20 January 2020
All I Want for Christmas is a DVD (or three)
I’m cheating a bit this month. I’m going to talk mainly about something that has been spending more time outside of the Vice-Presidential Cupboard than in it, because I’ve been enjoying it so much. First, though, a good word for three films from Australia, which I would not, I admit, have watched – or probably even been aware of – had I not had to examine a PhD written about them. If you haven’t seen The Tracker, Ten Canoes and Charlie’s Country, then I encourage you to have a look at them. (‘All I want for Christmas is a DVD…a DVD…a DVD.’
If you keep on singing that to family members, then you may get all three in your stocking.) They are explorations of aboriginal experience, of colonialism, of the results of Western domination and of how cultures interweave. They are deeply informative stories, though ones which are somehow told with humour even as they handle difficult topics. This is in large part because of direct involvement of aboriginal actors in the planning, as well as the making, of the films.
As a batch of films they are challenging for Christians in so far as they force us to ask, as does all historical enquiry about Western colonial activity, about the extent to which, and ways in which, Christianity has been complicit in colonial activity and how we deal with our colonial past. They are worth a watch.
The DVDS are, though, now back in the Vice-Presidential Cupboard. What I’m carrying round with me is a collection of comics – yes, really. I’m not much of a fan or comics, or of graphic novels, I have to admit. But since someone introduced me to Charlie Baber’s weekly Wesley comic, I’ve been hooked. Charlie Baber is a deacon in the United Methodist Church, serving in the US as a minister to young people and families. He also spends a lot of his time using his artistic gifts running a comic ‘Wesley Bros’ which, if you sign up, you can get delivered free into your In-Box every week. This year a collection of his online comics has been published in book form.
So for those of us who prefer a ‘real book’, the nearly 200 pages of his collection – Submitting to be More Vile: The Illustrated Adventures of John and Charles Wesley (Abingdon Press 2019) – are a sheer delight. There’s seriously good humour here, and serious humour too. As well as making us laugh, Baber is offering a contemporary form of theological education. The book is divided into three parts: comic strips on the Wesley family (thus giving us a bit of Methodist history); a section on theological themes (which assists with our development as disciples); and then finally there are explorations of the challenges which face the contemporary church.
It really is good stuff. It won’t, I’m sure, appeal to everyone. But to have the Wesleyan/ Methodist Quadrilateral (of Scripture, Tradition, Reason, Experience) opened up in science fiction form as ‘The Fantastic Quadrilateral’, and ‘The Pragmatic Four’, may well catch on at the Queen’s Foundation, Cliff College, and seminaries, research institutes and Bible colleges everywhere! I also love the idea that ‘Come Thou Long Expected Jesus’ could have a banjo solo inserted into it.
Whatever you make of the comic book collection, though, Baber is asking some sharp questions through his work. The boom in popularity of graphic novels has long confirmed that ‘comics are not just for kids’. Let’s face it: people learn, or are stimulated to think and reflect, in many different ways. Some respond to visual images more than words. Some respond best to oral speech. So some of the material here which is very visual might work well if passed round a house group. Or some of the humorous text might work best if read out.
But what Baber is doing is reminding us all of the different contemporary forms we need to use to make faith come alive. Those of us who are ‘in the know’ about faith and what it means as far as enabling us to live full lives don’t always appreciate how weird, distant, detached, or unreal it can appear to people who might be interested in believing if they could just be helped to ‘get it’ a bit more. Baber’s comics are trying to help with that in a distinctly Methodist way. Like the Australian films I mentioned earlier, these North American creations are also worth a look.
Happy Advent and Happy Christmas!
This article first appeared in the Methodist Recorder on Dec 6th 2019. Since the article’s appearance Charlie Baber has announced he is taking a break from posting a weekly comic. The archive can, however, still be accessed at www.wesleybros.com.