“You’re a Blockhead!” Charlie Brown as a Countercultural Example of Virtue
For those who know me, I am a fan of Charlie Brown. Growing up I watched Charlie Brown and the rest of the gang play baseball and solve life’s problems. Each Christmas, as a family tradition, I get a Peanuts ornament to hang on the tree. I have countless Snoopy coffee mugs and a few Peanuts trinkets in my office. One of my favorite expressions is, “Good Grief.” Needless to say I’ve always like Charlie Brown.
Recently I introduced my two year old to Charlie Brown through The Peanuts Movie (in her words, watching Snoopy). Over the past several days I’ve watched the movie with my daughter a number of times (Of course I really don’t mind). I don’t think I have to say it but I enjoyed it. The plot of the movie is simple: Charlie Brown is trying to win the favor of the Little Red-Haired Girl. Whether it was writing a book report over War and Peace or attempting to win the dance competition, Charlie Brown wasn’t able to prove himself to her the way he thought he should. Over and over he failed to fly his kite. Adding insult to injury he realized he wasn’t the one who had the highest score on the test. But in a strange turn of events at the end of the movie the Little Red-Haired Girl chose to be Charlie Brown’s pen pal over the summer. Charlie wanted to know why.
“Before you leave, there’s something I really need to know. Why, out of all the kids in our class, would you want to be partners with me? – Charlie Brown
That’s easy. It’s because I’ve seen the type of person you are. – Little Red-Haired Girl
An insecure, wishy-washy failure? – Charlie Brown
That’s not who you are at all. I like the compassion you showed for your sister at the talent show. The honesty you had at the assembly. And at the dance, you were brave yet funny. And what you did for me, doing the book report while I was away, was so sweet of you. So when I look at you, I don’t see a failure at all. You have all the qualities I admire.” – Little Red-Haired Girl
Charlie Brown is a failure in the eyes of his friends. He is a blockhead. He seeks help from his psychiatrist Lucy. He crashes his kite. He can’t kick the football. He just can’t seem to get anything right. His own dog has more talent! But the Little Red-Haired Girl demonstrates the point that actually matters: what matters most in life is not talent or performance. It is character. He is compassionate. He is honest. He is brave. He seeks to serve without any accolades. He desires to be a good friend. He thinks of himself second. Charlie Brown is a countercultural example of virtue.
This example is contrary to what our culture teaches us. We have leaders who parade their accomplishments in front of our eyes. In order to be successful in this life one must use brute force and sheer will power. Character and virtue doesn’t matter because compassion and integrity is viewed as weakness. I think this is because our culture is more concerned about results and performance. The end result is the only thing that matters. The end justifies the means, just as long as the end is achieved. In this light, of course Charlie Brown is a blockhead.
However, from a Christian worldview we should see Charlie Brown not as failure but as one who stands against the culture. He lives with virtue. In reality – you and I as Christians – are like Charlie Brown. We should value character over performance. Yes performance (doing) is important. But according to Scripture “doing” is not as important as character. The Bible is clear that congregations chose their leaders based upon their godly character and then gifting (1 Timothy 3:1-13). We are called to emulate godly character (Matthew 5-7 and Ephesians 4:20-32). Needless to say, our performance cannot save us. Only the person and work of Christ can! We don’t give our lives to Christ. We get Christ’s life (Colossians 3:4). As Christians we must be concerned about character. Contrary to our culture – principles, convictions, character, and integrity actually matters in this life and the life to come. But character and virtue takes practice. It doesn’t come natural. N.T. Wright states,
Virtue is what happens when someone has made a thousand small choices requiring effort and concentration to do something which is good and right, but which doesn’t come naturally. And then, on the thousand and first time, when it really matters, they find that they do what’s required automatically. Virtue is what happens when wise and courageous choices become second nature.”
This is Christian virtue. We take small steps to grow and develop godly virtue. In other words as the Spirit works in us the Fruit of the Spirit of Galatians 5:22-23, we live contrary to the culture. As the Spirit works in us, we cultivate virtue. The question posed by the Psalmist is true, “How can a young man keep his way pure?” And so his answer is equally true. “By keeping Your Word.” How can we live with virtue in this life? By aligning ourselves with God’s Way of life. This creates in us godly virtue.
The fact of the matter is Charlie Brown may not have the credentials to be a CEO at a major company but he does have the character to be a godly deacon at a local church. I would gladly nominate him for that responsibility. Because what matters in life is not whether one can kick a football. Anyone can do that. What actually matters is how one kicks a football. This is what Charlie Brown teaches us about Christian virtue. Of course what you do is important. On this side of eternity, what is more important is how you do it.
In the end, virtue and character matter. Charlie Brown may not be a blockhead after all.