This month one of my childhood heroes marked his 78th anniversary in the entertainment business—Popeye the Sailor. Popeye made his debut on January 17, 1929 in a comic strip in the New York Evening Journal.
I got to know Popeye through his “moving pictures,” the cartoons that were shown on the Officer Don television show on WSB-TV in Atlanta during my childhood in the 1960s. Officer Don Kennedy was the host, accompanied by his dragon puppet buddy Orville. But the Popeye cartoons provided the highlight of the show.
My afternoons were enlivened by my encounters with Popeye, his sometimes friend and oftentimes rival Bluto, his hamburger-loving buddy (“I’ll gladly pay you Tuesday for a hamburger today”) Wimpy, the lovely Olive Oyl (who, I recently learned, had a brother named Castor), and baby Swee’ Pea. The cartoons typically revolved around some crisis that resulted in Popeye getting beaten up by Bluto or some other villain until finally, just when it seemed that all hope was lost, he would gobble down the contents of a can of spinach. The spinach would give him the strength to overcome his opponent and the opportunity to sing his theme song: “I’m strong to the finich ‘cause I eats my spinach, I’m Popeye the Sailorman.”
One thing always bothered me about Popeye, though (well, actually two things did, but the fact that he had pencil-thin upper arms and tree-trunk-like forearms is beside the point here): why did he wait until he was in such dire circumstances to eat his spinach? I mean, wouldn’t he have been better served if he had eaten a well-balanced diet that included regular helpings of spinach rather than having quickly to devour some just before it was too late? Besides, wouldn’t eating spinach regularly have put an end to his practice of carrying a huge can of it around in his shirt, which couldn’t have been very comfortable?
It seems to me that we Christians are too often like Popeye. We wait until a crisis arises before we get serious about our relationship with God. When the crisis comes, then we get around to praying or reading our Bibles or seriously seeking God. Aren’t we better off if we engage in the disciplines of the Christian life in a devoted and regular way? When we do we build up our strength over time so that when the crisis arises we have a storehouse from which to draw. That’s so much better than trying to find help in a big hurry just in that moment when we must have it or else. My observation is that folks who live that way, even when the help comes, quickly fall back into their old lackadaisical patterns.
Regular worship, regular Bible study, regular prayer, regular service, and regular Christian fellowship—they are God’s ways to help us be “strong to the finich.”