October. He’s funny as a stitch—but also a serious Christian. Man Crates reeks of satire. “We say ‘no’ to ugly neckties, cologne samplers, and executive trinkets. We don’t save wrapping paper, we don’t do ribbons.” Man Crates is building a tastefully irreverent brand, shipping gifts that men want, including a Hickory Grilling Crate and a Whiskey Connoisseur Crate. All crates come with a crowbar.
The emphasis on fun is one of two reasons why I think Man Crates is a better brand of apologist. In Proverbs 3:12-26 and 8:12-31, we see the first six days of creation from another angle, the vantage point of an associate named Wisdom. She describes work as “playing in the world, his earth.” Work is supposed to be fun. Man Crates is fun.
There’s a rich history of playfulness in the Bible, mostly in the form of satire or irreverence. It’s a safeguard against arrogance. We’re prone to being “excessively righteous” or “overly wise” (Eccl. 7:16). It happens to spiritual as well as successful people. Knowledge “puffs up,” swelling the head but shrinking self-awareness. Satire is a safety device. In the Old Testament, satirists were prophets, the “outsider view” that spoofed blind spots in order to stir renewal.
This was evident in Greek culture, where satire was linked to innovation—the Latin equivalent of the Greek word renewal. Innovation required that “the good king… knew how to take a joke.”1 If he could, he was more likely to tolerate change. This is why clergyman Henry Ward Beecher wrote: “Humor makes all things tolerable.”
Recent findings from neuroscience resonate with this. It is only in the right hemisphere that we get a joke. Patients with right-hemisphere damage “cannot make inferences,” a prerequisite for getting a joke and grasping moral lessons.2 By appealing to the right hemisphere, jokesters pave the way for disruption and renewal.
This calls into question the efficacy of modern-day evangelists. Since the Enlightenment, it has been assumed that well-reasoned arguments change minds. But as Robert Burton points out, “this is a low probability uphill battle.”3 It’s left brained. Changing minds happens when assumptions are overturned. Jokesters do this, poking fun at inconsistencies while providing “the most serious perception of the world there is.”4 Man Crates is a good example—funny while being perceptive.
There’s a second reason Man Crates is a better brand of apologist. Most Christians assume evangelists and church planters carried the load in initially spreading the gospel. Not so. For the first 300 years it was businesspeople, rank-and-file believers who traveled for commercial reasons.5 Man Crates joins this long tradition of apologists.
Man Crates is part of a movement of millennial entrepreneurs, many of them Christians. According to the Kauffman Foundation, 54 percent of millennials have started an organization or have the desire to start one. As Jack Dorsey, founder of Twitter and Square, recently noted, “the most efficient means to spread an idea today is corporate structure.” Church history would add that it’s not only the most efficient means, it’s the most effective method, especially when a company has a funny bone.
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1 Mary Beard, Confronting the Classics: Traditions, Adventures, and Innovations (New York: Liveright Publishing Corporation, 2013), pp. 55-61.
2 Iain McGilchrist, The Master and His Emissary: The Divided Brain and the Making of the Western World (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2010).
3 Robert M. Burton, M.D., On Being Certain: Believing You Are Right Even When You’re Not (New York: St. Martin’s Griffin, 2008), p. 183.
4 Peter L. Berger, Redeeming Laughter: The Comic Dimension of Human Experience (Berlin: De Gruyter; First Edition, 1997), p. 6.
5 Rodney Stark, Cities of God: The Real Story of How Christianity Became an Urban Movement and Conquered Rome (New York: HarperOne, 2006), p. 73.