Deeper Waters Podcast 5/30/2020

What’s coming up? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Comics have always been a part of my life. I don’t mean the superheroes, although I did read Archie and TMNT and, of course, Nintendo comics growing up, but mainly comic strips. I still check to see the new Fox Trot every Sunday.

Peanuts was always an important part of that. I loved the adventures of Charlie Brown and Snoopy. I would regularly go to the library and check out Peanuts books for my reading and can still quote numerous strips to this day. I still need to watch the movie someday.

Peanuts also often had a decisively religious tone to it and not just religious, but specifically Christian. Linus was a brilliant young theologian who knew the most obscure Scriptural references and would bring to Sunday School items about the Dead Sea Scrolls and their impact on textual criticism. Charlie Brown’s fire truck just couldn’t compete.

And who can forget the first Charlie Brown Christmas special? The event that makes it for so many of us is that scene where Linus tells us what Christmas is all about by quoting Luke 2. To this day, over 50 years later, this show is still a classic.

But didn’t Charles Schulz abandon Christianity later in his life? Didn’t he become a secular humanist? What did he do in his comic strips exactly with Christianity? Is there anything we can learn from this?

To discuss these matters, I have brought on the author of A Charlie Brown Religion. I was looking for a good biography of Schulz one night and saw that one of the Schulz family members endorsed this one. It’s hard to argue against that recommendation! The author’s name is Stephen Lind and he’s my guest this Saturday.

So who is he?

According to his bio:

Stephen Lind is an assistant professor of business at Washington and Lee University where he teaches courses on the entertainment industry and business communication. He has presented on his research worldwide – from academic conventions to Comic-Con. He holds a PhD in rhetoric from Clemson University, an MA in communication from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and a BS in speech (minor in philosophy) from Liberty University. 

I hope you’ll be looking forward to this episode. I’ve always enjoyed Peanuts as I said so expect some of my fanboy to come out in this one. Let’s get set to talk about Snoopy and Charlie Brown!

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: The Peanuts Papers

What do I think of Andrew Blouner’s book published by Literary Classics of the United States? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Normally, I wouldn’t write on a read done just for fun, but this is an exception. I had stopped at the library recently for the latest Mary Higgins Clark (And sadly her last seeing as she passed away last month) when I saw on the displays shelves The Peanuts Papers. I had seen this book on Amazon and was curious, but I hadn’t purchased it. I figured I would check it out and see how it was.

Growing up, I was one of the rare kids who liked Peanuts, at least the reading of the strips. I would regularly go to the library and get the books and read through them again and again and I had my own books of Peanuts at home. Most of the kids preferred Garfield instead. I read Garfield too and liked it, but as I look back, the strip hasn’t really aged well. Peanuts has remained timeless.

Today, if I want to read a funny strip, I will normally go with Fox Trot, and while Peanuts could be funny at times, there was something else going on and my younger self didn’t notice it, but my older one does. Reading many of these essays by cartoonists and others helped me see some aspects that I had missed.

If there was a downside to the book really, I hate to say it, but it was the poems in the middle. I am not averse to poetry, but these seemed to both be ramblings that would occasionally reference the comic strip. I really didn’t see what they had to do with the subject matter.

One aspect of Peanuts that occurred to me is really, Peanuts didn’t change with the times. Not that the strip was static, but you didn’t see amazing advances in technology being welcomed into the strip and the characters adapting, at least as much as I remember it. The kids are never just in their houses talking over an internet connection. They don’t speak on cell phones. They go outside and play baseball and sit on steps and lean on walls of nondescript suburban areas.

Yet one area in my writings I want to hit on is always religion and that is how Charles Schulz handled it. It is actually a great compliment to something that you can make a joke about it. Our society loves sex and politics and many of our jokes are about those topics. That we joke about religion can be seen as the way we treat religion.

Schulz always had fun with Christianity in the strip, but at the same time, he was always respectful of it, being a Christian himself. (Those who disagree with him are invited to read A Charlie Brown Religion, which I have reviewed as well) Religion is seen as a sort of given in the world of Peanuts. This is especially so with Linus, the walking biblical scholar who also gets a bit confused at times, seeing as he has a Santa Claus figure in the Great Pumpkin.

Yet after reading these articles on Peanuts, I return to the strip thinking about it in new light. I someday hope to get the complete collection of Peanuts and be able to read through every strip there is. Either way, Charles Schulz gave us a national treasure. I think all cartoonists today who write strips owe a debt to him.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

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