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Wednesday, October 21, 2020

We Love the Great Pumpkin: On Liturgy and Scarcity

I am a huge fan of Halloween.[i]  Often, over the past decade plus, I have planned and participated in an event named HallowedWorship, which is exactly what it sounds like.

Interestingly, the last thing that happens at HallowedWorship is the showing of “It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown.”  It happens after music and Scripture and preaching and Eucharist… after candy and games and Halloween stories.  It happens after everyone who has prepared for and worked the event is exhausted.  It happens with kids on a sugar high.  And to be honest, there have been some years when my family has been the last one standing (or sitting, or falling asleep on a Sunday School room floor somewhere), as it plays to a chorus of people leaving the room questioning whether or not it is really necessary.  We’re all tired.  We’ve seen this film before.

And so, there is a certain degree of irony to the fact that the whole Halloween celebrating world is up in arms about “It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown” ceasing to air on broadcast television after fifty-four years of consistency.  I’m seeing some concern over the injustice of this.  After all, not everyone has Apple TV+.  I don’t.  And actually, I want to freely admit that there were some years when I didn’t have access to broadcast TV, either, so I legitimately understand the frustration that comes with being left out of culturally significant moments in time which can only be experienced together through technology one does not possess.  I’m not making light of this.  In fact, quite the opposite.  Although, my lament of The Great Pumpkin runs more toward a sadness that we cannot gather around my aging DVD copy to share the story with anyone who cares to watch in community, whether or not they have another way to do so. 

But I’m slightly taken aback by the idea that people who regularly slipped away before the show might be the same ones who are crying out against its disappearance.  Slightly.  Ever so slightly.  OK, maybe not even that much.  It seems odd, but maybe it’s not.

People like rhythm and ritual, and even if they do not physically participate on a regular basis, they also want to know the option is available to them.  As humans, we order our lives around crisis moments and the regular patterns that happen in-between.  Perhaps more than any other year in modern history (or, at least, personal history), 2020 has robbed us of this sense of normalcy.  And “normal” is a word that is cropping up more and more, especially in the context of “a new normal.”  We have been resilient… or so we think.  We have made sacrifices and reframed our contexts for work and school and justice and politics and worship and family life.  We have quite literally framed ourselves in little boxes in order to continue to communicate with whatever invented version of body language and expression we can muster.  But the loss of The Great Pumpkin?  I mean, come on…  enough is enough!  Am I right?

Be kind to yourself.  This is not such an outlandish claim or feeling to have.  It’s fairly common for people who are in the midst of crisis to reach for the small, consistent pieces of their lives in order to cope with the things they cannot control.  Those who are suffering trauma might ground themselves with a blade of grass or a handful of sand.  When your house is burning down around you, the most devastating immediate losses and subsequent requests can seem strange and inconsequential.  But we thrive on embracing the ordinary when the world seems to be spinning off its axis.  It’s why we need to be able to sit with Linus in the pumpkin patch, this year, wrapped in his familiar blue blanket, even though we know The Great Pumpkin isn’t coming.  It’s why we need to hear Charlie Brown say, “I got a rock.”  This is quite literally a touchstone!

I knew it was serious when I did a quick search for "It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown" on DVD today.  If you read that last line and were inspired to give it a shot, maybe don’t.  Just like there was a run on toilet paper and Lysol wipes, you will find the “shelves” empty.  I don’t really know how to fix this in the time of Covid-19.  Were it a more normal time in history, I’d probably just invite y’all over for popcorn and a movie.  Then again, we’ve been there.  If it were a more normal time in history, you might decline. 

Rather than being some sort of definitive treatise on the benefits and detriments of a Peanuts liturgy[ii], this is intended to create some space for the consideration of why this loss (and so many others) is significant… to you… to community… to the calendar… to the culture.  Allow it to sink in.  Tread softly. 


[i] No one gasps (see: girl who is most comfortable with lament, preaching funerals, Ash Wednesday, and All Saints Day). 

[ii] That sounds like a great piece for another time.