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In the interest of full disclosure, I should start by telling you that I have a complicated relationship with the “Peanuts” Comic Strip. I tend to cringe, resist, and pull back from all things related to Snoopy and Co. You see, back in high school, I played the role of Charlie Brown in a student directed musical. Maybe it was my blonde hair (or my inability to kick a football), but during that semester classmate after classmate after classmate (even complete strangers!) would approach me to comment that I was “perfect for the part of Charlie Brown.”
This was tough to hear because, well, Charlie Brown is kind of a loser. So, I intentionally kept my distance from Charles Schulz’ creation. But lately I’ve been drawn back again to the world of “Peanuts.” This time around I’ve found myself identifying with a very different character – Pigpen. You know who I’m talking about, right? Pigpen is that extremely dirty child who’s known for living in a perpetual cloud of dust.
As a way of engaging my spiritual imagination over the past five or six years it has been useful to consider my life through the lens of a spiritual avatar. This may sound a little strange but it has been a very good practice for helping my heart, mind, and body tune in to what God is up to in my environment. As I go about my day, I try to imagine what is happening around me and how am I interacting with it on both a physical and spiritual level. Lately, for example, I’ve experimented with picturing myself as Pigpen with a cloud of dust and dirt around me as I go through my normal activities. I’m trying to live life through the lens of a “Pigpen spirituality.”
Let’s pause there for a second and talk about Jesus’ ministry.
Jesus’ favorite conversation topic (by far) was the Kingdom of God. It was His “unified theory of everything.” He invited people to leave behind the kingdom of Sin, Death, and Satan and find everlasting life by entering God’s kingdom – a kingdom of Light, Love, and Liberty. And Jesus didn’t just talk about it. He practiced what He preached and lived out His message in the way that He treated people, too. It’s like Jesus lived in a bubble of the Kingdom of God. It wasn’t a protective bubble that kept Him hermetically sealed from the rest of the world, no, it was an infectious bubble and as He was present in the world and interacted with people, they began to “catch it” and live in a better way too.
In the culture and climate of His day, holiness was defined by radical separation from what was “unclean.” Jesus’ ministry was scandalous to the religious establishment, it rubbed them the wrong way because He was not afraid to mix it up with sinners. He wasn’t afraid that their “dirtiness” would rub off on him. He wanted to rub shoulders with the masses and bring them into contact with God’s kingdom – that was His strategy for bringing Heaven to Earth. (Check out the Bible Project’s Video to see this visualized in a really cool way – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Zy2AQlK6C5k)
God has never been afraid of dirt – He created it and does some of His best, most creative work with it. He formed humans out of the dirt and dust (Gen. 2:7) and when we fail He is gracious in remembering that we are made from dust (Psalm 103:13-14). In Jesus’ famous parable (Luke 15), the Prodigal Son awakens to his condition by means of a “pigpen spirituality” and that experience leads him to come back to a father who gladly kicks up a cloud of dust around him as he runs down the road to embrace his child, dirt and all.
Followers of Jesus are members of the kingdom of God. We have accepted invitations into His kingdom and wherever we go, we bring the kingdom of God with us (like salt, and light, and leaven). Whatever we encounter, we’re surrounded by the Kingdom of God. It is all around us. We get to be like Pigpen, living in a cloud of dirt, disrupting the supposedly sterilized kingdom of darkness with the light of God’s kingdom. To some this looks too different and smells too strange, but to others it is a welcome change from the ways of the world (2 Cor. 2:15-16). I’m trying to see my life as caught up in God’s holy dust and dirt, running with Him down the road to embrace other prodigal sons and daughters, enveloped in the cloud of His kingdom and letting that touch everything around me.
I want my children to imagine and embrace a “pigpen spirituality.” My prayer for them is that they will develop a way of seeing and engaging the world as agents of God’s dirty, dusty, kingdom-injecting life and disrupting death and despair in the world around them. May they – like Pigpen – be primarily known for the cloud that envelops them. May they be unashamedly surrounded and encircled by God’s good Kingdom.