Once in a while we Christians get it into our heads, that something is an absolutely essential belief of the faith, when it hasn't traditionally been one. For example, the idea of a rapture where people are scooped up out of their lives in this world, and their sudden absence results in driverless cars, pilotless planes, and people sitting in restaurants wondering when the waitress is ever going to return with their bill. In times past, there were other views of the end of the world and final judgment, just do a little research on the four primary interpretations of the book of Revelations and you will see. But in our current climate, if one questions the idea of rapture, one is in danger of being kicked out of heaven by the watchdogs of faith. In fact, a pastor friend of mine had that happen. He simply asked other pastors if there were other interpretations of the book of Revelations, and they pounced upon him like grand inquisitors upon a Spanish heretic, saying that he was no longer a Christian.
But the rapture isn't my primary topic today (as fun and exciting as it is), I want to talk to you about Stanley. You see, Stanley was once a pretty normal guy. He went out for his daily walks, did a little work, reported to his boss, and for the most part people ignored him. Like most of us, his tongue got him into trouble. Sometimes he said things in anger that he didn't really intend to be hurtful, and his stubborn pride was known to get in quarrels with people from time to time.
But then Stanley got his big break, he appeared in an epic rewriting of a classic tale and although he was cast as the villian, there was also something almost heroic and valiant about him as he stood up to the good guys. Kind of like Darth Vader, I suppose -- without question a villian, but a sexy one that you sort of admire for his spunk. Suddenly Stanley was everywhere. His image was on t-shirts, he hawked products on tv, there were even songs sung about him. His story was used to inspire revolutions and to terrify children into being good lest Stanley come to them in the night.
And Christians in time came to believe that Stanley was a necessary part of their religion. Unless you believed in Stanley, you weren't going to heaven. Which was strange, because if you look in the Bible, Stanley is hardly mentioned at all in the Old Testament. In fact whole verses, chapters, and even books go by without him being mentioned. Nor does he appear in the Apostle's Creed nor the Nicene Creed, nor even Statement of Faith of the United Church of Canada. Instead these things talk about God, and Christ, and the Holy Spirit, and much less exciting topics than Stanley, as if these are truly the important things in religion. How blind those people of long ago were! How could one explain life without Stanley? Who would we blame the problems of the world upon?
We need Stanley, almost as much as we need God (not that he could rival God, that would be heresy too, but he comes a close second). Once in a sermon I said that I didn't believe that Stanley was real, that Stanley was more of a metaphor for evil, and one man was irate, "You can't be a Christian if you don't believe in Stanley. One of Stanley's biggest tricks is to convince people he isn't real so that he can take them unawares." This surprised me, I didn't know that when I committed my life to following Jesus, I would have to watch my back for Stanley too. I was a little weak kneed in the face of such anger, and relented that I suppose Stanley could exist, but he certainly wasn't the focus of my life, and I wasn't going to stay up nights worrying about him leaping from my closet.
I just don't get this whole fascination with Stanley. Why are we so fixated upon a bit part villain when we follow the greatest hero of all time, from whose love neither angels nor demons, nor powers nor principalities can separate us? I guess I just focus on the guy in the white hat who rides into town on a white horse, rescues the damsels and luckless lads in distress, and rides off a victor over sin and death, and ignore the "Snidely Whiplash"-like, mustache twirling, Stanley who shouts "Drat!" in the background.