Sunday, April 24, 2011

Cartoon Christianity

Now that I spend some of my Sunday mornings reading the comic strips, I've come to discover that what I am seeing on the color-filled pages is similar to what has become of the institutional church's weekly show: It has been reduced to over-simplification and designed to sell.

The artful nature of a quality comic strip has had by necessity and demand to disappear. Artists like Bill Watterson ("Calvin and Hobbes") have left the industry because of the contraints that the newspaper industry placed on his artistic expression. He had to fit his drawings into well-defined boxes so that the newspaper could package its product for a highly competitive market. No longer was a comic strip appreciated for its artistic drawings combined with witty dialogue; it was reduced to unimaginative drawings that lack both variety and creativity in hopes that no one would notice. And they don't.

The consumer (de)volved along with the newspapers to the point that the readers no longer realize what they are missing. Cartoonists were quick to give the newspaper what the consumer wanted because they needed a job. If Bill Watterson wanted to take his convictions (and incredible talent) and leave, there would be someone else who was more than eager to take his place (without questioning his reasons, apparently) and offer what the market called for: A set number of well-defined boxes with essentially the same "picture" in each with bubble-filled dialogue that may or may not be funny.

Does anyone else notice the pictures anymore? And wasn't it the pictures that create the comic strip appeal in the first place? The dialogue used to be secondary to the attractive and colorful quality of the cartoon.

The institutional church "show" is no longer driven by "art" (read: sound ecclesiology and theology) but by the cultural market. The job of institutional church leadership has (de)volved from well-intended and God-directed ministry of God's transcendent culture (read: "Kingdom") to a weekly demand to put butts in the seats. Slick presentations, creative media-driven messages, and rock-concert-like music define the consumer-oriented ingredients to complete today's church-service recipe. And yet, with all of this in place, there is no assurance that the consumer will be either satisfied or willing to read the same "comic strip" next week.

I identify with Bill Watterson. My calling from God should not be forced into a square box of an industry's making. Like Jesus, I hope to represent the culture of God and to do so, I no longer depend on the income of the profession for which I was trained and in which I served for 25 years. I will no prostitute God's gifts for filthy lucre.

I thank God (and Bill Watterson) for allowing me the grace to evaluate who I am and what I do for God's glory. Sadly, I don't see enough of my professional peers doing the same thing. Even more grieving is the apparent fact that the weekly pew-sitting consumer doesn't recognize the difference.

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