The Pretend World of Ken & Barbie

The Pretend World of Ken & Barbie

(Authors Note: The characters in this article are fictional! They are merely represenative of make belief people but, in reality...we all know they are real!) 


Barb’s life is a mess. Her closet drinking is harder to hide and her life is not working out the way she dreamed as a little girl. Ken refuses to deal with her or the issues in their marriage. He has issues of his own. After saying, “I do” the conquest was over for him so he went searching for new territory to conquer. The corporate world offered the challenge he needed so he buried himself in his work and soon became a decorated success story. His distance over the almost twenty years of their marriage was a gradual thing and neither of them would have ever imagined they would wake up one day with so little to talk about. She is the original desperate housewife and about the closest Barbie gets to professional help is watching Dr. Phil in the afternoon. Very few people realize that Ken and Barbie live in a make-belief world because they have become skilled at pretending. Every Sunday, well almost, Barbie gets her kids dressed in their Sunday best and they go to church masquerading as the perfect family. Everyone at church admires them and think they would make an excellent cover for Home Life magazine because they look so…well, perfect.

Sitting in the row behind Ken and Barb each Sunday morning is G.I. Joe. Everyone likes Joe, especially all the guys, because he’s a man’s man. He plays sports, drives a cool car, a scratch golfer and his stories of athletic conquest always hold an audience. But when Joe is all alone his heart is filled with emptiness because of his inability to attain intimacy in any relationship or even sustain a long-term relationship. Over the years he’s driven away everyone close to him with his macho ways. He has given up on the possibility of any real relationship so he retreats to the make belief world of internet pornography. What began as a curious peek has become an all-in addiction. He rationalizes that it is ok because it is in the privacy of his home and no one gets hurt. Still, he feels guilty. But on Sundays when a friend asks Joe how things are going he quickly says, "Great man…just a walk in the park!"

Chatty Cathy rarely sits in the same place because, beside the fact her husband rarely attends church, she is a social butterfly. She talks endlessly and lights up any room she enters with her vivacious personality. She is a member of more committees than anyone in the church! But her words and ways are makeup, ingeniously designed to hide her face and fears. She is seriously afraid that if people saw her on the inside they would laugh at her, and not with her.

Ken & Barbie, G.I. and Cathy have all learned that church is a good place for plastic people to hide. Barbie, complete with her husband Ken and her synthetic children know how to play the church game. And G.I. Joe, a plastic action hero everyone admires but no one really knows, has learned to pull off the perfect quarterback sneak. Cathy is skilled at faking her way through any situation. But in the deep recess of their souls, Ken & Barb, Cathy & Joe are dying, because they only appear to be real. The fact of the matter, they are made of plastic.

Churches are filled with people like Ken & Barbie, G.I Joe and Chatty Cathy. They know that image is everything and perception is reality so what counts is how you look and act on the outside. Unfortunately, the Christian community has fine-tuned the art of faking it into an artform. And that is what the world hates about the church…the absence of authenticity! In his book, What’s So Amazing About Grace, author Phillip Yancey talks about meeting a prostitute on the street and sharing the message of Christ with her. When Yancey gently suggested that she might seek out a church, she looked at him and said, "Why would I want to do that? I already feel awful enough about my life?"  In her mind, walking into a room full of pretend Barbie dolls and G. I. Joe action figures would only accentuate her own failures and inadequacies.

If success in the Christian community is merely defined as looking good on the outside, pretending to be something we’re not, then we have arrived. In his excellent book, The Church of Irresistible Influence, Robert Lewis concludes that the church is “a sort of Christian club that exhausted itself trying to keep its members happy.” (p. 29).  Ouch! That hurt. I am absolutely convinced that the critical need of the hour is for the followers of Jesus Christ to passionately pursue authenticity because the cost of our hypocrisy is too expensive to ignore. Pursuing an authentic faith will require that we get honest and step out of our comfort zones but that is a price we seem unwilling to pay. George Barna declares, “Americans are not going to patronize an institution which appears incapable of living what it preaches.” (The Second Coming of the Church, p.5)

It has become far too easy to fake it on Sundays! It’s much too easy to put on a Ken or Barbie face or a G.I. Joe façade, even a Chatty Cathy laugh and evade the issue of keeping it real. Being authentic requires that we develop relationships with friends who will hold us accountable. It means admitting that God made us in His image (Genesis 1:27); we aren’t designed to be plastic like Barbie and Joe. We are actual people with feet of clay, we possess profound problems, we wrestle with multifaceted mess-ups and we experience fracturing failures. We are broken. We are messed up beyond any human quick fix!

Only a powerful manifestation of His grace in our lives can move us from the plastic, make-belief world of pretense and enable us to abandon the dolls of our childhood. The journey toward authenticity is an uphill climb and each step upward is on the path of His grace. It is more difficult to be real than plastic, so honesty is required. The battle is spiritual not physical, so faith is involved.  Your next step, the first step, awaits your courage and commitment. Ready?


Authors Note: I acknowledge Dr. Timothy Peck, for the idea for the Ken & Barbie parody came from an  illustration in his opening paragraph in the sermon “A Call to Authenticity” based on 1 John 1:8-2:2.