As a moderate progressive with a voracious appetite for pop culture ephemera, I’ve grown wary of the Milkshake Duck. A fascinating piece of lore, Milkshake Duck is a shorthand phrase for anything that experiences a meteoric rise in viral popularity, only to come crashing back to earth o nce its distasteful past is discovered. It was coined by cartoonist Ben Ward, in a now legendary tweet: “The whole internet loves Milkshake Duck, a lovely duck that drinks milkshakes! *5 seconds later* We regret to inform you the duck is racist.”
As a society, we’re in a moment of constant outrage, most of which is justified. Previously normalized agents of misogyny and white supremacy are being exposed and denounced, but the side effect is that nobody’s favorites feel safe anymore. We’re all a little scared to believe in anything that seems too wholesome, lest the shock feel even worse when we find out the truth. (I’m still reeling over Bill Cosby!) Over time this kind of emotional hypervigilance becomes exhausting, and it robs us of our ability to trust. And though God alone is the only one virtuous enough to earn our consistent, unqualified trust, I do think constant internet sleuthing erodes the public trust in ways that are hard to understand, much less overcome.
This partially explains the rise of “the religious nones.” I have a ton of friends in my social media feed who long for a consistent grounding in spirituality, but who have long since disqualified the Christian church from their quest because of aspects they considered problematic. I get it. I’m native to the church, and I still feel that way sometimes.
I have friends who long for grounding in spirituality, but who have long since disqualified the Christian church from their quest. I get it. I still feel that way sometimes.
Yet in these moments, I’m drawn to Matthew 11. I see a similar cloud of cynicism, starting with John the Baptist asking Jesus from prison, “So are you really the one we’ve been waiting for?” I see it in the religious crowds that rejected both John and Jesus, yet for opposite reasons. You even see it in Jesus’s exasperated jeremiad against the towns that refused to repent.
It’s in this context that Jesus thanks the Father for revealing the hidden things, not to wise scholars, but to children. And then he says the words that we’ve all heard, but maybe not quite in this context: “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”
Growing up, I assumed that verse was aimed at Christ followers who needed to stop trying so hard. Indeed, Jesus is talking to those with pharisaical intentions, but I think he’s also talking to skeptics. Jesus, having been thoroughly disappointed by hometown crowds that refused to recognize the truth, was intimately acquainted with the kind of grief that hardens into disillusionment. “Don’t worry about fact-checking me,” he seems to be saying. “It won’t be too hard; my claims are easily verifiable. Holla at me when you finish trying to debunk me.”
There’s poetic justice in the fact that in 2018, age of the Milkshake Duck, Easter lands on April 1. The resurrection was scandalous then, and it invites just as much scandal now. The question is, will we dare to believe it? Can we muster up the courage to recalibrate our allegiances in light of this audacious claim? Because if we can, if we can fully buy into the work and person of Christ, then Jesus promises something we really need—rest for our souls.
Yes, there is racism and misogyny and all manner of dysfunction in the church, just like it exists outside it.
But the solution for the church isn’t primarily in our boycotts, but in our active, Spirit-led participation.
This Lent and Easter season, don’t let your pursuit of justice rob you of your ability to delight in childlike whimsy. For God’s sake—let the duck sip that milkshake in peace.