Veggie Tales

Veggie Tales: A computer-animated series developed in 1993, which, in its original format, was meant to communicate Biblical truths and moral lessons via talking fruits and vegetables.

My two year old, Dane, is swirling around in circles in the bathtub, singing the theme song from Veggie Tales. At least the two lines of it that he can remember. His baby brother, Liam, is sitting in the baby tub next to him, transfixed.

Water is sloshing out of the tub and getting my socks wet, but he is so happy with all the singing and the spinning that it doesn’t occur to me to stop it.

I caved a couple of weeks ago and started letting Dane watch Veggie Tales at our kitchen counter at night while I make dinner. It seemed like a good alternative to his current favorite activity: trying to kill Liam.

So he clamors now, up onto the stool and says, “I watch Tomato!” And I think This is absurd, while I open up Netflix and click on the animated cucumber.

The Vegetables are doing an elaborate retelling of the story of David and Bathsheba—that violent, R-rated tale in which King David has an affair with a married woman, impregnates her, and then has her husband killed to cover up his indiscretion.

Except, in this version, King Larry the Cucumber merely steals a rubber ducky from the poor and adorable Junior Asparagus. He then sends Junior to the front lines of a food fight, where he gets a cream pie to the head. In the end, Junior Asparagus recovers, and King Larry returns the Ducky, and all is well in the kingdom.

I am listening to this while I sauté bell peppers. It occurs to me that perhaps I was a little bit too hard on Zacchaeus.

I’m thinking, also about how Veggie Tales has boiled the story down, stripped out the questionable, and made it into a lesson on greed.

But when I think about the actual story of David and Bathsheba, greed is not the first thing that comes to my mind. It’s our frailty, that pull in all of us towards the darkness. It’s our capacity for rationalizing our own evil. It’s our numbness. It’s the wrenching road back to freedom.

In her study of spiritual language, Amazing Grace, Kathleen Norris contemplates the importance of play in human development, in childhood. She recognizes the inevitable truth that we all will need to outgrow and unlearn much of what we are taught about faith.

I want to give my children this freedom to play in the shallows of Biblical truth. To laugh at the tomato on the screen. To sing the silly songs. But I struggle against the fear of teaching them things that will be painful to later unlearn.

I recognize, for example, that it is fun, so fun, to spread your arms like an airplane and zoom around the room singing, I may never fly over the enemy, but I’m in the Lord’s army. But I worry—will this translate, later, to a wartime ethic that permeates their faith? Will they, like I did, see themselves as soldiers, fighting, always fighting for their beliefs?

I want to teach them that to know God is to have the joy, joy, joy, joy down in my heart. Where? Down in my heart. But I also want them to know that it won’t always feel that way. That sometimes it will feel like loneliness, like pain, like too much too much too much. I want them to know that even when it feels that way, the joy can still be there, feeding their hearts like an invisible stream under the earth.

I am overthinking this, I know. But I’m a mom now. This is what we do.

A song comes on – Junior Asparagus on how God’s way is the best way, and Dane starts singing along without really knowing the words. He is so happy singing and watching, and of course, I won’t stop him. I smile back. I join in the song.

These are his earliest foundations. These are the songs he will still be able to sing twenty-five years from now. I close my eyes, pray for grace.

12 thoughts on “Veggie Tales

  1. I “support” Veggie Tales but have struggled with how far they have had to dumb down some of the Biblical stories. That said, I think there’s a place for what they do, but sometimes there needs to be a clear presentation of “this isn’t what really happened!” because some kids get very literal.

    Although, some kids don’t really understand that those stories are coming from the Bible.

    1. As far as cartoons go, I think they’re pretty fun. I just worry what my kids will internalize about God. I don’t know the answers…it’s just something I wrestle with as I begin to introduce my kids to faith. Am I doing it right? Is there a right way? Is there at least a “better” way? Lots of questions.

      1. We “don’t know the answers” OR “we don’t want to know the answers?” The real culprit here, I think, is a maturing theology of painlessness in Christ. That is, the best we can do, when it comes to the harsh realities of man’s condition and God’s sovereignty, is talk about God “allowing” man to do bad things to each other. For some higher purpose we can’t see. “Everything happens for a reason” stuff.
        The truth is, the Bible is XXX rated. A little known fact. But the most repulsive thing to us is the idea that pain and injustice is not merely allowed, but actually authored by God. And the only tragedy connected to that is this: grace will never be understood in its amazingness until we shatter our ‘Veggie Tales” theological Pepto pink stomach coating.

  2. I grew up before the VeggieTales craze – it was hugely popular with my college friends, who all knew the songs better than most kids, but I didn’t get it. One advantage to growing up in a church that sang only psalms (and there weren’t many) is that the songs I have engrained into my consciousness from childhood are actual words from the Bible.

    My girls kinds of hate VeggieTales. They’d rather watch Sesame Street. And I’m ok with that. I’d rather they grow into a proper understanding of the Bible gradually than learn things the wrong way first.

    1. Although in an annoying-cartoon-off, Mr. Noodle and Elmo win every time over Bob and Larry. 😉

  3. Your post reminds me of Sara Groves’ song “Song for My Sons” from her Tell Me What You Know album. I love how you are wrestling with this, allowing room for the silly, praying for grace, and trusting God to do the rest.

  4. My 2 1/2 year old is a big fan of King George and the Ducky, too. I’m not sure how much of the story she actually understands; sometimes I think she just likes the ducky. I’ve wondered, like you, about the way things VeggieTales sanitizes that story for kids (I don’t think that I would have the guts to tell it to little kids at all). I think in this case the saving grace is how they still have Nathan the prophet come in and give his analogy of the rich man and the poor man’s lamb; also, I think it’s actually more about selfishness than greed, and that’s a lesson I hope my daughter will learn really soon. So I’m OK with King George and the Ducky.

    But I dislike it when Christian songs and books for kids oversimplify or reduce the Christian faith to kitsch. I’ve been really disappointed in the quality of most Christian Bible story books I’ve seen, and we tell Bible stories at bedtime without using any picture books (the creation story, the flood, the manger story, and Jesus walking on the water are favorites). I also struggle with songs and books that teach kids to state faith or claim promises that I’m not sure they understand. (“If you’re saved and you know it clap your hands” is one from my childhood that particularly bugs me.) And yet, little kids have deep insights sometimes! A copy of Michelangelo’s Pieta left a very profound impression on my daughter that I don’t want to downplay- “Jesus hurt. Jesus sad!”- because you can’t sanitize Jesus’ suffering and still have a true picture of Christianity.

    1. I know this is an older post, but I just found your blog through Rachel Held Evans’s “Sunday Superlatives”. About Bible stories, the Jesus Storybook Bible by Sally Lloyd-Jones is excellent. She doesn’t shy away from the sad or the disturbing, but tells the story with such a sense of wonder and excitement at what God does. Every story points to Christ as the Rescuer who is coming. I cry at every reading, and have found such insight and perspective that I regularly recommend it as a devotional for adults as well!

      1. I JUST came across that Bible a couple of weeks ago. Someone recommended it on a blog, and I was floored when I got it — the beauty and the truth of it. It made me cry too.

        I’ve struggled to find ways of telling my children the story of God in a way that feels true to my own journey and the things I have learned along the way. This Bible, I felt like, did that. Keep recommending it! Thanks for sharing it with my readers!

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