Sunday, December 30, 2018

Stories and Christmastime Part Three: Fear vs. Faith in A Charlie Brown Christmas

Schultz’s Fear
Charles M. Schultz took a professional risk when he scripted A Charlie Brown Christmas. Most other Christmas stories of the time stopped short of mentioning the true reason for the season. Schultz had Linus quote from Luke, chapter two, of the King James Version of the Bible, which tells the story of Christ’s birth. He insisted on keeping this scene in the movie, and I’m so glad he did. Since he had the courage to leave it in, it’s made his beloved tale a spiritual inspiration for generations as it professes the true meaning of Christmas. It strengthens faith and gives hope to those who believe. For some people, it might be the only exposure they have to the good news of the gospel, but that’s okay. It plants a good seed in soil that might be ready to nourish it given enough time.

Charlie Brown’s Quest
Charlie Brown was upset with how commercialized Christmas had become. He saw the effect on Sally, Snoopy, and all his friends. He tried to get involved with a community play, and that backfired. But all along, his best friend Linus was at his side during his search.

Linus: Faith vs. Fear
Linus’ role in the story was that of Charlie Brown’s Sherpa. He was his best friend. He walked with Charlie Brown throughout the story as Charlie tried so hard to understand the meaning of Christmas. When Charlie thought he had killed the little tree with the heavy ornament, he entered his “dark night of the soul” as he cried out, “Doesn’t anyone know the true meaning of Christmas?”

At that moment, Charlie Brown was finally ready for the answer. Linus stood alone on a stage and the magic began. He quoted the story of the birth of Jesus Christ directly from the Bible. At the point when the angels appeared to the shepherds, Linus did something profound. Linus, the epitome of insecurity, showed his faith at the exact moment he quotes the angels. “Fear not!” He dropped his blanket and raises his arms high.

For fifty-plus years I had seen Linus as someone grounded in his understanding of Christ who walked with faith every day. When the time was right, he was ready to teach his best friend all about the Savior of the world. But was he really so strong, waiting to exercise his faith?

In reality, Linus was a child filled with insecurity, which was why he carried his blanket in the first place. He was never seen without it, and he surely never lets go of it. He knew the scriptures, even had them memorized, but he also held deep insecurities symbolized by the blanket. It seemed almost contradictory that an insecure child would rise up and display faith. But it makes perfect sense if we are to internalize the message.
We all have fear—but can we have faith?
Linus is my favorite character in the story because he most resembles me. I have faith. I know the scripture stories. I’ve taught church youth and adult classes. I fancy myself a spiritual guide for those in need. But when it comes to my personal journey, I often walk around clutching my bundle of insecurities afraid to take leaps of faith. I know I should drop my fears, but it’s difficult when they’ve become so comfortable. Sometimes it takes a children’s story to remind me that faith is stronger than fear. When I remember the eternal message of Jesus Christ, the story with the surefire ending of hope and life and everlasting peace for all, I can drop my fear, even for a moment, and take a step into the light of faith. Fear departs and faith endures.

Fear Not—it’s a command and a promise
Saying no to fear allows us to move forward hand in hand with God. Granted, it might be in unseen territory, but if the direction is positive and productive, leading toward life, then we are in good hands.

Was it a coincidence that Charles M. Schultz showed Linus dropping his blanket? Schultz was a deep thinker and a man of faith—I would bet it was more by design. You could say he had a double mission in the telling of this story. Not only did he fight to keep the scriptural reference scene, but he also wanted to send a message to us—drop our fears and look toward faith. His design worked. Not only is the movie still a family favorite, but it also has lasting power and profound influence on generations even to this day.

2019: A Year to Fear Not

The idea of Linus dropping his fear strengthens me to walk away from my insecurities and make 2019 a year of success. Are you with me? Let’s fear not. Let’s let faith open doors that lead to better things. Happy New Year!

Wednesday, December 19, 2018

Stories and Christmastime Part Two: Who are the Whos?

The Whos are simple characters in a simple story, but the message has profound meaning if we have eyes to see…

You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch

Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas is a timeless story with eternal messages. The Grinch, a hard-hearted humbug, hates the people of Whoville for their devotion to Christmas. He devises a plan to spoil Christmas by stealing all that is meaningful to the Whos—the decorations, presents, and the food for their feast. As the Grinch stops short of dumping what he stole from the Whos to listen to them cry over their loss, his heart is irrevocably changed from bad to good when he hears them singing in celebration on Christmas morning. He ponders that maybe Christmas means something more, and we know the rest of the story. But do we?

Who are the Whos?

If we only focus on the Grinch’s journey of redemption, we are robbed of seeing the deeper theme which the Whos have been trying to tell us all along—how to endure through tragic loss.

