Sunday, November 27, 2016

Franklin Gets Raw Deal, Yet Rises Above, with an Assist from Grandma

#HappyHallowThanksmas Charlie Brown Power Rankings for November 27, 2016

Franklin Armstrong has a smaller role among the Peanuts characters, and maybe we're getting a little insight into this during the Charlie Brown Thanksgiving special. Is it part of the pastiche of subtle institutional racism? A few things show up in this show related to Franklin, summed up in this screen shot:

Charlie Brown has a hard time watching what has happened to Franklin. Armstrong is the only one sitting on one side of the table, and he gets the bad chair (is it the infamous mutant dog eating chair?). Raw deal. Not to mention Linus gets smug about American gratitude and gives far too much glory to Myles Standish. Charlie Brown makes the best of things, fending off the holiday stress of Linus, Peppermint Patty, Sally, and he can't seem to speak up about Franklin. Maybe this is all about growing up and trying to manage gratitude with the baggage we all carry--historical, familial, personal, and friendship. Maybe prayer was in order, even if that one was rooted in imperialism.

Lost in the midst of this challenging (though sometimes poorly executed story) is probably the most underrated (if not the best), soundtrack of the HappyHallowThanksmas trilogy. If you haven't paid close attention, ignore the story and check out the songs.

On a side note--the election has weighed on my mind this November, and what was good intent on CharlieBrownThanksgiving regular analysis has turned into a solo effort at the end of Thanksgiving weekend. We shall see what Christmas brings. But...Thanksgiving brings a significant Power Ranking shakeup.

1. Vince Guaraldi  (Last Poll: 2)
Charlie's Blues, Little Birdie, Thanksgiving Theme. Great tunes to jazz your November. It's sad when they're put away at the end of the month.

2. Franklin Armstrong (Last Poll: Not Rated)
Personifies grace under pressure, in damn cool trousers.

3. Charlie Brown's Grandma (Last Poll: NR)
Just come to dinner. We'll make it better, anyone can come.

4. The Brown Family Roadster (Last Poll: NR)
The rear-facing classic social mobile. Are these not manufactured anymore because they're deathtraps?

5. Woodstock (Last Poll: NR)
This bird a great partner to Snoopy in the midst of hoarders and furniture attacks. Woodstock gets rewarded with a nice Thanksgiving dinner and a dedicated Guaraldi tune. But... is Woodstock a cannibal? Discuss...

Also receiving votes: Marcie Carlin (peace maker? doormat?), Mutant MMA Lawn Chair, Snoopy, Charlie Brown, vintage toasters, Over the River and through the Woods song surviving the butcher job by the Peanuts kids.

Dropped from the rankings: Sally Brown (poor performance), Charlie Brown, Snoopy, Schroeder.

May you have all had a blessed Thanksgiving. We'll see you in the upcoming days with more Power Rankings from the all-time classic, Merry Christmas Charlie Brown.

Monday, October 31, 2016

Ch-ch-ch-changes...who transforms in #GreatPumpkinCharlieBrown?

One of my collegiate writing teachers in fiction, Roger Sheffer, reminded his students that someone in the piece needs to change in plot development, or it's not really a story. Without change, the piece is  a snapshot or a vignette. Does anyone in #GreatPumpkinCharlieBrown change? Many would think the story is about Linus Van Pelt and his belief system of The Great Pumpkin. Does Linus change? Linus actually spews much dogma:

1. Each year The Great Pumpkin rises out of the pumpkin patch...
2. I thought little girls were innocent and trusting...
3. [The Great Pumpkin] respects sincerity...

Linus eschews relationships to proclaim his dogma. He does not really want relationships, he wants people to affirm and/or follow his belief system.

Sally Brown is love-seeking, judicially aware, vulnerable, passionately principled, open about her regrets, takes ownership of her folly, and appears willing to learn. Sally Brown is a changed young woman, and will be no caricature of a smitten girl, overcoming early indicators.

Sally Brown is more than a patriarchy smasher. Sally demands more of love than cuteness, intelligence, or even sincerity. Sally wants to be heard.

The Peanuts #HappyHallowThanksmas Power Rankings for October 31, 2016:

1. Sally Brown (last ranking, #4; trending up)

Sally Brown wants empathy, Linus won't give it. She has the strength to turn her back and begin to claim her own identity.

2. Vince Guaraldi (last ranking, #2; trending even)

Mr. Guaraldi, you died too soon. Heartbreaking.

