Book Plunge: A Charlie Brown Religion

What do I think of Stephen J. Lind’s book published by the University of Mississippi Press? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

As far back as I can remember, Peanuts has been a part of my life. As a small child, my sister had given me a Snoopy stuffed animal and I slept with that for many a night. The library was within walking distance of my home and I would often go down there and pick up the Peanuts books and read through them repeatedly. My Dad had his old collection of Peanuts books and they were passed on to me and I read them repeatedly. He and I can still regularly talk about various strips.

This isn’t even counting the animated specials. How many times did we watch A Charlie Brown Christmas together? For many years, this has been a family tradition. It’s amazing that Linus’s speech towards the end was so amazing for its time and growing up, I didn’t realize all the boundaries that Linus was breaking with that speech. There is hardly a more touching Christmas special than that one.

Those who read Schulz regularly also know about religion in the comic strips and particularly Christianity. Questions often arise about Charles Schulz. Was he a fundamentalist? Was he an atheist? I wanted to know and I went looking for a book. I came across this one in my search, but not knowing for sure, I checked the endorsements. When I saw endorsements from Schulz’s children, I knew this was the right one.

Lind takes on a tour of Schulz’s (Or Sparky’s) life growing up and how he came to know Christ at a Church of God. Schulz was a man very committed to the Scriptures and a number of times when he met someone famous, one of the first things he would do is ask them about their opinion of Jesus Christ. He had several commentaries and such and would read them trying to study the Bible. There is no reason to doubt his conversion to Christianity was a real one and there is no evidence that he ever retracted his faith.

This is not to say that his faith didn’t change. It did. Sparky held a number of positions that many of us would consider liberal. For instance, Sparky’s daughter Amy wound up joining the Mormon church and while Sparky thought Mormonism was a great hoax, he didn’t deny that his daughter was out there supporting the kingdom of God. It could also be asked if Sparky really held to Christian exclusivity. It might have just been that Sparky liked to discuss the Scriptures, but he didn’t want to debate them.

Sure, there are times Sparky described himself as a secular humanist, but odds are he didn’t really realize what that meant. He wanted to avoid saying Christian because people thought of denominations and such when he said that. What he had in mind was not a denial of God or Christianity, but an emphasis on the living out of Christian claims in caring for the poor and loving your fellow man and such.

As I said earlier with the Christmas special, Sparky was willing to push the envelope. He fought hard to get Linus’s speech into his special. A lot of people were backing off because you just didn’t talk about religion like that on TV, but Sparky had said to his team that if we don’t say this, who will. It was kept in and it made a different. Scores of letters came in from fans who praised the report and Coca-Cola who sponsored the special certainly benefited from it.

Sparky’s comic strips took a subject one was not supposed to talk about, and talked about it. Very rarely was there any direct preaching in the strip if ever. Instead, it was more meant to get people thinking about the topic. This could include even ideas like The Great Pumpkin or a butterfly landing on Peppermint Patty’s nose only to be told to her later by Marice that it turned into an angel and flew away while she was sleeping.

Sparky’s kids in the comic were children like no other. They were often engaged in deep conversations for their age. Linus was a great theologian walking around his town, and yet the one who always sucked his thumb and had a security blanket with him constantly. They were kids asking the questions of adults, but often they were still just being kids.

Sparky also wasn’t always a saint with his life. If one reads the book, they will find that he made many mistakes along the way, some of them very disappointing. As a parent, he was also quite absent. He loved his children, but he rarely talked with them about religion. They saw him reading his Bible, but discussion didn’t seem to be commonplace.

It has been a little over eighteen years since Sparky died. As I would go through the book, I would find myself from time to time going to the internet and looking at the last strip. In all honesty, I get emotional seeing it and have great sorrow thinking about what a gift Sparky was to the world. It seems almost like a divine plan that when that strip hit the paper announcing that Sparky was done drawing new comic strips and no one else would take over drawing comic strips, that Sparky had passed away in his his sleep the night before after losing a battle with colon cancer.

Sparky was willing to cross that envelope and many people might sadly never hear of the great apologists of the faith today, but perhaps many will be thinking more seriously about religion because they knew Charlie Brown, Snoopy, Linus, Lucy, and so many others. These kids are all easily recognizable and household names as are terms now like “security blanket” and “good grief” and others. Sparky left us a legacy and a challenge to go forward and spread the message of the Kingdom. We could ask the question about spreading it that Sparky said when asked about Linus’s speech in the Christmas special.

“If we don’t, who will?”

In Christ,
Nick Peters

My Concern With Christmas Movies

What is the reason for the season? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.

Here at the Peters household, Allie and I have been watching a lot of Christmas movies this month, mainly on the Hallmark channel. Now on a level, I do enjoy them. They are touching and morally, much better than a lot of the other stuff on TV, but as we were talking last night, we were discussing a problem that we see with them.

In many of these movies, the movie is not really about Christmas. It is about getting a man and a woman together. I have no objection to bringing a couple together. Keep in mind I proposed to my Princess on Christmas Eve which made it a special holiday indeed, but when it comes to what I’m seeing, the main point of the movie is not Christmas, but it is rather the romance. Christmas is secondary. Santa becomes a matchmaker and Jesus is not mentioned at all.

In all of this, someone could wonder why we celebrate Christmas at all. In the films, it’s often a great time for family and friends to get together and we exchange gifts and we have the spirit of the season where we celebrate love and goodness. None of these are wrong in themselves of course, but did we just randomly pick a date on the calendar and say “We’ll call it Christmas and we’ll spend it doing good things!”?

My mind instead thinks back to an annual Christmas classic that I certainly love to watch which is the Charlie Brown Christmas special. Most of us remember the famous part where right in the middle Linus goes out on stage and recites from the second gospel of Luke and tells Charlie Brown that that’s what Christmas is all about.

It’s not about finding the perfect tree. It’s not about getting the perfect letter to Santa to get all the items. (And if you can’t, send cash. How about tens and twenties?) It’s not about getting romantic with a pianist and telling him how he should play Jingle Bells. It’s about Christ.

If this is a lack in the movie industry, the problem does not lie with the world. The problem lies with us. We’ve let it happen. Christians either don’t make good movies normally, or else they make them so cheesy that even most Christians won’t want to go see them. The main exception I can think of are movies done by a church such as Fireproof and Courageous. (Allie and I own a copy of Fireproof and it was the first movie we watched together as husband and wife)

If we want to see better, we need to get our viewpoint out there and we need to get it out there in a good way. We need Christians in the movie industry and the television industry. We need Christians in the music industry and not just playing on Christian stations where we minister to each other. As a gamer, I’d like to see some Christians in the video game industry.

We will be enjoying Christmas movies still of course as it is good time together, but I do hope that perhaps next year when Christmas rolls around, there will be movies out from a Christian perspective that will highlight the real reason for Christmas and not so overdone that no non-Christian will want to watch.

In Christ,
Nick Peters