Monday, May 08, 2006

Why Fred Flintstone Can't Sing

Here's one from the archives. From the Easter 1996 issue of Gottesdienst. Brings back memories . . .

A week at "Lutheran" camp is enough for me, thank you. But I must say, the weather was grand, the beach was clean and sandy, the sailing was superb, fishing was relaxing, the kids and their parents (my wife and I) had a splendid vacation a couple of summers ago.

Add to this the fairness of the cost, and one wonders how I could even think of complaining. An all-expenses-paid week at camp in ex­change for being the Pastor of the Week there, which includes various and sundry clerical duties, amounts to a rather fair ex­change, all in all.

But there was nothing I could do about Fred Flintstone.

The camp has this custom of doing little camp songs, as is common, I suppose, in "Christian" camps who have come to be known for such pap as Noah and his arky arky. But it gets to be a bit much to hear what they've done to table prayers here. Never mind what wonders a week of constant exposure to Luther's table prayers and such could have done for these malleable little minds; the expectations here are geared to the taking of familiar tunes from television and the big screen, and making of them prayers. Like, for instance, singing grace to the tune of The Flintstones theme song. Instead of "Flintstones; meet the Flintstones; they're the modern stone age family" we're supposed to sing, by the same tune, "Praise God; O Praise God; And we thank him for our food" and then bang our hands on the table; thence continuing with similar words in place of "From the town of Bedrock, etc." At the close of this "prayer" the campers shout (what else?): "Yabba dabba doo!"

Similar adaptations were made to the theme song from The Addams Family (didididum *click click* didididum *click click* didididum didididum didididum *click click* . . .), the Kentucky Fried Chicken ad ("It's so nice, nice to feel so good about a meal, so good about our Father's many blessings"), and several others.

Now what's so bad about that? Just a little fun, right?

My trouble was that I couldn't help but think, during the Flintstone thing, about a big bronto-burger hanging out the window of my car, and that silly little polka-dot getup that Fred always wore more religiously than I wear a round collar. Or worse, that the kids here might start actually behaving like Junior Addams. And my old fuddy-duddy backwards thinking mind kept asking me, "Is this prayer?"

The answer is clear, of course, which is why I chose, like an old stick-in-the mud, to refrain from singing along. Perhaps no one noticed, but then again, perhaps it would have been good if they had; if they had seen that the pastor here doesn't pray like this.

But why not?

The greater question is, I have come to realize, why they do seem to insist on praying like this. The answer, I have also come to believe, is a rather unsettling one.
Christian freedom, they would undoubtedly affirm.

We, they would likely add, are free in Christ; free from the law and its constraints. Therefore when the law tells us that we must behave a certain way, we demonstrate our freedom from it by behaving in a way that is inimical to that way. See, we are free! such behavior would seem to say. And look what fun it is to pray this new way: we can bang on the table, sing fun little ditties, and have a ball, all the while saying that this is our version of praise to Jesus.

It all sounds increasingly familiar in our midst, in varying degrees and called by various names.
It is unsettling because it is frankly not Christian freedom at all. I was troubled not only by the preponderance of focus on the law and commandants in the little songs, as always happens with fundamentalist guitar songs, but also by the rather clearly evident indications that these people were not really praying here at all; they were just having fun. Thus freedom is freedom from prayer, freedom from the Word, freedom from Christ. Such freedom is not Christian.

But someone may say this assessment is unfair; perhaps there were some who were earnest about their thanks and praise in such an unlikely format. If so, what does this say of the God to whom they are praying? What are the not-so-subliminal implications here? That God is no deeper than Fred and Barney; that Christianity is finger lickin' good and nothing more. There is an element here which is seriously malevolent to the Christian faith. It is the spirit of antichrist, says the apostle John, which denies that Christ is come in the flesh. The flesh alone, as we all know, is complicated. The incarnation is beyond comprehension. That the infant Child feeds the ravens when they cry calls for no other response than the bending of the knee, as the magi did. If at the name of Jesus every knee shall bow, who are we to substitute the snapping of every finger? Or were the magi fuddy-duddies too?

The bottom line here is that Fred Flintstone cannot sing the praises of God; he was not created in God's image. He is a cartoon character, created to entertain. And we, who have all seen his two feet peddle his coupe across our screen, were not created to be entertained. Being entertained is, to be sure, part of what we affirm as Christian liberty; but Christian liberty springs forth from the Gospel and its liturgy, which are from God. Let Christian liberty invade this territory and it will finally be lost.


