How should Christians interact, respond to, or embrace pop culture? It’s a question that I wrestle with regularly, given that my interests include not only theology but also science-fiction.
And let’s face it, there are good ways and bad ways to interact with pop culture. Take Game of Thrones for example. The Song of Ice and Fire series is fantastic (even if I do have squabbles with the quality of A Dance with Dragons), and HBO has translated the novels into a highly successful television series. How do Christians, who appreciate the novels, respond to the television series especially given HBO’s propensity to “sex it up”? Not all of us are comfortable with the graphic sexual content of the show, and yet we still understand that there is something powerful to the narrative of the television series that cannot be ignored.
There are a plethora of examples of Christians responding to Game of Thrones (be it the novels or the television series) well, with thought, reflection and respect for the world that Martin has created. Here are just a few:
But then, every once and a while you come across an example of how not to interact with Game of Thrones. Take the article at Christianity Today. Jonathan Ryan attempts to contrast Game of Thrones and The Lord of the Rings. Which is fine, so long as it is recognized that they are two very different worlds and worldviews. The problem comes when Ryan tries to compare Tyrion Lannister to Gollum:
Martin paints this grimness in the portrait of Tyrion Lannister. Tyrion is a small and deformed figure born to a powerful and noble family in Westeros. Years of poor treatment and outright abuse leads Tyrion to drink more and more deeply from the corruption around him.If you’ve read Lord of the Rings, you can’t help but compare Tyrion to Smeagol, the hobbit who becomes Gollum after becoming corrupted by Sauron’s ring The difference comes in Frodo’s attempt to redeem Gollum. That attempt has no parallel in Martin’s world, nor is there anything like Gandalf’s admonition to treat Gollum with kindness. Tyrion has no Frodo, and he never will. No one reaches out to him; no one tries to save or redeem him.
Ryan fundamentally misunderstands and misconstrues the character of Tyrion. In fact, I would argue that Tyrion is in fact one of the most honourable characters in Westeros, with the understanding that the rules of morality in A Song of Ice and Fire are very, very distinct from the rules of morality in something like The Lord of the Rings. Indeed, it is this honour-in- spite-of-all-he’s-been-through that makes Tyrion one of the more beloved characters to readers (and viewers). The same endearment cannot be said of Gollum.
In trying to compare Tyrion to Gollum, the author overlooks all the good things that Tyrion has done. (There is now a note at the bottom of the article that the article removed an important plot point from the article because it would be a “spoiler” to those who are new to the series, but even eliminating discussion of the plot point does not mean that at this point in the TV series Tyrion fits well with Gollum).
First, a few comparisons. Gollum was consumed by lust for the ring. And it was this lust that transformed him into a hideous monster. Tyrion was broken and starved for affection because he was born deformed. His brokenness did not transform his appearance, but instead, his appearance and neglect actually gave him space to better see the complex politics of the world for what they were. Tyrion’s deformity meant that people left him alone, and underestimated him, and he used that to his advantage to study and to learn and to influence events in the kingdom (even if it was often only behind the scenes). For Tyrion, it’s not about gaining power, which is the drive of the rest of his family. Indeed, Tywin’s and Cersei’s quests for power are so single-minded that they don’t actually understand the bigger picture beyond their own ambitions. Gollum’s solitude, on the other hand, led to a devolution and little understanding of the world around him.
So what are some of the “noble” things that Tyrion does? (while I will try to remain vague, it should be noted that for some people, what follows might constitute spoilers).
Tyrion befriends Jon Snow. He rescues Sansa from a fate worse than death if she were to stay in King’s Landing. He protects the kingdom from Joffrey, by reining him in as best he can.
Does Tyrion do awful things? Yes. But while they are not inexcusable, they are understandable. Yes he kills two people close to him. But his action does not come from some kind of bloodlust, but rather from the raw emotion of being deeply betrayed and emotionally abused.
And as for Ryan’s suggestion that Tyrion has no Frodo, I would suggest that Tyrion does in fact have a Frodo, she just hasn’t been introduced in the television show yet (and I worry that she’ll be one of the characters that HBO drops in their attempt to streamline the novel). By the last novel, Tyrion is definitely on a redemption arc, as much as there can be a redemption arc in Martin’s universe.
If anything, Tyrion is the most human of all the characters in Martin’s universe, and I would suggest that the character of Tyrion could be a reflection and a jumping off point for discussing Christian understandings of the human condition, both in its brokenness and its value despite its brokenness.
Last night I finished my last major paper for my last class of my seminary degree. Save for a few loose ends that need to be dealt with this week, I am basically done all of my classes. Next week, I start my internship, and in February I start work on my thesis. Wahoo! I’m on track to graduate in 2014.
So as I was printing off a copy of my paper to do one final round of edits (I am the queen of comma issues), I found the following video in my Twitter feed. Yup. It pretty much sums up the experience of a grad student, be it at a Masters’ or PhD level.