As you remember, the Grinch broke into the Who houses and wiped them clean. He stole everything—not only the decorations and presents. He stole, food, logs for the fire, everything. If you’ve ever been a victim of a robbery or physical assault, you know the feeling of utter violation when a stranger has stolen a part of you and you are helpless to stop it.  It’s nothing short of terrorism. And in essence, this is what the Grinch did to the Whos.

I remember the gut-wrenching feeling that raced through me as a child watching this. It didn’t matter that this was a cartoon—I felt horribly for the Whos and what they would have to face the next day as they woke to find everything gone (and it looked as if he took the furniture too!)

Behind the Scenes  

The way the story is told, we don’t see the first reaction of the Whos to this tragedy. We are perched on Mt. Crumpet with the Grinch waiting and watching and listening. We don’t see their initial shock or sorrow—and I’m sure there was a bit of that happening between the pages. No, Dr. Seuss chose to keep the telling of the story in the Grinch’s perspective, but it didn’t stop me from wondering what the Whos must have felt before we saw them come outside with smiling faces. I’m sure they felt despair. But what they did with their feelings made all the difference—they could have been bitter and angry. They could have abandoned their faith. Instead they chose to let this tragedy strengthen their faith.  They decided this all inside their homes before they came out to celebrate.  They picked themselves up and reminded themselves that even though life is hard, and terrible things happen, their faith will give them strength to endure.

                                                                               The Small but Mighty Whos

The Whos reaction to the Grinch’s greedy act is a lesson for all people who have experienced pain or loss at any level. How we face tragedy determines our character. We might not be in control of our circumstances, but we can control our attitude. We can forgive. We can understand. We can work on plan B, or C, or D. We can resolve to press forward rather than surrender. And we can let tragedies strengthen our faith.

Walk by Faith

People of faith must face the test of faith every day. It’s scary to let go of control and allow faith to lead you in the darkness of uncertainty. But only walking by faith can we be led to the promise of peace. No matter what the world tries to take from us, no matter the heartache we bear, no matter the atrocities we witness, none of it will last. None of it is permanent. The devastation we see is not the end. All of this is true because God sent His Son to atone for all of this, and we can rejoice knowing his eternal story cannot fail. No matter your loss, Christmas will come.

Sunday, December 9, 2018

Stories and Christmastime: Standing at the Window

The Magic of Story at Christmastime

Christmas stories are magical—how else can we explain our desire to devour them year after year? They soften our hearts to child-like dreams. They remind us what a jolly laugh feels like. They make our faces wet as we renew our faith and rekindle a hope that we thought was destroyed in seasons past. The magic is real by design. The magic is in the story—and at Christmastime, it’s the divine story.
Christmas stories and movies often don’t directly reference the birth of the Savior, Jesus Christ. They focus on the themes of the season and the feelings we get when we revisit them each year. But God has a way of teaching his message even when mankind might not be aware of it. The message is there if we have eyes to see. For this reason, I’ve made it a point to find the theme of Christ—his grace, love, sacrifice, and atonement for all mankind—hidden in my favorite movies. I’ve been pleased to find it appears more often than expected, even when the word “Christmas” isn’t mentioned. I credit the divinity behind storytelling, of course.

Standing at the Window Christmas Eve
In the1970 musical Scrooge, my heart leaps each time I witness Tiny Tim and his sister gazing in the window of the toy shop at all the treasures they cannot have. Look at their eyes. They cannot hide the wonder and joy inside their hearts as they imagine what it would be like to play with one of the precious toys on the other side of the window. They can’t even touch them from where they are. But behind the joy in their eyes lies a harsh truth their little minds shouldn’t have to bear—those toys are out of reach in every aspect they can imagine.
But they still look and smile and wonder at the beauty beyond the window. Their innocent hearts don’t cave to the sorrow of a Christmas filled with this unfulfilled wish. They still hold onto what they’ve always had and what cannot be taken from them—the love of family, the beauty of the season, and the gifts it brings that supersedes even the most expensive of toys. But still, they wish.

Waking to the Miracle of Christmas Day
Those adorable children went to sleep that night thinking the precious toys in the window would never be theirs. Their father as much as told them this, so why should they believe anything else?
 Is it a coincidence that when Scrooge experiences his change of heart, he brings to the Cratchit home the very toys Tiny Tim and his sister were longing for?

Symbols of Christ
The children longed for something they thought they could never have, only to be given it as a gift. This is the message of Christ—what God has been trying to tell each of us through the power of story. We think we stand outside of His love and that we could never measure up and deserve what he has. We think we need to be perfect before we can enter into his presence. Since we are not, we wait outside looking in the window, longing for what we think we’ll never deserve. Instead, God sent his Son to give us the gift of his grace and atoning sacrifice—the gift of forgiveness, the remission of sin, the removal of pain and sorrow, and the blessing of eternal life with Him.

When we see eternal messages in the stories we love, we become reconnected to our divinity, our hope is renewed, and our outlook is brighter. We become the light that others might need—let it shine!