“I can’t believe you’re leaving before me. I’m going to issue an executive order. Jon Stewart cannot leave the show.” So stated President Barack Obama on The Daily Show, referring to host Jon Stewart’s impending retirement. The president recently made his seventh appearance on Stewart’s show. But Mr. Obama’s relationship with the comedian is even more personal than his televised appearances would indicate.
Politico magazine has broken the story: President Obama twice asked Stewart to meet with him privately in the White House. The first visit came in the midst of the October 2011 budget fight, when Stewart jokingly told his escort he felt he was being called into the principal’s office. The second came in February 2014, when the president asked Stewart to come for a mid-morning visit hours before Mr. Obama went on television to warn Russia against further intervention in Ukraine.
Politico summarizes the comedian’s cultural reach: “Love Stewart’s jokes or hate them, he has proven to be a unique voice who is capable of turning in-the-weeds policy discussions into viral video sensations that the country is still talking about the next morning.” The 52-year-old former stand-up comedian has won 18 Emmy awards for his show. Not bad for a former shelf stocker and bartender.
Stewart’s family emigrated from Poland; his parents divorced when he was 11. He changed his last name from Leibowitz to Stewart (a respelling of his middle name, Stuart) as a result of his estranged relationship with his father. He once told The New York Times that he views his political comedy as a kind of catharsis, a therapeutic filter for dealing with difficult issues.
In other words, Jon Stewart has a mission behind the mayhem.
Viennese psychiatrist Viktor Frankl survived Auschwitz and later summarized his horrific experience with this now-famous statement: “Man’s search for meaning is the primary motivation in his life.” He observed that prisoners who were most likely to survive were those who refused to abandon hope, who held onto a larger meaning in their suffering.
Frankl’s pregnant wife, brother, and parents were all murdered by the Nazis. How would he respond to such unspeakable injustice? The decision would be his: “everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”
This choice determines everything. Jon Stewart could have stayed a bartender, but he took a chance on his dream of doing comedy. While I disagree with his frequent use of profanity and much of his worldview, I affirm his courage.
To change the culture, we must first change ourselves. But to become our best selves, we must be changed by the One who gives our lives greater meaning than we can imagine. (Tweet this) God showed Jeremiah that the nation was but clay in the potter’s hand (Jeremiah 17:6). With this difference: we can choose whether to submit to the Potter.
Frankl is right: the last human freedom is the freedom “to choose one’s own way.” But you can use that freedom to choose God’s way instead, to submit to his loving, often-perplexing, always-perfect purpose for your life. This choice determines everything.
As C. S. Lewis notes, God seeks to rebuild our lives, not into a “decent little cottage” but into a palace. For this reason: “He intends to come and live in it himself.”