Schulz, Charles - VM - Jim Mills
Charles Schulz: Charlie Brown’s Christmas
The Lasting Legacy of Charles Schulz
by Jim Mills
In 1950 a number of noteworthy cultural phenomenon surfaced in the pop-arts world. To mention a few: C.S. Lewis’ The Lion, Witch, and the Wardrobe was published; Cinderella, one of the best animated films to date hit the big screen; and the primary mass media tool, the radio, was replaced with the first affordable TVs for middle class income homes, including our home.
Also, an unknown young arts educator landed a contract for his comic strip L’il Folks in local newspapers across the USA. Due to a conflict with an earlier comic strip with a similar name, L’il Folks was renamed Peanuts. The artist was Charles Schulz. Since those early days Charlie Brown’s stories have delighted millions.
Here are some interesting trivia behind the work of Charles Schulz (1922-2000): First, his comic strip until today is the most popular syndicated strip with nearly 18,000 episodes in all, which makes it “arguably the longest story ever told by one human being” (Katherine Brooks). A second minutia is that Peanuts had a readership of 355 million in 75 different countries and was translated into 21 different languages. Thirdly, his cartoon feature was one of the very first to move from print to television in 1965, entitled, Charlie Brown’s Christmas. One final point, though not trivial: Schulz was an unwavering professing Christian!
His values and worldview were evident in his work throughout the years and almost cost him the renown that he enjoyed. The evidence of his faith became overtly obvious when his work was migrating to television with his Christmas special. Actually, there are a couple of reasons why his Charlie Brown’s Christmas almost did not air at all. The general thought amongst the producers was that once that it was presented “Charlie Brown would be ruined forever.” It is now clear that after the special aired and along with its subsequent translation into multiple languages, the opposite actually happened and the release of this unique little story expanded Schulz’s distinction exponentially.
A second and even more prominent reason it almost did not air was that Coca Cola, one of the primary sponsors, demanded that the reading of Scripture be omitted. Their reason was that this might be offensive to the millions of readers who did not embrace religion. But for Schulz the main purpose of the featured special was centered around articulating the “true meaning of Christmas.”
This is evidenced when at the high point of the story, a dejected and exasperated Charlie Brown cried out, “Isn’t there anyone who can tell me what Christmas is all about?” The unassuming character Linus stepped forward and announced, “I can tell you what Christmas is all about Charlie Brown.” Linus then walked to center stage, called for “lights” and recited by heart Luke 2:8-14 (to watch the video, click here).
Recently, a friend pointed out, “Did you notice the simple but genius thing that happens during Linus's speech? When he makes the quote, ‘Fear not!’ he drops his blanket.” In Schulz’s world it was considered unpopular to mention, much less focus on, the true meaning of Christmas. Schulz was adamant about keeping the reading even to the point of canceling the production. What a marvelous example of tenacity for all who aspire to practice their art to the glory of God. It is not about being explicit or implicit about the good news of the Gospel in our art really, rather it is about integrity. Schulz has given us a lasting legacy and an example for all who aspire to honor God through their artistry.
As artists of faith we declare along with Charles Schulz, “Jesus is the true reason for the season!” Let’s celebrate with renewed zeal the beauty of uncompromising integrity in our art.
Dr. Jim & Anne Mills oversee the network Creative Arts Europe, a European wide relational artists network committed to a vision for the arts for Europe informed by a Christian worldview and based on the Gospel. They serve as pastors for artists and are known for their music. www.creativeartseurope.com
This meditation was first published as TUNE IN 200. The TUNE INs are weekly spiritual reflections for artists, published by Crescendo.
ArtWay Visual Meditation Christmas 2017