Rethinking the Kind of Person God Uses and the Kind of Work God Blesses (1/3)

What is the kind of person God uses? Are they tall, short, skinny, not-skinny, female, male, Asian, Caucasian, African American, Latino, Italiano, are they southern, northern, educated, non-educated, blue collar, white collar, no collar?

While we all will say God can use anybody, I think we typically have a mental picture of the sort of person God uses — and sadly, for a lot of us — that mental picture doesn’t look a lot like us. Why is that?

Forgive me for using a pop culture reference from my youth, but I remember watching an episode of the Simpsons when I was a teenager that illustrates this point. Bear with me. The Simpsons was a silly, if not sacrilegious, animated series (that I believe is still going) about the cartoon family of Homer, Marge, the real star of the show Bart, and his sisters Lisa and one that is a baby who never grows up named Maggie.

The Simpsons lived next to a family called the Flanders. The Flanders were portrayed as conservative nerds. The dad’s name was Ned, who, apparently throughout the series, becomes more and more of a stereotype. Wikipedia describes him as the show’s “evangelical Christian.” Some academics use the example of Ned to describe how a character can be reduced to their most exaggerated feature. They call it “Flanderization.”

For Ned, that quality could be one thing: religion. The episode that makes the point I’m trying to make is one where the Flanders want to evangelize their neighbors, the Simpsons. Their methods for reaching them is to stalk them night and day and sing “God told Noah to build an arky arky” song every chance they get. They show up at their front door, at Homer’s work, they pull up next to them on the interstate and get them to roll their window down, and each time they pick up where they left off, “there’s gonna be a floody-floody” they sing once – and then another time “build that arky arky out of gopher barky-barky”.

When given the chance, they belt out the chorus, “So rise and shine and give God the glory – glory!”

In the grand scheme of things, a lot of us would see ourselves more on the Simpson side of the picket fence than on the Flanders. And after all, God is looking for Neds not Homers, we might tell ourselves. And that Bart kid, funny as he might be, isn’t a prime candidate for God’s purposes, is he?

The creator of the Simpsons is a man named Matthew Groening. He grew up in Portland, Oregon, with his parents Homer and Marge and his little sisters Lisa and Maggie. While he named everyone else in the cartoon after his own family, he didn’t do that for himself. Bart – the character who would fill his spot in the family – has a name that is a rearrangement of the letters making up the word “brat.”

I’m not sure how devoted his family was to religion, but I know they were from a Mennonite background. The Mennonites are a very conservative Christian movement often compared to the Amish – though different in many ways mainly in terms of practice. It’s clear Matthew, the creator of the Simpsons, has long been on a trajectory away from his upbringing. You can see that just in terms of his first success in comics which was a series he named “Life in Hell.”

We all spend some time running away from things, don’t we? Nowadays, regarding religion, Matthew describes himself as an agnostic.

What if things could be different? What if Bart, the brat, or more seriously, Matthew, the creator, could envision themselves in God’s purposes? Maybe Bart didn’t need to dress or look like the Flanders kids in order to be a part of God’s kingdom? Maybe Matthew could use all that talent to point people towards God instead of away from him? The next two posts in this series will offer a simple challenge, that we need a transformation in our perception of the kind of person God uses and the kind of work God blesses.