Thursday, December 20, 2012

On Twinkies and Hobgoblins

Metaphor for immaturity and disappointment

by Ben Howard

I ate a Twinkie earlier this year. I think it was in April or May, I’m really bad about remembering dates, but I think the NHL playoffs were going on. Some friends and I had gathered for a viewing of the wonderful film Zombieland and, if you’re familiar with the cinematic treasure in question, Twinkies seemed appropriate.

I remember Twinkies being delicious. I remember wanting to eat tons and tons of Twinkies. So on this occasion, my spirits were high, floating along, thinking about the halcyon days of snack cake yore. Then I ate the Twinkie…and I was depressed.

You see, dear readers, Twinkies are disgusting. They taste quite similar to a moistened packing peanut filled with…I don’t really want to think about it anymore.

As I sat there, my heart withering under the crushing disappointment of the Twinkie, I realized something else. Hot Pockets also taste terrible. So do Pixie Sticks. And I assume Warheads. Tiny Toon Adventures probably isn’t as witty. Rocko’s Modern Life probably isn’t as groundbreakingly weird and irreverent. My childhood memories were lies. Lies that weren’t true!

Okay, so the Twinkie story is real, but the existential despair part isn’t quite as true (though it is a little bit).  Everybody has one of these stories. You re-encounter that thing you loved so much 10 or 15 years ago and it just massively underwhelms your expectations. It’s one of those sad adult moments that everyone has where you realize you had absolutely horrible taste as a child.

Not an actual hobgoblin.
Of course, that’s not an entirely fair way of framing the issue. You didn’t have horrible taste AS a child; you just liked what you liked. As you matured, you developed other tastes and other interests. Since you spend so much time with yourself, it probably didn’t seem like that much of a change; every shift would have been a gradual one. Then you return to a benchmark, such as something you liked when you were 12, and you realize that you don’t have much in common with the person you were at 12. You weren’t wrong at 12, you’re just different now.

One of my favorite sayings is a quote from Ralph Waldo Emerson. He says that, “A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds.” Essentially, the inability to change and adapt and develop is a mark of weakness, not strength.

Granted, I seriously doubt that Emerson had Twinkies and cartoons in mind when he said that, but it’s a fun place to start. Everybody changes, everybody moves and develops and becomes someone new. That’s part of maturing and aging; part of becoming self-aware and, hopefully, wise.

And the truth that goes for Twinkies and Pixie Sticks and Hot Pockets, I think it can also be true for our beliefs and thoughts about God and about religion and about people.

When we first encounter God we do so with naïveté and simplicity. As a result, we explain God in simple and easy to apprehend terms. We hold to analogies and metaphors like “God is Father” tightly and let them form the basis for constructing our faith.

However, in questions of faith we too often stay in this place of infancy. We stick close to this original understanding of our faith and pretend that an “aging, but simple” faith is the same as a “maturing” one.

Holder of Twinkie Ideology
In matters of faith, as in all matters of life, it is vitally important to develop and grow. Even Paul discusses this need for maturation in 1 Corinthians when he tells the people that he has given them milk, and not solid food. He continues on to tell them that they aren’t ready for solid food yet, implying that he hopes they will be soon.

Too much of our thinking in the church has been the theological equivalent of the junk food we enjoyed as children; too much of it resembles the cartoon logic we found enjoyable in our adolescence. This lack of maturation and growth is what allows for the Mike Huckabees and James Dobsons of the world to spout off about their theological hobgoblins and it’s what allows a segment of our nation to cheer them on in the process.

Dear Church, your Twinkies are no longer satisfying. We need you to grow up.


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