Lawrence said...

...but also by the rather clearly evident indications that these people were not really praying here at all; they were just having fun. Thus freedom is freedom from prayer, freedom from the Word, freedom from Christ. Such freedom is not Christian.

... a recurring theme, almost a common theme, lately in the confessional Lutheran blogosphere. Especially from Pastors.

Maybe some one is trying to send a message...

Pastor Beisel said...

Fr. Eckardt,

Perhaps you have heard, but many changes have been made at Camp Io-Dis-E-Ca (Iowa East Camp). A letter disavowing these changes was sent out to all IA East congregations by a disgruntled camp counselor. What were the changes? Among them were the following: no more fun meal time prayers--now, they have to say prayers from the Psalms (Luther's prayers for giving a blessing and returning thanks). No more "hour with my bible" in the morning. It's Matins (simplified, of course). Many of the songs have been banned. Sounds good to me.

The idea being: worship should be worship, fun should be fun, and Bible Study should be Bible Study. Don't mix them!

Captain Catechism said...

Very insightful, thank you. So, when you (as the called and ordained guy) mentioned this heterodox behavior to the camp uppity ups, what did they say? How could they possibly justify this to you (let alone God)?


Father Eckardt said...

This was some time ago, remember. But I do remember registering my complaints, and they politely listened. Some were genuinely concerned, others wrote it off as hardnosed. I did manage to have matins for them in a more dignified setting, introduced private confession, and had a number of campers respond favorably to what I offered. They actually wanted and appreciated some real Christianity. Imagine that.

Father Hollywood said...

Isn't it interesting to see the difference between what the kids themselves crave vs. what some parents, teachers, and "professional church workers" think the kids want and need?

Thanks for reprinting this insightful article.

Captain Catechism said...

When I would work as a camp counselor for confirmands, we taught that this camp was NOT a reward for FINISHING confirmation, rather it was a chance to reflect on BEGINNING your life as a young, adult Christian.
Yes we did fun, outdoor activities...
Yes we played vollyball and paddled canoes...
But the focus at Camp Lutherwood was "I am a maturing Christian... what does this mean?"
What a bummer to hear how that camp treated so many things that are dear to the Christian.
I believe that people tend to try and "dumb down" things they don't understand. The only thing that breeds faster than rabbits is ignorance.


Pastor Beisel said...

Captain Catechism,

The sad thing is, this is not an isolated incident. This is S.O.P. at just about every camp I've ever heard of. My experience was with Camp Texoma. Back then (high school) I was all eager to learn how to play the guitar "camp" songs, many of which later I realized contained false doctrine. Here's an example of one of my *favorites*, "I am the Resurrection." One of the verses goes like this: It is love that makes the Spirit grow...

Captain Catechism said...

Pastor Beisel,

Wow. Maybe being out in the wilds of the Northwest, we are either hit or miss. There really isn't a Lutheran (or any type of Christian) culture there.
It seems that the Baptists have a pretty strong influence on the Lutherans, but you also see Lutheran churches (like mine back in Washington) that is very confessional.
The Lutheran parents are very involved and are very protective of things like VBS because it is an outreach to the community and they want it to be very solid Lutheran teaching.
My Pastor is pretty awesome about keeping it on track.

Anyway... I am rambling. Thank you for your input.

God's peace,

Lawrence said...

CC, I resemble your remarks. Although not quite as far North and West.

In my home-town stomping grounds the more conservative Baptists "Folk-Music-Gospel" influence does present a strong influence over the community.

The confessional Lutheran perspective was/is seemingly embraced only by those with a family history of Lutheranism stemming from the midwest. (In my case Illinois.) The LCMS congregation there made up mostly of Lutherans moving into the community. Including the established families and extended families, whose grandparents were Lutherans who had moved there from elsewhere.

Anonymous said...

You have got to be out of your mind. Can you believe what your saying? Can you believe what some others are agreeing with? My gosh! These are children! Do you not remember being a child? Do you not remember your faith so small, so tiny that it was through the "fun" times of our journey in faith that you grew in your relationship. Some of these kids are taking their first steps in learning what prayer is all about and you want to lead them in Matins! You are part of what is destroying our church and I pray for awareness and truth in your ministry. You can email me at