Friday, August 20, 2021

"Me, Myself, and Bob," by Phil Vischer


In the late 1990s, my family met Phil Vischer and his company, Big Idea, through Veggie Tales, The children’s ministry at our church was putting together a performance, and my youngest son, then about eight years old, had to learn the following line:

“I’m sorry that I scared you when you saw me on TV.”

I’m not sure, but I THINK he was picked to say that line because he has always been the biggest kid in his class, and his role was that of Frankencelery, aka Phil Winklestein of Toledo, Ohio. So: big character should be played by a big kid. 

It did not go to my son’s strengths.

Still, we rehearsed the line over and over, and when the time came for him to pop up and speak, he had a smile on his face. And nobody threw stones.

Next thing you know, we were all marching around the house, singing “God is Bigger than the Boogie Man!” to the dog; and, we were happy with that. We bought the videos, we bought the cassette tapes, and we learned the words to Silly Songs. We even performed one of them at a family reunion. In fact, I adapted “The Water Buffalo Song” to introduce my middle school to the concept of student conflict managers.

“Everybody’s got a peace-keeping crew
To help you when you’re feeling blue,
When you don’t know just what to do
Everybody’s got a peace-keeping crew!”

Time passed, and life went on. My kids sort of aged-out of Veggie Tales videos, but we were always happy when the characters popped up again. When “Jonah” hit the big screen, I was delighted, and we went to see it, but I wasn’t really FOLLOWING what was happening with Big Idea.

And so, I was taken by surprise, when I read a May 2004 article in Christianity Today titled “Running Out of Miracles.” I discovered that Big Idea had over-expanded in developing “Jonah,” and as a result, the company collapsed. The part of the article that stayed with me was the last bit, in which Phil Vischer explains to his son the significance of the collapse of Big Idea. The article ends with the statement of hope “There are a million ways to do it” (tell people about God).  
What I retained, though, perhaps because my youngest son was not much older than Phil’s, was the emotional gut-punch of telling your child that your dream, your creation, was just gone.

And that part of my life crawled off into a cave, and whimpered.

17 years later: one of my oldest friends tells me of this podcast he has discovered, taking very seriously  some terrific challenges facing the Christian church. It turns out that it’s none other than: PHIL VISCHER! I start listening, and quickly become FASCINATED with the combination of humor and deep theology. Eventually, I discover Vischer has written THIS book. So, I get it, and read it, and that whimpering part of me comes out of the cave. 

Yes, the book DOES provide interesting bits about Phil’s background, including his amazing forebears, and how he got in trouble in Bible college. It also describes the way technology and talent combined to permit the birth of Veggie Tales. However, the part of the book that has greatest value, to me personally, AND to anyone who wants to turn creativity into a career, is his detailed analysis of how it all went wrong. In brutally simplest terms, it was a conflict of vision with marketing, and a lack of management over all.

It’s a very poignant story. Like the article in Christianity Today, it ends with hope. HOWEVER! It also ends 15 years ago. That was long before he started the podcast I’ve been immersed in for the past couple of months, and it doesn’t reference a number of creative products he has put forward since then. Not all of them worked! Know this, though: Phil Vischer is still plugging away on one or more of the million ways to tell people about God.

Peace be on your household.

1 comment:

  1. Interesting. Sometimes 'fame' becomes a burden and detracts from actually doing 'productive' things. That appears to be the case here.