My mind this week has spent some time at the house in Pooh Corner, for a couple of reasons. One is because of a recent news bulletin, and the other is the recent comment by our brother and friend Christo. On Sunday, he taught us the significance of TTFN: “Ta ta, for now.” Please bear with me. (Sorry, I couldn’t resist!)
Perhaps some of you have read the report in the news this past week of a town in Poland that was debating a name and mascot for a local park. The suggestion was put forth of Winnie the Pooh. That seems like a pretty good idea. After all, Pooh is a loveable and popular character, who displays kindly and honourable concern for others. But not everyone was in favour. In fact, the motion failed, because apparently there was concern that Pooh was not properly clothed and there was the added suggestion that Pooh Bear seems to be sexless, suggesting that he is a hermaphrodite. These concerns remind me of some misguided Christians that I have known over the years.
When we lived in Australia in the late 1980s, we were warned by some well-meaning yet wrongheaded church members to throw away our oldest daughter’s Cabbage Patch Doll. We were admonished that, when the dolls were assembled in the factory (in Cleveland, Georgia—and by the way, we’ve been there and have not suffered any detrimental consequences!), they were “hexed with demons.” Apparently it was a well-established fact that the doll’s primary creator, Xavier Roberts, was a crystal-obsessed New Age devotee. Therefore, the logical (?!) connection was that the dolls were evil.
When I politely rejected the advice, the appeal was made that at the least I should exorcise it. I think Allison did take it for a walk … sorry, that would be exercise. The point is, we refused to respond to sensational claims with a knee jerk and unbiblical response of casting demons out of an inanimate object—Christian media hype notwithstanding.
But back to the Polish problem with Pooh. I would caution against any book-burning crusade. Perhaps you might want to lengthen his red shirt, yet I seriously doubt your toddlers are in any danger of being psychologically scarred. Come on, it’s a make believe teddy bear! A stuffed toy bear who talks—now that, in fact, might be scary! I might want to sleep with lights on if I had such a toy in my room! After all, what if he leads a coup in the middle of the night along with the Incredible Hulk, Hello Kitty and Woody and the gang?
Sometimes, followers of Christ get caught up in the silliest distractions from building, maintaining and extending a biblically-informed, God-centred worldview. When this happens, we are in danger of not being taken seriously. I remember when the Smurfs were labelled as being homosexual and Christians were asked, around the world, to boycott Smurf cartoons, movies, figurines and toys.
Now, I am quite sure that the overall agenda of Hollywood is not remotely wholesome or holy. And it is for this reason that I no longer watch any of their sitcoms. The sexually perverse, secular, humanistic agenda is so obvious that I cannot justify setting such a wicked thing before my eyes. Yet we must be careful of the temptation to see a sinister plot behind everything that arises from those who are creative yet who are at the same time non-Christians.
There is a category defined by most theologians as “common grace.” Christians should recognise that God often causes creativity to rain on the just as well as on the unjust. For that reason, we should not be surprised that wonderfully wholesome fantastic characters can flow from the pens of unbelievers. Novels, children’s stories and even movies can provide wholesome and even instructive entertainment for Christians. Our duty is to be discerning. For instance, Wikipedia describes Pooh Bear as “a fictional anthropomorphic teddy bear created by A. A. Milne” in 1926. The word “anthropomorphic” means to attribute human characteristics to a non-human. Milne was a man artistically gifted by God (I have no idea whether or not he was a Christian) to capture the imagination of children. And so he used a bear, a tiger, a donkey and a piglet to teach children some realities about life—including friendship with all of it ups and downs. That is an example of common grace in fictional form. And, by the way, it seems that Milne had a vested interest in instructional fantasy. He had an only child whose name was Christopher Robin.
Such ability can be used for good or ill, but whether or not the gifted individual is a believer is, in one sense, irrelevant—at least when it comes to the ability to express truth. Even the evil Caiaphas proclaimed prophetic truth unwittingly (John 11:51).
The famously godly and gifted preacher, Charles Spurgeon, once said, “There is a sermon in every flower.” His point was that, since God is the Creator, everything points to Him—including the “creativity” of His creatures, including the creativity of even unbelieving artists.
Though this theme requires a full length book (perhaps books), my point is that we should search for connecting points between what artists are writing and producing (when appropriate of course) with biblical truth. In other words, we should not jump to the conclusion that a book, for instance, written by a non-Christian is necessarily taboo. For example, if A. A. Milne was not a believer, his imaginary characters may nevertheless be a means to point the Christian to truth. So when we hear Tigger sing that the “wonderful thing about Tiggers is that I’m the only one,” we might want to ponder that for a bit. We might want to consider the biblical truth that each of us is unique (though, except for those with wigs, I doubt that our “tops are made of rubber”). But we would also want to explain to our children that we are also all very much the same. We are sinners who need the Saviour. We might learn from Eeyore not to be so pessimistic. After all, life is tough, but in Christ we have every reason to lift our heads and see the glory that awaits us. Whatever the artistic genre, learn to make connections with the gospel. Listen to those flowers preach!
The other night, as we gathered as a church, I learned from A. A. Milne. I was amused and touched by Christo’s use of the acronym TTFN as he delivered his departing message. We were not really saying goodbye to the Beetges; rather, we were simply saying, “Ta ta for now.” Indeed, because of the gospel, this parting is only temporary. It is only for now, not forever.
Jesus Christ, by His person and work, enables us to see this life as both very real (eternal) and yet somewhat “fictional” (temporal) at the same time. That is, the world in which we live ultimately does not have true and lasting foundations. We, along with the patriarchs of old, are waiting for the full and final construction of the city which has foundations, whose Builder and Maker is God (Hebrews 11:8–16). And so, even though the Karoo separates us from our friends, at least for now, nevertheless we know that one day we will be reunited forever, never to say goodbye again. And even Eeyore could be happy about that!
So, if the fictional wardrobe of C. S. Lewis or the make-believe house in Milne’s Pooh Corner help us to imagine something of the happiness that ultimately awaits us, then let it. Christian, enjoy the honeypot of God’s Word and let your imagination soar. Until the next article, TTFN.