How’s That for a Christmas Gift by Gabriel G. Scheller

My family is historically bad at giving gifts. I remember being a kid and getting mostly what I wanted, but I was extremely rambunctious, hyper-active and outgoing. You could throw string and an old shampoo bottle at me and I would have the time of my life. However, like all teenagers, cynicism and an unhealthy obsession with being cool made me much harder to entertain.

I peg myself at about 13 when I stopped getting really excited for Christmas or even birthdays. This probably says a lot more about me than it does about my parents’ and brother’s gift-giving abilities, but I’m still a little skeptical. There was one year though—save for the X-Box Christmas (my parents never, ever bought me video game systems growing up). That year I had gotten punched in the face on Christmas Eve at the mall as I was trying to buy my dad a last minute gift (it’s a long story) and I got something I knew was a gem before I really even understood it.

Through all the disappointing shirts, socks and Christian rap CDs, I opened my brother’s gift to me. We always open one another’s gifts last. I think that year I got him a DVD of a movie I was sure he liked (I was wrong), but he got me Calvin and Hobbes: Sunday Pages 1985-1995. Anyone growing up in the ‘90s would rather disown Power Rangers, The Ghostbusters and Ninja Turtles than speak ill of the great work of art that is Calvin and Hobbes. So imagine my excitement when there in my hands was 10 years (all) of the Sunday comics in full color. Not only in color, but on one page was the final draft that went to the papers and on the adjacent page were Bill Watterson’s original sketches with his commentary on each one.

I was stunned.

Always having enjoyed drawing cartoons, watching cartoons, reading cartoons (I’m a kid at heart), this was a wonderful gift. What I didn’t realize at the time was that one sentence in the book would help me answer one of the most profound questions ever posed to me.

In February, 2006, our very own E.J. Park had an article published in Christianity Today with a title the editor probably thought was clever and funny: “A Tale of Two Kitties.” If the title is the first thing someone reads in a magazine, readers must have thought that Dr. Park’s article was cute, cuddly and possibly a little bit funny. This couldn’t have been any further from the truth and despite the moniker, E.J. asked America a serious and troubling question that has plagued me since I first heard him mention it in class.

Is there anything too sacred to be mass-produced?

Let that sink in for a second. Is anything too sacred to be painted on 10,000 t-shirts? Is there anything too sacred to be put on a billboard? Is there something so close to your heart that you would feel offended if a big corporation or even a small business put it on a coffee mug? Whoa! Way to change my world E.J. … ignorance was bliss!

In the article, E.J. referenced the great Calvin and Hobbes. Some of what he said I had already read in my book. Bill Watterson’s characters (a boy and his stuffed tiger) had captured the imagination of millions. In only 10 years, he was able to carve out and create a world so intriguing and so interesting that everyone wanted more. Watterson had t-shirt offers, TV-show offers, movie offers, everything one would think a comic strip artist would dream of. But defying expectations and probably baffling his family and friends, Watterson said no. The world he had created—the characters, the landscapes and the imagination were much too important to him. Too important to give Calvin another person’s voice and too important to settle the ambiguity of Hobbes by making him into a real stuffed tiger.

Dr. Park references all this and more in his article. (It was called A Tale of Two Kitties because Aslan was also referenced. I bring up only Hobbes here because I was more partial to Watterson as a kid than to Lewis.) If a man thinks his comic strip, a form that has never been taken seriously, is too important to merchandise, too sacred to mass produce, then how much more seriously should we take Jesus? How much more seriously should we take love, emotions, sex, etc.? Is there anything we as North Americans take as seriously as Watterson took his art? I don’t know.

It’s funny to me that the decision of one secular man could change and influence my life more than the hundreds of CCM songs that I have probably heard. His seriousness and devotion to his art have motivated me more than what have classically been called “great artists.” His decision to stand up for something that many other people probably thought was irrelevant was what forced me to finally look at my life and relationship with God. After years of church, countless youth groups and more snow retreats than I would like to remember, a cartoon cat and a smart-ass kid are what brought me closer to the Lord, to my art and to myself.

How’s that for a Christmas gift?

[©GGS 2007, all rights reserved.]

Note: This essay first appeared as the introduction to a paper titled Communication Credo that Gabriel wrote for his senior seminar at Wheaton College. He went on to write:

“In the same way Watterson did not want to sell his art short, I do not want to sell God, the people involved or my audiences short. I do not want to make holy moments into postcards and sacred tears into coffee mugs. I understand these decisions are aggressive. I understand I will not get it right all of the time, but as long as I sincerely believe in having a healthy respect for the sacred and a revulsion for the dehumanizing, I can be an ethical Christian communicator.”

 

 

 

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13 Comments on “How’s That for a Christmas Gift by Gabriel G. Scheller

  1. Just wanted to share an encouragement with you. Last week at the Urban Youth Workers Conference in LA, I found myself having dinner with some of the CCDA staff, including a recent Wheaton graduate named Chris (http://www.urbanaesthetic.blogspot.com). Chris and Gabe were great friends at school, and Chris shared how your blog has inspired and strengthened him in the weeks since Gabe’s passing. Thanks again for being so vulnerable in this space.