3. Charlie Brown (last ranking, NR; trending up)

The World War I lessons are overlooked; Charlie Brown delivers lessons without pretension. Can you imagine what these lessons would sound like if Linus or Lucy delivered them? Unbearable! 

4. Snoopy (last ranking, #1; trending down)

Still the class canine of animation. But when does he make mistakes? What is he hiding?

5. Schroeder (last ranking, NR; trending up)

A small part in this show, but shows his ability as an accompanist, helping Snoopy process his military experience.

Dropped from Rankings: Lucy Van Pelt (her cruelty and violence are difficult to overlook), Chalons Sur Marnes.

Also receiving votes: Pumpkin carols, Pont a Mousson, Lucy Van Pelt, Lucy's Mouth, Pigpen, low brick walls, The 20th Century, the gigantic red sun.

Post script: Power Rankings will continue periodically through Twelfth Night, January 5th, 2017. However, the next rankings will shift to #CharlieBrownThanksgiving in the #HappyHallowThanksmas Peanuts cycle. Consideration will be given to the first two shows in the holiday trilogy.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Could a Double Concussion be the Root of Linus Halloween Issues?

I've been tough on Linus Van Pelt the past few years. I used to enjoy his pontifications and curiosities, rising above his insecurities and attachment to his woobie. But his questionable theology invested in dichotomous squash and the word if, and his antiquated views of women have soured my thoughts about Linus. Upon closer examination, I wonder if some of his issues are concussion related. At the beginning of #GreatPumpkinCharlieBrown, Linus is caught up in the roll of a large pumpkin, and toward the end of the show, when Linus thinks he witnesses the ascent of The Great Pumpkin, he faints, hitting his head on the hard ground. Double concussion? Hmm.

Maybe Linus may get some consideration in future rankings.

The Peanuts HappyHallowThanksmas Power Rankings for October 26, 2016

1. Snoopy (last ranking, #1)

How did all those bullets fly by, and only his plane got hit?

2. Vince Guaraldi (last ranking, #2)

Ron Burgundy aspires to that level of jazz flute.

3. Sally Brown (last ranking, #4)

Smashing the Patriarchy, one holiday at time.

4. Lucy Van Pelt (last ranking, #3)

Bad: Eldest child control-freak. Good: In the end, compassionate to her brother when he's outside, freezing his tuchas off.

5. Chalons Sur Marnes (last ranking, NR)

Best color palette in #HappyHallowThanksmas

Also receiving votes: If, Souza marches, Tricks or Treats, Jazz Flute, poison dog germs, concussions.

Monday, October 10, 2016

#HappyHallowThanksmas Power Rankings (#GreatPumpkinCharlieBrown Season) October 10, 2016

Linus can't believe with his own eyes that he dropped out of the Power Rankings.
As a pastor, I like to think I have interesting theological things to say. Whether a sermon or tweet, I cherish knowing that I cause people to think. More often than not, the response to my theological pontifications...crickets. However, for about 3 months each year, my Twitter thoughts get more play than average by exegeting the Charlie Brown television cartoons from the annual Happy Hallowthanksmas onslaught. While tweeting along with the show is fun, mostly I enjoy the banter and insight with my soon to be 10-year-old daughter.

The brevity of tweets is valued during Charlie Brown season; the time has come for blog posts. I give you the #HappyHallowThanksmas Power Rankings (#GreatPumpkinCharlieBrown Season) for October 10, 2016.

1. Snoopy

His vulnerability in wake of his service in World War I is inspiring.

2. Vince Guaraldi

The soundtrack for this show marks the beginning of autumnal glory.

3. Lucy Van Pelt

While not the kind of person one would want as a friend, Lucy knows how to get things done. I guess it's lonely at the top.

4. Sally Brown

Demanding restitution. Prophetic.

5. Rocks

If you're a geologist, don't answer this question. When was the last time a rock made you laugh?

Dropping out of the rankings:

Linus Van Pelt

Sure, it is his belief system that provides the framework of the story (h/t Adam McHugh). many patriarchal assumptions in such a small window of time. 

Friday, May 27, 2016

How to Let People Know, "It's All About Us."

Churches in my tradition often post pictures of their church edifice on their website home page.

While it may communicate pride in the building, the congregation, or the church itself, what does it really communicate?

It's all about us.

