Amidst the various characters tossing bean bags, shooting angry birds, and many other games played during our Fall Festival, I noticed little Charlie Brown. Patty remarked that we should have recorded the annual replay of Charlie Brown’s, It’s The Great Pumpkin Charlie Brown, and keep it for Cohen and Max. There is always next year.
Dr. Warren McWilliams, one of my theology professors at Oklahoma Baptist University back in the day, once mentioned, The Gospel According to Peanuts. The book, published in 1965, may be considered the forerunner to a modern genre of books where the author takes a popular movie, television series, or other cultural artifact and mines it for its implications. My friend Chris Seay wrote several books along these lines, The Gospel According to Tony Soprano, The Gospel Reloaded, The Tao of Enron, and The Gospel According to Lost.
Christians are not the only ones to find some connection with human experience, the world of ideas, and cultural icons. Slovenian philosopher Slavo Zizek used a Three Stooges episode to explicate Sigmund Freud’s – id, ego, and super-ego.
So what of Linus’ blanket? The upheaval of the 1960’s may well have prompted Charles M. Shultz to debut the blanket as Linus’ “security blanket.” Few of us make it through life without some sort of security blanket. Maybe we are not delaying maturity – putting off growing up. But, we do tend to live with habits and patterns that keep changes, even much needed ones, at bay. We retreat into the familiar.
Consider the exchange between Linus and Sally in, It’s the Great Pumpkin Charlie Brown. Sans his blanket until the end of the second clip, Linus persuades Sally to miss “tricks or treats” for a night in the pumpkin patch in anticipation of the appearance of the Great Pumpkin.
After Snoopy rises from behind a pumpkin Sally becomes inconsolable thinking about what she has missed waiting in vain. Linus continues to wait. He falls asleep and there appears the blanket. His sister Lucy retrieves him from the pumpkin patch. She returns Linus to his bed along with his blanket.
In Peter Rollins’ newest book, Insurrection, he draws attention to the way we tell ourselves we are ready for a change but never change. Only when faced with a foil who challenges what we say we believe do we really consider the story we tell ourselves. The pain comes with the realization the foil is right. We have not changed. We will not change. Even then, we return to our blanket unchanged telling ourselves the same story.
The need is to be disabused of the blanket that keeps us securely the same.
We Christians tell ourselves the story of difference. That is, we talk about our differences with the world under the patterns lived out by Jesus. Yet, survey after survey, report after report fails to provide evidence there is an appreciable difference in our actions, even if we tell better stories about ourselves. Only when a foil is introduced to expose our lack do we come face to face with our very need for change.
Eugene Peterson tells the story of his bully. In The Pastor: A Memoir, Peterson tells of Garrison Johns. The very brief chapter reveals a seven-month ordeal Eugene faced as he was stalked and beaten almost daily. His mother encouraged him to “take it.” Something about “good Christians.” Then something flipped. Maybe it was one punch too many. Finally, Peterson turned the tables, he fought back.
Sitting atop Johns, Peterson begins to make demands. He even cajoles a Christian confession from his bully. Reflecting on this indecent and the way it functions to expose our same-ness, Peterson writes,
Garrison Johns was my introduction into the world, the “world that is not my home.” He was also my introduction to how effortlessly that same “world” could get into me, making itself perfectly at home under cover of my Christian language and “righteous” emotions.
Reading that quote too quickly may leave one simply noting the fact that we who follow Jesus sometimes find ourselves living very unlike the Jesus we claim to follow. But, note Peterson’s reference to the way his “Christian language and “righteous” emotions” work to convince us what matters is that we made of Garrison Johns our first Christian convert.
In other words, so long as we return to the security of our narrative reinforced by our feelings of superiority, we easily remain the same safely behind our security blanket. After all, Jesus did tell his disciples and the crowd to listen to those who “sit on Moses’ seat.” Untouched by the “practice what you preach” that follows, we keep our structures, systems, habits, and patterns in tact keeping us secure and certain.
The rock in the shoe that continues to create pain in my walk stems from Rollins’ critique as he addresses these structures, systems, habits, and patterns that form our liturgical move. Or, for we Baptist Free Church types, the critique would take in our worship patterns – personal and corporate. Too concerned with helping people feel secure and safe, we rarely abide a prolonged prophetic voice(s).
What would it mean to invite people to be disrupted rather than re-assured? Accusations of creating doubt and sowing seeds of discontent would surely break out. But, when we take the weight of a text, read it, explicate it and then follow it with a song or plea that lifts the weight of the text too rapidly, we replace the needed foil with a blanket that keeps us untouched, unscathed – unchanged.
Maybe Rollins is right. We should re-think our liturgies to create space wherein our blankets are ripped from our secure hands in hopes that we will indeed bear the marks of the Crucifixion and live the glories of the Resurrection. I suspect that will not play well with the crowds. Seems like it did not work so well then.