Beliefnet
Leaving Salem

When Ruth and Elliot Handler’s baby girl was born, they knew she was destined for greatness. She blossomed into nothing less than a Madison Avenue sensation, and began a decades-long domination of the fashion and entertainment worlds.

At ten years of age, she had already earned more than five hundred million dollars. Even today there seems to be no end to her popularity. She makes nearly two billion dollars a year.

She is always beautiful, wearing one of the thousands of outfits from her closet. She’s deftly attuned to today’s fashion. She is forever the center of attention, surrounded by a smiling cluster of family and friends. She is absolutely perfect.

She is Miss Barbie Millicent Roberts; better known as Barbie. The only problem, of course, is that she is a fantasy. She is a toy – a mass of injected-molding vinyl. Yes, certain Barbies can be worth tens of thousands of dollars, but she more often than not, she ends up naked and dismembered on the floors of older brothers’ bedrooms.

Barbie is a reflection of our desires. She has none of her own. This was Ruth Handler’s motivation in creating her. Ruth watched her real daughter playing as a child and saw the future.

Her daughter needed more than a baby doll that did little more than arouse maternal desires. She needed a doll – a person – to inspire and challenge her to become something out of her wildest dreams. Thus Barbie was born.

As adults we learn that carefully crafted idealism and hardened reality don’t always meet. Most of us do not lead Ken and Barbie lives. We feel a lot more at home with Homer and Marge Simpson. Still, we sometimes bring those Ken and Barbie idealisms to the Bible and its characters.

I grew up in the church with these Bible characters as my heroes. I was taught that I could slay the giant like David. I could have mountain-moving faith like Abraham. I could call down fire from heaven like Elijah. Much later, I learned that for all their glorious deeds, these heroes of mine had tons of baggage too.

David the giant killer was also David the adulterer and accomplice to murder. Abraham, the father of faith for Jews, Muslims, and Christians alike, could dissolve into a compulsive liar if the situation so demanded. Elijah, the defiant holy warrior, once became so emotionally despondent that he nearly committed suicide.

All these champions of faith were inspirational, yes, but also very human. They were real people not unlike you or me.

These same idealistic projections have been laid alongside today’s families. Christians seem to have an obsession with the “biblical family.” But I don’t think this term means exactly what some think it does.

I know what many people intend by the idea. By applying biblical principles, Christians could (and the implication is should) produce the ideal “biblical” family: A strong, spiritual father; a faithful, loving mother; and two-and-a-half obedient children.

The word “biblical” is used synonymously with “traditional,” as many Christians pine for a return to the days of the Cleaver family. Again, the only problem is that this too is a fantasy, about as credible as a television sitcom.

We may be inspired to reach for such an ideal as the “traditional” family, but when we do we usually find frustration and failure. Sure, a few pull it off. Most of us do not. Further, the “biblical” family, as it is commonly referred to, is not a valid example toward which to aspire.

My family may be a bit screwy, but I wouldn’t trade it for Adam and Eve’s where one brother killed the other. I wouldn’t switch places with Hosea whose wife was the village prostitute. Why swap my one set of in-laws for Solomon’s seven hundred?

Most of the families found in the Bible are more dysfunctional than my own. Maybe that is all the more reason to be drawn to these examples and to find in their failures and regrets the seeds of redemption and grace.

And, by the way, after more than forty years together, in the throes of a midlife crisis, Barbie kicked Ken to the curb. Ken is determined to win her back. But it makes you think. Maybe even Barbie isn’t as perfect as we thought.

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