The pelican papers

A big bird’s eye view

Archive for March, 2010

Ruthie’s prayer, sermon reruns and dressing for church

Posted by Ron George on March 14, 2010

I’ve got a little collection of God-in-the-comics. I once thought I might make a doctoral project of them; fortunately, saner heads prevailed. Still, I’m always on the lookout, and even though I don’t collect them as relentlessly as I once did, every now and then something in the karma suggests I ought to pay more attention on given day. Saturday, March 13, 2010, was one of those days. There were no fewer than three God-in-the-comics on the same page of the Corpus Christi Caller-Times

Ruthie prays in “One Big Happy” by Rick Detorie

First on the page was Rick Detorie’s adorable Ruthie, the winsome, imaginative, irrepressible daughter of an Italian extended family that pulls together, day by day, under the title, “One Big Happy.” Ruthie is an artist who sells her work — “Good art by Ruthie” — for a dime a pop under a tree in the front yard. She plays school with stuffed animals, and she’s a little bossy, the upside of which is she’s no patsy for the bossy boys in her neighborhood, including her brother. Her charming conversations with the playground lady, the library lady and her remarkably patient grandfather remind me how children deliver wisdom packaged in innocent ignorance. The result is humor, which makes our daily lives all the more meaningful. How we cherish the insights of children, because it’s often so ironic that it simply must be true.

Ruthie’s prayer is disarmingly simple. She kneels beside her bed and talks to God as she would her grandfather; otherwise, there’s no spiritual discipline or method at work, no apparatus, no sacred books. Ruthie takes for granted that God is just another member of the family, as accessible as her grandfather. Ruthie loves God as she loves her family, even her pesky brother. She senses that her experience in life may resonate, somehow, with God’s view of humanity. She sighs, utterly spent in pouring out her heart, and then comes the punch-line: She doesn’t ask God to fix those who vex her; she suggests that God might help her understand them. Let’s work on this together, she says, you know what I mean. God’s unspoken answer: “Forgive them.”

Thanks, Ruthie. I needed to hear that. 

Candor on the chapel sign in “Beetle Bailey” by Mort Walker

Beetle Bailey and his pal Plato (the brainiac of Beetle’s company) have come across an unusual bit of candor – you may have heard some of this sermon before! Most sermons are reruns to some extent. Preaching week after week, perhaps more than once a week, is a blessing and a curse for preachers and listeners alike. The blessing is the good news of God in Christ Jesus; the curse is that the gospel loses its edge because we become accustomed to hearing it. Preachers wrack their brains week after week for years on end to find new packaging for the gospel. Most preachers fall short in finding fresh presentations for the old, old story of Jesus and his love. All preachers recycle old sermons, and sometimes they are also unaware that they’re doing it. The dear old chaplain at Fort Swampy has been at it long enough to be comfortable with admitting it. 

There’s more to this comic, though, than the chaplain’s candor. The chapel-sign message is, “Love thy neighbor.” Yeah, we’ve heard that before. Perhaps the cartoonist, Mort Walker, is suggesting that we need to hear it again and again because we don’t seem to get it. Maybe the dear old chaplain is really telling us, “I’ll stop talking this talk when you start walking this walk.” (I wonder how newspaper readers, especially veterans, would have reacted if the chapel sign had said, “Love your enemies.” Ouch! Sometimes, humor nips at your heels.)

Taking on churchy conventions in “Pluggers” by Gary Brookins

My guess is that most of us respond with sympathy to Gary Brookins’ “Pluggers” panel: Awwww, why not? He’s wearing a sport coat! Leave the guy alone! That’s how most of us respond, right? Right? Hmmm. Deafening silence followed by a few coughs. Not a good sign.

No one really knows how “most of us” respond to anything, but how one dresses for church is one’s own business. The subtext of this bit of classic domestic humor, however, is that the wife knows, perhaps from bitter experience, what nattering places most churches are, and that it’s likely she will be held accountable by parish gossips for her husband’s unseemly attire. None of which is fair either to the woman or her husband, but don’t we often chuckle at this sort of humor and then shake our heads in wonder, “Sadly, it’s so true” ? We are laughing at ourselves and our foibles, which is healthy humor. And who knows whether just a little bit of ironic levity might keep even a single tongue from wagging in the parking lot?

Let’s hope so.

Posted in Church, Comics, God, Religion, Theology | Tagged: , , , , , | 2 Comments »