The Comic Strip Pantyhose Epiphany

Once upon a time, Ned Flanders was my idea of what a Christian was supposed to be. Homer Simpson’s eternally optimistic neighbor went to church every day, always did the right thing, and except for the occasional “gosh-diddly-arn”—he didn’t swear.

On one episode of The Simpsons, Ned’s sons, Rod and Todd (in case you’ve forgotten), show Bart their “Bible Blasters” video game. The object of the game was to shoot all the people walking down the street with a powerful beam that comes from the Bible. People of varying culture, gender, age and shape travel down the street. Each time Bart hits one with a blast they transform into middle-aged white men in suits carrying Bibles.

It’s a staggering concept.

When I was sitting in Sociology 101 at the small Baptist university I attended, I was part of a very homogenous group of Christian college students. Rhonda Robinson came in and sat among us. She was the most original person I’d ever met. You never knew what Rhonda was going to wear to class. Maybe a long gauzy skirt with her "Jerusalem cruisers" (brown leather sandals like Jesus might have worn), wildly colored leggings and a funky sweatshirt, a peasant blouse and well…whatever she wore, it was never the standard-issue for the rest of Baptist College America.

That particular day, Rhonda sat in my sociology class wearing a miniskirt and pantyhose with comic strips printed all over them as the professor began his lecture on social mores. We pulled out our pens and paper to take notes.

"Societies have unwritten rules that people follow," Dr. Rowe explained. The lecture covered acceptable forms of social behavior and interaction. He stressed how the public at large followed the mores without anything being written or expressly taught. Then he casually mentioned that there always seemed to be one person who would refuse to follow the socially accepted dress code.

At that moment, everyone in the class looked at Rhonda.

Of course, all of us had the good grace to look quickly back at the professor. I don't know if Rhonda ever noticed, but I sure did. It made me start to wonder why Rhonda didn’t dress like everyone else; then to wonder why I did. After all, Rhonda always looked like Rhonda. Why did the rest of us all look the same?

Now, I'd love to say that upon that revelation I immediately went out and dyed my hair two-toned like the lead singer in Berlin. But, the fact is that unlearning years of “sameness” programming takes time. Still, I began to notice that there seemed to be a certain Christian way to dress, talk and act, and I began to wonder why.

A few weeks later, I was sitting in the coed with some of the international students. I asked a Peruvian girl named Clelia what the biggest difference was between living in her country and living in the United States. She said, “I've learned how much of my Christianity is cultural.”
Have you ever had a sentence strike you in such a way that the conversation seems to stop? The group continued talking, but in my mind I hung on to Clelia’s commentary. It stood out in big capital letters in front of me. My immediate question was, “How much of my Christianity is cultural?” As I wrestled with the concept over the weeks that followed, I realized that the answer was, “All of it.”

Very little of the thousands of hours which encompassed my Christian education dealt with the character of God. There were endless lessons of whom I should be and how I should act, but no one really taught about the personal presence of God. Oh sure, God was someone I prayed to and studied about, but I always felt like I didn’t quite fit in His world. Sort of like the plastic yellow star trying to go into the oval hole in the Fisher-Price shape-sorter toy. Still, I wanted to belong, so I worked at being as “oval” as possible. It would take years for me to unlearn this.

Debbie Handler--the educational consultant I worked for--began every seminar with a slide that said, "It takes courage to grow up and be who you really are." I think that is particularly true of Christians. If God created everything in infinitely unique design, (ie. gorillas aren't giraffes and roses aren't daisies) why there is expectation for homogeny among people?

After all, wouldn't it be boring if we all were just like Ned? Gosh-diddly-arn.
© Random Cathy
Maira Gall