Doctor of Leadership in Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

I’ll Bet The Smurfs Had Tarot Cards

Written by: on November 16, 2023

I was never allowed to watch The Smurfs.

You see, growing up in Wisconsin as a Catholic, and then becoming a Pentecostal in a pretty legalistic home, there were so many cartoons, daytime dramas, bedtime network shows, and movies that my parents, pastors and youth pastors deemed to be “off limits!”

Don’t even get me started about Pokemon, The Power Rangers, My Little Pony, Rugrats or The Simpsons.

Even after visiting Oxford, I still haven’t seen any of the Harry Potter films!

Even a glimpse of these shows, whether at a friend’s house or in secret at home, would cause me to break out with heavy guilt. Catholics (and you gotta know: “once a Catholic, always a Catholic”) are brokers in guilt.

Guilt has been called the “gift that keeps on giving.”

So imagine my horror as I read Spellbound by Daniel Lieberman, with all of its magic, tales, alchemy, mystical numerology, and, God-forbid…tarot cards. If he had mentioned The Smurfs, I tell you, I would have tossed the book across the room, and spent the day praying in the Spirit!

I read the bulk of this book on various airplane trips, and found myself shifting uncomfortably in my tight seat, while turning the book away from possible onlookers, lest they read chapter titles such as “The Keys of the Tarot and the Perfection of the Soul.” Yikes.

I might as well been holding an issue of Playboy. I was that uncomfortable!

However, like much of our doctoral degree, my mind is ever expanding. And for that, I am grateful. Lieberman went down a number of corridors and alleys that I simply have never negotiated. And yet, often the pathways felt strangely familiar due to the intertwining of the works of Joseph Campbell (Lieberman, 113), and Daniel Kahneman (66). As well, the backdrop of the supernatural and divine made me feel at home.

And I certainly understand EGO.

Lieberman’s opening line, “There’s someone living in your head besides you” speaks to the unconscious; that which is out of sight and out of mind – and yet, strangely IN MIND. Most people don’t think about these unseen aspects. We don’t think about the unconscious, and yet it is so massively important and determinative to our actions and behaviors. We also have “the ego” which is the part of the mind that we are aware of. Ego is the “I” and is not to be directly associated with being conceited. Let’s be honest, everything we do is ultimately motivated by our self-interest. We want to feel good, maintain our reputation, and avoid things that cause us pain. We (and by “we” I mean “me”) want to experience, consciously and unconsciously, moments that are, in the words of Lieberman, “numinous.”

Numinous means “having a strong religious or spiritual quality; indicating or suggesting the presence of the divine.” Both Dr. Clark and Dr. Lieberman connect this to the “ineffable.” It can’t be described in words. It has to be experienced. Even now as I write this blog post, I am looking out a California hotel window looking at the Pacific Ocean which is only a dozen feet from me. The sun is out (praise!). All is well with my soul.

Numinous. Ineffable. The Sublime.

The sublime leads you and I to wonder. There aren’t words to explain a beautiful sunset, the pounding of ocean waves, or the smell of a newborn baby.

Numinous. Ineffable. Sublime.

Lieberman says that which is ineffable is familiar, personal, invigorating and stimulates yearning (Lieberman 42). It feeds the “I” – the ego.

Friends, I want my conscious mind (ego) to be regularly invaded by the unconscious. Call it magical, call it divine, call it transcendent. Call it what you will.

I want it.

I want to see it and feel it in the woods, at the beach, in the arms of my wife, in the snuggle with my grandchildren. I want to sense it our church services, and in fellowship with a brother in the Lord. I want to identify it in my neighbor, barista, coworker, and enemies.

I want that which is numinous, ineffable, and sublime.

And I want to watch an episode of The Smurfs…guilt-free.

About the Author


John Fehlen

John Fehlen is currently the Lead Pastor of West Salem Foursquare Church. Prior to that he served at churches in Washington and California. A graduate of Life Pacific University in San Dimas, CA in Pastoral Ministry, and Vanguard University in Costa Mesa, CA with a Masters in Leadership and Spirituality. He and his wife Denise have four grown children and four grandchildren. John is the author of “Intentional Impressions," a book for fathers and their sons, "Don't Give Up: Encouragement for Weary Souls in Challenging Times," a book for pastoral leaders, and "The Way I See You," a children's book. You can connect with John on Instagram (@johnfehlen) as well as on his blog (johnfehlen.com).

