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Saturday, December 19, 2015

"She Of Little Faith"

Welcome to Day #19 of A POP CULTURE ADDICT'S ADVENT CALENDAR!  I trust that all of you have been enjoying the month-long feature so far.  I really hope you are.  I love doing these holiday themed blogs every year, and I find that the closer we get to the end, the more excited I am for the holidays.

And believe me, this year has been a challenge to get into the holiday spirit.

Now, as I mentioned before, different people celebrate different holidays during the month of December.  For people who celebrate Christmas, it is just six short days away.  For those who celebrate Kwanzaa, I think it starts the 26th.  And for those of you who celebrated Hanukkah, I hope it was a great eight days, as your celebrations wrapped up on the fourteenth.

In fact, regardless of what you celebrate, I hope you celebrate it in style.

You know, when it comes down to holidays, and I use Christmas as an example since that's the holiday that I have grown up celebrating my whole life, there are certainly modern traditions that we follow.  We exchange presents, we listen to Christmas music, and we sit by the fireplaces looking to see what is in our stockings.  But there's also a religious background to the holiday as well, and for a lot of families, part of the Christmas tradition is going to church on Christmas Eve night and singing traditional Christmas hymns and talking about how Baby Jesus was born in the manger all those years ago.

In many ways, Christmas Eve mass is one of the few activities that one can participate in that really allow people to have as authentic of a Christmas as they can, and while it may not be necessary for all families (my family was never really the churchgoing type), I do respect those who have attended Christmas Eve mass and have made it a part of their daily tradition.  After all, some of those services in traditional churches can be quite lovely.

But have you heard of these so-called "megachurches"?  I don't think we have too many of those in Canada, but in the United States and some other foreign countries, they've built churches that are almost the size of arenas and can hold thousands of worshippers.  To be honest with you, I don't agree with that.  I'm not that religious of a person, but I think that megachurches kind of defeat the purpose of why people go to church in the first place, which I think for most is because they want to have a personal connection to God.  It's kind of hard to have that connection when you are in a situation that feels like you're about to watch the Super Bowl instead of a sermon from a pastor.

Now, imagine if your church that you and your family have attended for generations was bulldozed to the ground and replaced with a megachurch.  Would you still attend, or would you feel very uncomfortable?

Well, for little Lisa Simpson, she found herself in a similar position on one episode of "The Simpsons", and it is this episode that happens to be the subject of the nineteenth entry in this advent calendar.

It's an episode entitled "She Of Little Faith", and it originally aired on December 16, 2001.

So, the episode is set right around the month of December, and it starts off the way most Simpsons episodes begin.  Bart and Lisa are watching television and Bart happens to see a commercial for a model rocket that he of course has to have.  After all, Bart is the biggest fan of explosive devices ever.  The problem is that he doesn't have any money to purchase the rocket, so he swipes Homer's credit card to order it.  But, I'm guessing Homer doesn't mind too much because before you know it, he's helping Bart and Milhouse build the rocket...which promptly explodes.

Homer recruits the help of his nerdy friends from college to design a super powered rocket (which I might add he only does to try and one-up Ned Flanders) that can carry a hamster passenger.  But when the rocket proves to be too powerful, the hamster bails and Homer is left trying to figure out how to get the rocket down.  He decides to shoot the rocket with a shotgun which does work...

...but when the rocket crashes into Reverend Lovejoy's church and burns the whole thing down, let's just say it's not one of Homer's finest moments.

Nor is it a good one for Reverend Lovejoy, who lacks the funds necessary to rebuild it.

Eventually, Reverend Lovejoy literally sells his soul to the capitalistic devil himself, C. Montgomery Burns, alongside his partner in crime, the robotic businesswoman herself, Lindsey Naegle.  Together, Burns and Naegle build a megachurch in the place of the old style church, complete with advertising slogans and posters that rival those of Times Square, and a Jumbotron in the middle of the church. 

Not surprisingly, everyone in Springfield gravitates towards the new church look, tempted by the promise of comfortable seats and advertising galore.  Mainly because as the show has established many times, the people of Springfield are complete morons.  I mean, when even uber-religious Ned Flanders gets suckered in by the new church, you know he's two Chicken McNuggets short of a 20-pack.

One person who is NOT impressed is Lisa Simpson, the little girl who seems like the only one in Springfield with actual intelligence, and she is so disgusted by the new church that she outright abandons Christianity for good!

Instead, she decides that she wants to take up Buddhism after seeing Lenny and Carl practicing it in Springfield's Buddhist Temple.  Even Hollywood actor Richard Gere stops by to educate Lisa on the wonders of Buddhism, and Lisa is very much convinced that Buddhism is the right religion for her.

But Marge is not convinced that Lisa is making the right choice.  In fact, Marge acts very out of character in a way by plotting with Reverend Lovejoy to woo Lisa back to Christianity.  The not-so-good reverend tells Marge that if she uses the Christmas holiday to convince Lisa to go back to Christianity, and Marge agrees.  She does everything to make the house look like a Christmas card and even manages to get Lisa the pony that she has always wanted.

(Okay, the pony is actually Ralph and Milhouse in disguise...another one of Marge's despicable methods to try and make Lisa do anything that Marge wants.)

Lisa manages to see through the ruse though and runs away from home to vent to Richard Gere about just how much her family tricked her. 

Now pay attention...this is where I drive the point home about not just the episode, but this whole blog post at that.

Richard explains that the main goal of Buddhism is to find inner peace within yourself...but it's also important to respect the diversity of other religions based on love and compassion!

Therefore, according to that logic, Lisa can celebrate Christmas with her family without feeling guilty about it.  So, Lisa decides that she can respect her family for being Christian while still devoting her whole life to being a Buddhist.  And Marge apologizes for being so...what's the word...manipulative with her.  Seriously, Marge, your manipulation techniques are best served for Homer or Bart.

Though, Lisa never DID get her pony in the end.

But still...what a great episode this was.  For starters, getting Richard Gere as a special guest star was a coup for the showrunners.  And Richard agreed to be in the episode, provided two things happen.  First, Lisa had to utter the words "Free Tibet" (which didn't really happen in this episode, but I believe happened in another show later that season).  And the second was that Lisa had to stay a Buddhist for as long as the show stayed on the air.

And just like the Simpsons promised Paul and Linda McCartney that Lisa would remain vegetarian for the rest of the series, Lisa has stayed a firm Buddhist.

But even more importantly, this episode proved that anybody can accept any religion if they love and respect the person enough.  I think some of our future world leaders - particularly most of those running for leadership of the Republican Party of America can benefit from having learned this lesson.

It also showed that materialism can really put a damper on religious faith.  Sadly, much like how most of us see Christmas these days.

But as Lisa Simpson showed all of us, we don't have to be that way.

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