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A Theology for Charlie Brown

Updated: Dec 15, 2023

Like many Americans, I watched "It's the Great Pumpkin Charlie Brown!" this past Halloween during my lunch break. I can't remember a year where I didn't watch it at Halloween time. It's tradition. As I sat there watching, I thought to myself "why am I still watching this year after year?" At 26, this old time 30 minute animation TV special may seem 'basic' compared to what is offered to us today in content, but something draws me in every year. And it is not just the Halloween special, but the Thanksgiving and Christmas specials too.

I think it is because of the story and characters. Mainly Charlie Brown. As I watched, I thought "Charlie Brown is a little bit like us at times, right?" He has feelings of being left out and forgotten. He is always the butt of the joke (especially with the football). He gets excited when unexpected things go his way, like getting invited to a halloween party. And he has doubts about his actions as to if he is choosing the right path or is just a failure (think about the thanksgiving and Christmas special).

Haven't we all had these feelings at one time or another? I know I have. I think if we are honest we can think of many times where these feelings have appeared. But, Charlie Brown always bounces back--with the help of the community around him (that's important). And in the halloween special, it is Linus who bounces back after being ridiculed about believing in the Great Pumpkin (well kinda haha). But Lucy, who clearly disagrees with her younger brother, still cares for him when he is left out in the cold shivering by bringing him in to his warm bed. I think we could make a case that we are in a way all the characters at times, but that would take too long to unpack.

I guess I come back to two reasons why I watch these specials year in and year out. And maybe why so many others do as well. Feel free to disagree.

1. Relatability and

2. Tradition.

Now I think I already touched on the first one and I think we can all make a case in some ways on how we connect with the characters even if it is on a small level. But, the second one I think may be bigger.

In many faiths, especially Christianity, there are many traditions that are held tightly. Some for very good reasons, others maybe not so great (but that's for another time). Traditions don't always hinge on if it is the latest and greatest thing available to us, but rather remembering what was once great and beautiful. And in it's own way, still is today.

As I write this, I got the news that former basketball coach icon Bob Knight passed away. As an avid Indiana Hoosier basketball fan for my whole life, this news saddens me. And at the same time, it makes me reflect because it feels like a piece of tradition is gone. I was still at home taking my first steps when his time at Indiana was over, but I've seen footage and heard many stories. I embraced the tradition like many fans.

Like many watchers. Every season. Every holiday.

Whether it be a sport, holiday special, or other cultural importance, we want to remember what was good and beautiful of the past. And maybe watching that ole Charlie Brown special brings that childhood nostalgia back to our minds that is dormant all other times of the year. Does it mean it's always a good thing? It can be, but not always. Any tradition is not always black or white. Not specifically always only good or only bad.

Like the Charlie Brown specials, we want that feeling of 'being home'. Our faith in Christ should give us that feeling. For faith is more than relatability or tradition, but rather the belief, knowledge, and life lived of a greater hope. I love the quote of Charlie Brown when he says to Linus when Linus is writing a letter to the Great Pumpkin, "We're obviously separated by denominational differences." Oh I laughed and laughed. But there is some greater truth there. Now I'm not advocating for the existence of The Great Pumpkin by any means. This is only an analogy, but like all of them, they break down eventually. Nonetheless, there are some good nuggets in a lot of different traditions of different denominations. To say one is good and dismiss the others I think is pure child's play and just flat out hogwash.

Let us be open to listen to other rituals not from our own circle. Let us be humbled by our rituals. May it continue to teach us lessons that beckons our lives to betterment. May tradition support that. And when it doesn't, don't be afraid to move on. I believe God works in and outside of tradition. We should too.

Let it not hinder our growth but only further it. Let us be quick to listen to what we have heard 100 times before. May that bible story, prayer, and hymn we know by heart, pierce it at the same time. May it beckon us to ask the tough questions and ironically, in that comfort of tradition drive us to uncomfortable places.

In that place, may we be more conformed into the image of Christ. Let it draw us back to the foundation of life's biggest questions and reflect deeply. No matter how simple the question or act may seem. May we take it seriously and not just for traditions sake, but for the adoration of our Savior. For in just a few short months, we will be joining in with Charlie Brown once again saying "what is Christmas all about?"

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