8 responses to “I’ll Bet The Smurfs Had Tarot Cards”

  1. mm Tim Clark says:

    Great take on this book… the desire to experience ineffability and the sublime is universal and I believe points us towards an encounter with Jesus. Even if we disagree with Lieberman on some of his suggested mechanisms, we can agree on that.

    And next time we’re together let’s watch an episode of the Smurfs as a short and then follow it up with Harry Potter.

  2. mm John Fehlen says:

    Get behind me Satan. I plead the blood of Jesus. All things my mother would say to you if she read your invitation to watch Smurfs AND Harry Potter.

    Often when you and I are together, traveling, eating, etc. we “fall into” the ineffable and sublime. I think that’s what is so powerful about travel, and…friendship.

  3. mm Russell Chun says:

    Fun posts.

    Hmmm come to think of it, I am not sure if I ever watched the Smurfs.

    In his November 15 Daily Devotional, Oswald Chambers wrote, “Most of us live only within the level of consciousness— consciously serving and consciously devoted to God. This shows immaturity and the fact that we’re not yet living the real Christian life. Maturity is produced in the life of a child of God on the unconscious level, until we become so totally surrendered to God that we are not even aware of being used by Him. When we are consciously aware of being used as broken bread and poured-out wine, we have yet another level to reach— a level where all awareness of ourselves and of what God is doing through us is completely eliminated. A SAINT IS NEVER CONCIOUSLY A SAINT – A SAINT IS CONCIOUSLY DEPENDENT ON GOD.



  4. Jenny Dooley says:

    Hi John,
    I caught the sublime and the numious in our reading, but some how ineffability eluded me. Probably because I didn’t know what it meant. I appreciate the definition and now can add it to my working vocabulary! I love the familiar and personal qualities of ineffable experiences. They seem so personal and unique to me when they occur that I don’t want to spoil them by trying to share them with others or even try to put them in words for myself. I guess that’s what makes them ineffable and gives me permission to hold them and ponder them in my heart. Thanks for highlighting this “mystical experience” and for jogging my memory to those moments in my life!

  5. Adam Harris says:

    Ha, we had a similar experience as children with guilt and avoiding certain shows and cartoons. It is wild how those feelings and thoughts get into our systems and stay even until adulthood. I hope you enjoy the Smurfs one day!

    I’m with you on our conscious being invaded as much as possible. Seeing God everywhere is a much better and more magical way to live (I still feel weird using “magical” when pertaining to God because of my raising!)

  6. mm Jana Dluehosh says:

    John, I hear ya! I think the best thing is to watch these shows and label what it uncomfortable? I was a youth pastor a few times, and when the Twilight series came out I had so many parents worried about letting their teen watch it or read it. I told them I was reading and encored them to read it too and talk with their kids about it, the good the bad the ugly. I am not a fan of the Simpsons, but my husband loves it so we watch an episode every together (though there are a few we skipped) but we end up talking about what made us laugh, what made us uncomfortable. Trying to help our kids be mindful and probably a little irreverant?

  7. mm Jonita Fair-Payton says:


    Oh my word…this, “I might as well been holding an issue of Playboy. I was that uncomfortable!”, I felt every bit of your discomfort when I read your post. I am also fighting the urge to send you the entire set of Smurf figurines. It was such a fascinating show for me as a child…I guess that I was not a very good Catholic. I will agree that there were some parts of the book that made me a bit uncomfortable.

    This was interesting to me, you wrote, “Friends, I want my conscious mind (ego) to be regularly invaded by the unconscious. Call it magical, call it divine, call it transcendent. Call it what you will.” It sounds like freedom to me.

  8. John,

    It’s fascinating to read about your upbringing and the strict boundaries around entertainment and media. Many of us can relate to growing up with certain restrictions and prohibitions, which can indeed create a sense of guilt or curiosity when encountering things that were off-limits.

    Your reflections on Daniel Lieberman’s “Spellbound” are insightful. The exploration of the unconscious and the intertwining of concepts from Joseph Campbell and Daniel Kahneman add depth to your understanding. The idea of the numinous, the ineffable, and the sublime resonates with many who seek those transcendent and indescribable moments in life.

    Your desire to experience these moments in various aspects of life, from nature to relationships, is both relatable and admirable. Embracing the sense of wonder and awe, whether in church services or everyday interactions, can indeed lead to a richer and more fulfilling existence.

    And as for guilt-free indulgence in a guilty pleasure like watching “The Smurfs,” why not? Sometimes, revisiting childhood favorites can bring joy and nostalgia without the burden of guilt. Enjoy the journey of exploring the numinous and ineffable in your own unique way.

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