One thing I've learned from watching HGTV and the shows that involve the sale of a home involves the staging process. The key to connecting with a potential buyer is giving every opportunity for that investor to imagine themselves in that space. Overly personal clutter takes away that imagination. Insider artifacts and language overpowers any story being told about the good things happening in the congregation.

When making public invitations to connect with a congregation, be aware of what you communicate. Using "us" as part of church language (or other first person plural language), or overly focusing on insider things prevents people from imagining themselves as part of the community. Church websites and social media are often like walking into a room where all of the people are telling each other inside jokes, and you have no idea what anyone is talking about.

Try telling stories about your community. Stories invite people to imagine the observer in that place. Don't tell people it's a welcoming and friendly church (lots of churches say that); let the stories speak for themselves.

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Is Faith Worth the Investment? On Neighbors and Relationships

A view of my church neighborhood.

Why am I still a Lutheran Christian?

I occasionally need to ask myself this question, because being a Lutheran Christian involves a lot of noise. I dealt with a similar topic 3 & 1/2 months ago. The Northern European ethos is tiresome. The self-congratulatory theology is tedious. The DNA of unreflective norm maintenance is maddening. 

What keeps me going is that there is something about Luther's teaching that a faithful life is formed by Jesus and neighbor in relationships. Martin Luther frequently used the term "neighbor." For Luther, neighbor is attached to numerous teachings about Jesus. This fascination with neighbor is not Luther's fabrication. The "Good Samaritan," an idea still employed in society today, is not merely about doing a good deed, but an exploration of the challenges of being a good neighbor. See Luke 10: 25-37. Luther wasn't always a great neighbor--but his understanding of the importance of the neighbor is foundational.

I appreciate the opportunity to partner with other Lutherans, but I'm much more interested in finding people and groups who are willing to work with me and the congregation I serve--for the benefit of the community. If that involves Lutherans, great. But not merely for the benefit of Lutherans. My partners and I may not have agreement on everything. What I want to know, can we work together for the benefit of the community? For the benefit of those who are seeking a renewed life? This past week I met with Pentecostals, Evangelicals, a middle school principal, a taekwondo teacher, and even a few Lutherans pondering how we could work together for the benefit of neighbors. It was exciting and scary, but I felt it was where I needed to be.

There is baggage associated with being a Lutheran, and being a Christian. There is also baggage working with me. But let's find a way to work together. As long as I have a space to do that work, let's get to it.

Monday, May 9, 2016

Ending Warm Body Thinking

I spent the past year being a warm body.

Being a warm body usually carries negative connotations, except for cold winter nights when my wife finds it challenging to stay functionally warm. Then I can be a snuggling assistant.

No volunteer organization wants to have leadership filled with warm bodies, but that is the running joke. There are committee and constitutional responsibilities, and it seems that any warm body will do. It's gravy if that warm body comes with some degree of competency and leadership skills.


I have some leadership skills and other competencies. I can run a meeting. I can take the long view. I want to help others. I am willing to make difficult decisions, be unpopular, and make challenging statements. But leadership skills and competencies mean little without relationships. Unlike certain people in the public eye, I cannot merely declare my love for a certain group of people, eat some version of their food, and call it good. That's not a relationship; that's turning people into commodities. No one wants to be a commodity.

In the past year I served as a president at a community swimming pool, and on a parent/teacher organization of a school. I had responded to requests to serve in leadership. In both situations, no one was willing to serve as president. But someone had to. My lack of experience in local leadership and minimal connections with neighbors did not seem to matter. There had to be a president!

Time investment is essential to build relationships, and after being a relative newbie in the city and neighborhood, the title of my position seemed to matter little. While serving as president in the two volunteer organizations, I felt paralyzed. I had no relational capital and little influence. One thing I have learned as a pastor is that people don't respond to calls to action without some degree of trust. Trust takes time to build. I have served my congregation for almost five years, and it is only in the past year or two that I have felt we can have some real traction to our actions. We are still getting to know each other, but there has been trust built over time. We are present for each other through difficult times, and share something sacramental in the midst of those difficulties, as our faith call us to do. My qualifications and credentials may be important, but the relationships create movement. I may take my experience and qualifications to other organizations; without the relationships, I am but a warm body. Could I have done more? Yes. Could the organizations have done more? Yes. But we go nowhere without building relationships. Some of our organizations may have to fail, or take a sabbatical, until those relationships can be built.