If you heard the faint sound of collective weeping last Tuesday, and weren’t sure how to account for it, wonder no more. What you heard was, in fact, the sound of millennials everywhere sobbing into their phones as they watched a man address them. This man was no president or prime minister. He wasn’t a talk show host or a news anchor.
It was Steve. From the hit Nickelodeon children’s show Blue’s Clues.
Steve (played by Steve Burns) was the show’s first human star. In each episode his cartoon dog Blue would leave clues for Steve to find all over their house revealing a story of all the adventures Blue had been up to that day.
Steve starred in the show for six years and was loved by children across the world. And then…he left. With no explanation. As he put it in last week’s video address (which was done in character):
“And then one day, I was like, ‘Oh hey, guess what? Big news, I’m leaving. Here’s my brother Joe, he’s your new best friend,’ and then I got on a bus and I left and we didn’t see each other for like, a really long time? Can we just talk about that? Great. Because I realize that was kind of abrupt.”
It was abrupt. I was 11 in 2002, and while I’d never been big into Blue’s Clues, I certainly remember Steve leaving. And I remember the rumors that circulated for years afterwards – he had gotten into drugs, he’d done something horrible and been fired, he’d died…all sorts of malicious explanations for why he’d abandoned us so suddenly.
Because abandonment is what it felt like. When you’re a kid (I mean, heck, when you’re an adult too), you become invested in the characters of movie franchises or TV series, especially long running ones. Their story becomes inextricably tied up with our own stories. Our stories are somehow connected with theirs.
I experienced this quite profoundly in my sophomore year of college. Toy Story 3 had just come out the summer before, and early into fall semester, Calvin showed the film on the big screen in the Hoogenboom Gym. Hundreds of us students brought our pillows and sleeping bags and lay in our pajamas on the gym floor, watching as Andy, now 17, left for college, and all his toys tried to make sense of a world without their friend in it. I can honestly say that every single college kid in that gym was crying by the end of the movie. Because we were Andy. The first Toy Story movie came out when I was five. My peers and I had grown up with Andy and Woody and Buzz, and now their world was changing just as our world was changing, with every single emotion of excitement, anxiety, grief, and possibility that came with that change. Our story and Andy’s story were one-and-the-same.
So back to Blue’s Clues. When Steve left, it felt like a friend was leaving. This was someone kids everywhere loved and trusted who suddenly announced one day that we’d never see him again. Hardly surprising that people felt a bit betrayed and nasty rumors started to creep up. We didn’t know how to make sense of this story – we’d been given no clues. You can’t move on from a story when you don’t know how it ends.
Which is why, when Steve showed up on the 25th anniversary of the show’s first episode and told us all that he’d left the show to go to college, we wept from the catharsis of it. Here, at last was an answer, an end to the story, and we needed it. We need resolution. We’re craving it. We’re living in the middle of a story with no clear end in sight. We keep thinking we’ve found a clue that gets us a little closer to that end, only to discover that that clue is pointing us to yet another clue that we have to go digging around to find. We’re anxious, we’re tired, life feels like a chaotic jumble of information and emotions, and we could all use some resolution. And encouragement from a beloved friend. So when Steve showed up and said, “”We started out with clues and now it’s what? Student loans, and jobs, and families and some of it has been kind of hard, you know? I know you know,” we were like, “Yes, we know!” And when he told us, “I guess I just wanted to say, that after all these years, I never forgot you,” we had to put down our avocado toast and $6.00 coffees, we were crying so hard.
As one tweet put it:
You might laugh at this and scoff at us emotionally fragile millennials. But I think the Church should pay attention to this moment. This is a clue we should try to decipher. First, because this moment demonstrates the power of story. Jesus taught in story. Story captures us. Arguments and facts aren’t going to win the day. But story will make an impact.
Second, because the story we have to tell is one of a beloved friend and savior who left (rather abruptly) and whose return we’re waiting for in eager expectation because (unlike with Blue’s Clues) we’ve been promised that that return is coming. The Christian story is a story of a waiting people and it’s told to a waiting people. What we have to offer a waiting world is hope that this story does resolve.
But maybe even more so, in this particular moment, what we have to offer a waiting world is the hope that even as we wait for the story to resolve, the one who left us didn’t actually leave. We’re not just waiting for the end of the story. Jesus continues to show up in our lives, in our moments of chaos and anxiety and weariness to say, “I never forgot you. I never left you. I love you. I’m right here.”
If the emotional craze that was set off by Steve’s reappearance last week showed us anything, it’s that all of us desperately want to be part of a good story. I hear that as a summons for the church to become the world’s best storytellers. Because we’ve got the best story to share.