I was in a vintage shop recently and came across an item that was decidedly not vintage — yet still cool in its own early-90s way: A Jesus action figure. This particular one was roughly the size of a Barbie with brown shaggy hair, a beard, a beige robe, and sandals. I didn’t buy the little Jesus, but I thought about it.
And since then I’ve been finding myself searching eBay for other deity action figures. Muhammad, Buddha, Brahma, you name it. Not because I’m in the market for irreverent conversation starters – as I assume they’re meant to be – but because they might make great learning toys for my kid. After all, kids learn through play. And what better way to bring Jesus to life for my daughter than to let her play with him?
But I do wonder: Would letting my daughter marry a Jesus action figure to a Snow White Barbie in a little mock ceremony on her bed send the wrong message? That it’s all a joke? Would I be putting religious deities on the same level as Batman and Superman and Disney Princesses and therefore implying that all of these things are not real in the same way? Is there a way to make the Bible, the Qu'ran, the Torah “fun” without making them funny? Can we be silly with Jesus without diminishing his role in people’s lives?
Am I beginning to sound like Sarah Jessica Parker in Sex and the City?
Sorry. I’ll quit with the rhetorical questions.
Here’s the thing: I was at a Fourth of July party once, and all the kids at the party were walking around waving around little plastic flags ,singing “Happy Birthday to America” and having the time of their young lives. But every time the kids would drop a flag, or let a flag drag on the Trex decking, this one guy at the party — a military veteran — would hastily admonish the preschoolers never to let an American flag touch the ground.
The whole thing struck me as a little goofy. The kids were celebrating the spirit of Independence Day. They were learning about the holiday in the most joyful way I can imagine – through play. And this man’s hard-headed respect, while rooted in a touching display of patriotism, seemed misguided to me. After all, can’t we teach children to respect the flag, while allowing them to come to know it in their own way? To show respect, must we be so damn serious about it?
I do realize that letting a flag touch the ground and letting a kid make Jesus kiss her Barbies is not the same thing. But they both point to similar conclusions: Offensiveness is in the eye of the beholder, and – in my view – the joy of play is also worthy of our respect.
I still don’t know what to do with all this — whether I’ll make any eBay purchases, whether Maxine will like them, whether she’ll soon have a basket of deities in between her Play-Doh and Polly Pockets. But at this point, I’m starting to think: Let’s find out.
Bring on the action figures.