  2. Jeremy,

    As a writer, I’m always trying to figure out things I don’t really understand. I write on the assumption that if I don’t understand something, others must have similar questions to my own.

    This situation is beyond anything I could have imagined so … here I am. I might not have written about Gabe’s suicide if The Wheaton Record hadn’t called the coroner’s office for a cause of death in response to the vague obituary we submitted. We might have chosen the route of secrecy that so many others choose.

    I’m glad to know Chris is finding comfort here. I notice he hasn’t blogged since the day before Gabe died. I hope there is no correlation. My prayers are with all the young people who are impacted by this tragedy.

    None of us will every fully understand why it is that Gabe did not, or could not, ask for help. We do have a better understanding of the issues that contributed to his death, however.

    It is also my hope that other young people struggling with suicidal depression might discover from reading here that such an escape route does enormous harm. I pray they ask for help.

    Last night I was comforted to read in the Scripture that not one sparrow falls to the ground apart from God’s will. How much more did He care for Gabe? He was not surprised by any of this. He will carry us through.

  3. I know Gabe was his own person, but wow, I see you all in and around him in this piece. His gift, another side of yours. What pride you must take in this incredible written work. Thank you for sharing it; Gabe still speaks.

  4. Chris told me that he has a photo of Gabe on his desk at work. He’s one of CCDA (Christian Community Development Association)’s emerging leaders and a great guy (http://ccda.org). Gabe’s memory and mission (and refusal to dumb down the gospel for commercial gain) live on!

  5. Well, you’ve both made me cry. Time to go for a walk. blessings~

  6. Christine–I find it funny that Gabe thought that his family was ‘historically bad’ at gift-giving. In fact, I clearly recall the most precious holiday gift that Ive ever reeceived-and it was from YOU and your family. You know what it is because I told you then, and Ive told you since then, how much it truly meant to me and always will That beautiful handmade photo album inscribed with ‘remembering our lives together’. Filled with family pics from the mid-80s til the time you all left for California. Memories. Birthday parties, holidays and family gatherings. My best, most precious ‘material gift’ Ive ever received.

    Love, Judy

  7. Dear Christine,
    I cannot explain how I found my way to your blog, but I’ve spent the last 2 hours travelling your entries, vicariously sharing your travails.
    I am a mother of 3, two of whom were diagnosed with bipolar disorder at age 17.
    Not easy.
    What is? 🙂
    Now that my kids are relatively stable–it’s taken 9 years, I spend most of my time writing, speaking and advocating for the mentally ill and their loved ones.
    I’m not implying anything about your particular family when I invite you to peruse my website, maybe read “Mommy I’m Still in Here.”
    We are connected.
    Blessings!
    Kate
    http://www.katemclaughlin.net

  8. Judy,

    I was hoping you’d redeem my gift-giving reputation a bit! You might have been the only one who could : ) because, though I try, I am not great at it. I was a creative party giver though when the kids were young. Mike’s birthday is Monday. We’ll see what he thinks of my gifts. I always get a little something supplemented with cash these days.

    I also distinctly remember buying gameboys for G&M and I know they had other systems—perhaps purchased themselves. I don’t know.

    Kate, Thanks for stopping by and posting a comment. When I think about living with serious illnesses in my children for 23 years and for the last few in my husband, it really is overwhelming.

    The fact is, we have all been suffering from depression these last 2.5 years in varying degrees. It’s like we were a group of soldiers on a battlefield trying our best to help each other get to safety and one courageous soldier didn’t make it out alive. You’ll be glad to know, the rest of us are getting the help we need.

  9. Kate,

    I’ve looked at your site. Thank you! Great resources. Yes, we are connected … by writing and more! Blessings to you~

  10. Chris–Im glad Ive redeemed your gift-giving reputation. Id also like to add that there are so many things I remember so clearly about you and the times we spent together. And I think you’ve undermined the memories that you create for others. Like the first time I met you, sitting in a trailer in Fairless Hills PA where Jeff was in school and you made potato pancakes (with sour cream and applesauce) That was 23 years ago. I can’t eat a potato pancake without recalling that memory! And there was baby Gabe, in a blue terry onesie.

    And those kids birthday parties! I remember pirate parties, scavenger hunts, Jeff dressed as a clown……truly precious memories.

    And yes, Gabe obviously had gotten some writing talent from you!

    Love Judy

  11. Judy,

    I don’t remember the potato pancake day, but I do remember the smell of homemade soap in your laundry room and the Scheller family jam sessions in the backyard. I hope you’re still at the soap making. As for the Scheller family musical gifts, I could not have imagined Gabe’s memorial service without Jeff’s siblings sharing theirs. May the next time be a happy occasion.

    love you~

  12. Hi Christine,

    I knew your son while we were both in college. Admittedly, I wasn’t very close friends with him, but Gabe always had a presence on campus whether you knew him or not.

    That piece was very well written and sheds light on Gabe’s inner thoughts. As a media studies student myself (enrolling in grad school this fall) and as someone who read that article by EJ Park, I thoroughly enjoyed Gabe’s thoughts. Thank you for sharing that.

    I also wrote a little prose piece reflection on Gabe on my blog site. Please check it out if you have time.

    -James-

  13. Thank you for sharing your thoughts James, and for letting me know about your blog. Many blessings as you begin your studies~

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