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Joe McKeever, like other pastors, often tapped Schulz’s ‘Peanuts’

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–“Just about every preacher I know” has quoted from Charles Schulz’s “Peanuts” cartoons, reflected popular Baptist cartoonist Joe McKeever after Schulz, 77, died Feb. 12 on the eve of his last cartoon in Sunday papers across the globe.

McKeever, pastor of First Baptist Church, Kenner, La., has been cartooning since childhood (and preaching since his senior year in college). His cartoons have appeared in such journals as Leadership, Preaching and Pulpit Helps, in state Baptist papers and, with two other cartoonists, in an eight-volume Baker Book House series, “Instant Cartoons for Church Newsletters.”

McKeever said preachers have been especially aided by Linus, the philosophical brother of Lucy in Schulz’s cartoons.

McKeever recounted citing Linus in a recent sermon, from a cartoon in which Linus turned to the New Testament Book of Acts to address one of Lucy’s pressing concerns.

Lucy thanked Linus for easing her mind on the matter, to which Linus replied, “Good theology has a way of doing that.”

McKeever and Schulz have shared a common heritage — the only training they received in cartooning was via correspondence courses from the Art Instruction Co. of Minneapolis.

McKeever, the son of a coal miner in north Alabama, wrote to the company when he was 14 after seeing an ad in a magazine. He received a reply stating that he was too young — something about “people your age don’t generally follow through” — and that he should write again when he turned 16.

So, in 1956, McKeever did just that. His sister, Patricia, of Nauvoo, Ala., who had just graduated from high school and taken a job as a telephone operator, offered to pay for the courses — if he promised to stick with it.

Patricia spent about $350 on the lessons over a couple of years, and McKeever said he occasionally signs over a royalty check to her to say an ongoing word of thanks.

McKeever also can give testimony to Schulz’s graciousness. When the preacher/cartoonist joined the National Cartoonists Society around 1980, he decided to write to about 10 of the group’s most prominent members, Schulz among them, and ask for one of their cartoon strip original drawings.

One of those who replied was Schulz.

Schulz, who grew up in St. Paul, Minn., was raised in a Lutheran home, joined the Church of God (Anderson, Ind.) as an adult and taught a Sunday school class, recounted Crosswalk.com, a Christian Internet site Feb. 16. Perhaps one of his greatest trials as a Christian came in a divorce and remarriage.

Schulz took a stand for his faith when his Charlie Brown Christmas special was in production years ago, facing off with network officials to make sure that Linus recited the entire Christmas message, the Christian Internet site iBelieve.com recounted Feb. 14.

Schulz died in his sleep of a heart attack in his California home following a battle with colon cancer and small strokes that forced him to end “Peanuts” after nearly 50 years of cartooning encompassing more than 18,000 strips.

Schulz’s fellow cartoonist and friend Johnny Hart, who often infuses Christian themes into his “B.C.” and “The Wizard of Id” strips, reflecting on the extraordinary circumstance of Schulz dying just hours before his final cartoon was published, told iBelieve.com, “It’s as if, when you’re through and you’ve made your peace with Jesus and your family and everything is cool, and you’ve said your good-byes … . Charlie always said, ‘When I die, the strip will die, too.'” Hart, 69, entered the media with “B.C.” at age 27, seven years after Schulz’s first “Peanuts” strip, published when Schulz also was 27.

McKeever, writing last year in the journal Preaching on the subject of “What Preachers Can Learn From Cartoonists,” observed that preachers and cartoonists “seem to have a mutual attraction” and share a lot in common.

“They live by deadlines, they need to be wordsmiths, everything is grist for their mill, their craft (i.e., sermons and cartoons) works on different levels and rarely does one hit everyone in the target audience. When they do their work really well, they may expect someone to be offended. One more thing: both groups do a lot of their work sitting at a table or desk staring at a blank sheet of paper.”

McKeever also observed, “Successful preachers and cartoonists are originals, different from the others in the field each in his own way. Some are truly artists; others not so talented. But each has learned how to do his best, to speak with the voice and use the abilities God gave him.”