Before reading this, make sure you click the peanuts comic above to read it. This is a commentary on the above comic strip.
Although Charles Schulz is in the grave, I pray that he would forgive me if I have overstepped by bounds in discussing the theological ramifications of Lucy in the aforementioned comic strip. Charlie brown-reminiscent of my own humanity-is attempting to fly a kite. Richard Beck has done an excellent job of showing the deep symbolism of Charlie Brown, and I will not go further here. We have all flown our kites unsuccessfully. We have all felt the whirlwind of finances catching up with us. We have all, on some level, been so busy that we did not believe we could possibly finish everything on our plate. We have all, hopefully not too often, failed at something. Moses, a failed Egyptian, could not keep his political status. Saul, a failed king, was not obedient to what he believed to be the excessive command of God. Paul, a failed Jew, had left everything he had-often despised now by his own race whom he considered brothers.
The scripture is always dealing with, on some level, someone who cannot quite read the winds right, someone who tangles up their kite, someone who is not unlike Charlie Brown. The scripture deals with a Moses who refuses to believe he can be used-staff in hand-as a powerful instrument of God. The scripture deals with a Saul who did not believe in a God that could possibly want him to slaughter thousands of innocent calves and sheep. The scripture deals with another Saul (later Paul) who gives credence to the very things God abhors-the killing of his saints.
But, when one reads the comic strip carefully, one realizes that Charlie Brown is not the problem. God can make a Moses speak with power from on high. God can send a Samuel to rebuke Saul for his disobedience. God can blind a Paul to slow him down long enough to listen, but what can God do when his church-represented by Lucy-speak out small truths that make the God of this universe out to be a self-help booklet? What can the God of the universe do when the very people who are supposed to be speaking for him are singing beautiful half-truths in his name?
What is it that Lucy says? Rather than teaching Charlie Brown how to properly fly a kite-about wind-speeds, kite theory, proper environment (so that Charlie Brown does not, as he usually does, get it stuck in a tree), and teamwork-Lucy says he must believe that he has the ability to fly the kite. What is it that the church says? Rather than teaching followers of Christ how properly and incarnationally be the church-learning about the deep roots that make up the currents of the church, theology, how to live properly in the world (so that we do not, as often happens, end up in the same ruts and routines that lead nowhere), and community-the church says we must believe in our innate ability to be the church. As a result, we have people who strongly, passionately, and zealously believe in the church, but have no tools to better read the winds. We don’t make better kite-makers. The church sees their only function as pointing out the kite is broken-the rest is up to the person to work out with God.
Jesus often spoke to the Pharisees-whom we have to take seriously as the most ardently religious Jews of their day-saying that they “load people down with burdens they can hardly carry, and you yourselves will not lift one finger to help them” (Luke 11:46). Notice in the comic how Lucy helps Charlie Brown to get to a good place, and then turns around and begins pushing him down again. The church in America brings people to a point where they are “saved,” and then turns right back again to tell them they are not good enough. It is as if some churches have no theology after the four spiritual laws.
But is not transformation-where Lucy comes alongside Charlie Brown to help him rebuild his kite and fly his kite-the Church that Jesus Christ calls us to? Isn’t anything less a mere hypocrisy and contradiction of terms? Didn’t Jesus come to do more than tell us our kite is broken?
How do we move beyond “broken kite theology?”
Western Christians are often guilty of western contextualization of the Bible-making it logical, straightforward, de-mystified, and full of theological propositions. Would it not be better, instead of reading scripture in short snippets, to read full books receiving the full theological and eschatological vision of the authors? For instance, one of the most famous “broken kite” passages is that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). The focal point of the passage, however, is that “a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made known to which the Law and the Prophets testify. This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus” (Romans 3:21-24).
The vocal point-the point of contention and focus for any Jew-would have been when Paul suggested that he has found “a righteousness from God, apart from the law” (Rom 3:21). God had given a very particular hesed (covenant love/faithfulness) to a very particular people. What Paul said was-at the least-scandalous, and-at the most-heretical to any Jew. This was the one-two punch that Paul intended to lay out for the audience in Rome. Up to this point, Paul had been breaking down systems uniformly-both for the Jew and the Gentile. The Gentiles could not trust in their state sponsored religion of empire, but the Jews could no longer keep the Gentiles-the unclean oppressors who would not allow freedom to Israel-out of the Jewish faith (Paul calls them “ingrafted” branches). Paul was calling for solidarity between the Jews and Gentiles.
If we have all been saved-asks Paul-by the atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ, “where, then, is there boasting?” There is none because “we believe that a man is justified by faith apart from observing the law” (Romans 3:28). Again, Paul is pushing his way out of Orthodox Judaism (although later in the book he will lament such a push) towards promotion of Gentile Christianity. One can only imagine the great languish in his heart to probably lose many of his friends for the cause of Christ. All of a sudden, the book becomes all too human, but the divine shines through because Paul’s heart bleeds that all people should come together under the commonality Christ-with whom we have died, resurrected, and now live in community, through the spirit, with the triune God. There should be no dividing walls any longer. The scandal of the “broken kite” is that Jesus hasn’t just fixed the kite of the Christian, but he is willing to fix the kites of our enemies, the unclean, the dirty, and the prostitute. In other words, God is willing to fix the kite of those may have murdered our children. He is willing to fix the kites of those some would never think of touching. Moving beyond a simply “broken kite” theology means taking on a mind of Christ that is willing to touch anyone-no matter how dirty or how different.
How do we teach people to make better kites?
Surely the comic would have ended differently if Lucy would have sat down and helped Charlie Brown make a better kite. Surely the problem would have been solved if the other peanuts characters-Linus, Rerun, Sally, and Shroeder-all came out to cheer on Charlie Brown’s efforts and make sure the task were accomplished. Perhaps the church would be different if, rather than simply talking about kites, the church came alongside lay people to help build better families, better homeless shelters, better communities, and better churches. Perhaps if the church came together-laypeople, pastors, worship leaders, and elders-to cheer on the individuals within the church and make sure the task of being the church is accomplished.
But how does a church do this? Perhaps the best way to be the church is not written in books, outlines in seven-step plans, or found in mission statements. Perhaps the church is found in feasting as a community-as is the practice of the triune God. When communities of people come together-simply helping one another-to bear one another’s burdens, then we will see “the full measure” of Jesus’ joy within us (John 17:13). Jesus’ prayer is that we “all may be one” in the same manner that Jesus and the Father are one (John 17:23). There is no great idea-only a great person-to hold the disciples together. As such, the call of a Christian is to a great community of people-not primarily a community of ideas. Ideas divorced from relationship are nothing at all.
Talk of justice with no help to the immigrants in my own California is no justice at all. Talk of community while the single man or woman in our church goes to eat alone is no community at all. Talk of love without simple acts of kindness to our children, our friends, our wives or husbands, is no love at all. To talk of anything divorced from action is “death faith” (read the book of James). In the words of the mystic Adrienne von Speyr:
“One cannot prepare oneself properly for the confession without a living relationship to the Holy Scriptures, inasmuch as they contain the life of the Lord or interpret his intentions…He remains to the Father; his whole existence is love for the Father, prayer to the Father, service of the Father. In his light we immediately see how things stand with our own existence, our own prayer, our own service, what we have not done correctly and what we have missed.”