Our puddle’s loss

Kauffmann’s creatures made us laugh, and think

May 25, 2015 by

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No learned theologian or distinguished philosopher was Scotch-taped to more pastors’ office doors than Joel Kauffmann. Each of his Pontius’ Puddle comic strips required editors to include a healthy border — real estate for the thumbtacks and staples that would inevitably poke their way through to the church bulletin board.

Part alter ego, part prophet, his crudely drawn cartoon frog — is it a frog? — neatly sliced through layers of Christian baggage to highlight friendly but cutting truths.

“Sometimes I’d like to ask God why he allows poverty, famine and injustice when he could do something about it,” Pontius says in one episode. “What’s stopping you?” another character asks. “I’m afraid God might ask me the same question,” Pontius answers.

It’s appropriate that the setting for skewering church life was a quagmired swamp.

Kauffmann was more than Pontius. The screenwriter brought the story of early Anabaptists to life in The Radicals and contributed to other films. The curriculum writer embraced the challenge of presenting theological concepts to children and young people. The exhibit developer brought, and will bring, history to life for scores of museum visitors.

But for many, he was most notable as a gospel gadfly. He summed up in two or three sketchy comic strip panels what took other people whole books to say.

Humor and faith intersect often. It’s what happens when people take themselves seriously. However, combining the two in a public fashion is a precarious exercise.

Kauffmann navigated that slippery and elusive path gracefully. Though he is gone, the lives he touched — in person and otherwise — ensure the friendly prophet’s spirit remains with us.

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