How many of you remember these two characters from comic strips of the last century? One is Pigpen from Charles Shultz’s Peanuts strip, and the other is Joe Btfsplk from Al Capp’s Li’l Abner.
Pigpen was the kid who was always filthy. A swirl of dirt surrounded him everywhere he went. In fact, he was proud that he carried “the dust of ancient civilizations” with him. Interesting concept, isn’t it? Occasionally, he tried to clean up, but it didn’t take long before he was right back in the same soiled condition. He called himself a dirt magnet.
But Joe, with the unpronounceable last name, had the opposite effect. Capp illustrated him with a perpetual little black cloud over his head. Everywhere he went, disaster followed. In other words, he was a jinx, but he didn’t seem to be affected by the results that his presence had on everyone else.
The theological implications of both of these characters are manifold. We could have a great discussion about them. But briefly let me sum up their problems.
Pigpen can’t seem to shake the “sin that so easily besets us,” so he walks around in defeat. His dirt affected others in some ways, because they didn’t like getting his dirt on them. But he seemed unaware that it mostly affected himself.
1 Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, 2 looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. –Hebrews 11: 1-2
And Joe may not feel the consequences of his actions (yet), but he leaves behind a wake of negative influence. It is uncertain how much is within his control and how much of the problem is beyond his control. But one thing for sure is that he doesn’t walk in the power and fruit of the Holy Spirit. (Galatians 5:16-25)
I love the insight of Reinhold Niebuhr’s Serenity Prayer. “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.” First of all, change begins with me approaching the Father. Anything in my life that causes me to need an extra dose of serenity must come through acts of prayer: adoration, confession, thanksgiving, and supplication.
In the quiet of communion with God’s presence, He may give peace about things that aren’t going to change. At least it calms the chaos inside me. But He may give marching orders for things I need to do in response to whatever is concerning me. Often that change must begin with me in repentance and willingness to accept His will.
But my mindset, my emotions, and my actions have the power to influence other people and to effect change in my environment for either positive or negative outcomes.
That’s where Pigpen and Joe Btfsplk come in. I can be my own worst enemy if I don’t let go of those attachments that have become comfortable. Through self-examination, I can feel the pinch of the Spirit’s conviction that my own decisions and behaviors have affected other people. I doubt if Joe ever went back to apologize or make amends, but I might need to do that. Change begins with me.