Those of you familiar with the empire of “Barbie” may be likewise familiar with Barbie’s famed significant other, “Ken,” and the physical constraints of a plastic-molded body with semi-posable limbs. Maybe you had an easier job navigating your Barbies back in the day, but my interactions with my own particular “Ken” doll (actually a Mr. Heart” for you connoisseurs out there) frequently encountered a pretty severe limitation for a Barbie doll:
His head fell off.
Maybe it was the incredibly well-fitted clothing with which he was supplied, but it seemed as if anytime my eight-year-old self tried to change poor Mr. Heart, his head popped right off with his one-piece suspender suit (which, I may add, is STILL challenging for me to navigate three decades later).
Each time this cerebral tragedy took place, I would need to cease playing, climb off my bed, and roam through the house in search of a parent to put Mr. Heart back together.
Now, with children of my own, the Barbies which passed the “I guess the plastic hasn’t degraded enough to cause me immediate concern for carcinogenic properties” test, Mr. Heart (and his head) exists among them.
But, little did I, or Mr. Heart, know what lay in store for him.
While my daughter tends to “princess-oriented” play, my son tends to “monsters with sharp teeth and claws battling robots with lots of buttons and lasers”-type play. So how does Mr. Heart fit in to this scenario?
While the headless Mr. Heart was simply an annoyance for me—a doll that kept breaking—he has been embraced with a new identity by my three-year old. Headless pseudo-Ken-doll is no longer “Mr. Heart.” He is “MONSTER MAN”!!!!!!
Monster Man has many unforeseen properties: he can carry other monsters (or his own head) with his posable plastic arms. He can shoot lasers out of his headless torso. Also, he’s cool enough to chill with all the other super-heroes in my son’s crib. Monster Man is tight with the likes of Captain Marvel and Spider Man these days.
In short, this is a new life, a resurrected life, an unexpected life. Where the world might see brokenness and defeat, my son sees a peerless member of the communion of super-heroes, with powers far greater than I ever imagined.
On this day, we celebrate the death of another hero. The murder and martyrdom of John the Baptist surely seems to be a day of brokenness and defeat—shrouded in lies, jealousy, and deception, for good measure. The innocent one, who himself pointed out the Lamb of God, is led to the slaughter. But we celebrate the passion of John—as our Alleluia verse says: “Blessed are those who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the Kingdom of heaven.”
John the Baptist himself was a sign for the Living One who came to dwell among us. He baptized the very author of baptism, as our Preface for this day describes. John himself was a “monster man”—clothed in strange camel’s hair and consuming wild fruits of the desert. John was an outsider, unwanted in the eyes of much of the world—except for those who saw him for what he was: the forerunner of our Lord. John the Baptist now dwells with the likes of Peter, Mary Magdalene, and all the communion of saints who rejoice in the light of the Resurrected Lord.
So broken things can become new. Disaster and destruction may have a new life. May we, on this Memorial of St. John the Baptist, come to be something new—unexpected, and resurrected beyond the best of our imaginations.