A few weeks ago, someone got to my blog by searching “Doctor Who vs. Angelus.” I had never even thought about a post on that topic, but now I’m inspired because that is the perfect topic for a Whedony-Whovian geek to ponder. So here it is: The Official Doctor Who vs. Angelus post.
I’ve decided to consider three scenarios – what if Angelus met up with the 9th, 10th, or 11th Doctor? Now I’m not saying that he would encounter all three, but rather, what if Angelus came up against the 9th Doctor (Christopher Eccleston) OR the 10th Doctor (David Tennant) OR the 11th Doctor (Matt Smith)?
9th Doctor vs. Angelus:
Doctor: You think it’ll last forever. People and cars and concrete. But it won’t. One day it’s all gone. Even the sky. My planet’s gone. It’s dead. It burned like the Earth. It’s just rocks and dust. Before its time.
Rose: What happened?
The Doctor: There was a war and we lost.
The Doctor is a scarred and angry timelord. He survived the Time Lord war, but now is the only Time Lord left in existence. And yet, he is just beginning to let people in again. He teams up with Rose and begins the process of letting someone “in” to his life.
The Doctor and Rose meet Angelus in the 1860s shortly after Angelus had turned Drusilla. Angelus did more than turn Drusilla into a vampire, he first turned her insane by tormenting her and killing her family. Fresh off of that “triumph”, Angelus is seeking his next conquest. The Doctor and Rose arrive, as is usually the case, unintentionally. The Doctor was planning to take Rose to the 1960s but missed it by a century.
Angelus spots the Doctor and Rose in a tavern, and is intrigued by the power and confidence the Doctor exudes. He stalks them for several days, leaving a trail of bodies conspicuously in the path of the Doctor so that he is forced to investigate. Angelus kidnaps Rose and holds her hostage to torment the Doctor. When the Doctor comes to rescue Rose, Angelus kills her spectacularly in front of the Doctor. The Doctor loses it, and flies into a vengeful rage. He decapitates Angelus, but before he disintegrates into a pile of dust, Angelus smiles knowingly. He succeeded in turning the Doctor into a dark, angry, soulless Time Lord who will never again seek out companionship or volunteer to save humanity.
The Doctor leaves earth, never to return. He never takes another companion. Pleas for the Doctor to come and help planets in need go unanswered. The Doctor doesn’t care. He is not a hero. And to ensure that he will never again help, he destroys the TARDIS with no shred of remorse.
Victor: The Doctor
Dead: Angelus, Rose, the TARDIS
The 10th Doctor vs Angelus:
You need to get yourself a better dictionary. When you do, look up “genocide”. You’ll find a little picture of me there, and the caption’ll read “Over my dead body”. ~The Doctor, episode 4.6 The Doctor’s Daughter.
The Doctor and Donna are traveling when the Tardis breaks down and they land in California in 1998. Angelus has returned, having been de-souled after having succumbed to the teenaged-passion of Buffy. Jenny Calendar has been killed. Buffy and her Scooby Gang are attempting to come up with a plan to beat Angelus while at the same time balancing the demands of high school life. The Doctor and Donna come across Angelus feeding on Theresa, who will deliver a message from Angelus to Buffy when she rises as a vampire. The Doctor rescues Theresa, and Donna exclaims in typical Donna-fashion that she can’t believe that vampires are really real. Angelus escapes, but the Doctor takes up the mission of tracking him down.
Two nights later, Angelus tries to kidnap Donna, who refuses to be a damsel in distress and does her best to fight him off. The Doctor arrives, to see Donna pulling a vial of holy water from her pocket and throwing it at Angelus. The Doctor is impressed with her quick thinking and asked her where she got the holy water. She replies, in her typical flippant matter, that she has seen Dracula movies and since vampires are actually real, thought it would be prudent to arm herself. Angelus, slightly singed from the holy water, turns his attention to the Doctor. The Doctor barely flinches, steps one step to the left, causing Angelus to fall forward, impaling himself on the white picket fence that was directly behind the Doctor.
Buffy and the Scooby gang never find out what happened to Angelus, and assume that he must have left town, even though that would have been out of character for him, as he was dead-set on besting the slayer. The Doctor and Donna leave in the TARDIS to travel back to the 1920s to meet Agatha Christie.
Victor: The Doctor
The 11th Doctor vs. Angelus:
Bowties are cool.
It’s 1894 and Angelus, having been imprisoned by the Immortal, is on a rampage through Italy, angry that the Immortal had (successfully) seduced Darla and Drusilla. The Doctor and the Ponds have arrived in 1894 looking for the opportunity to rest after the chaos of trying to vacation on Apalapucia. The Doctor declares that he wants to take them back to Victorian London. The TARDIS, instead of dropping them in 1894 London, drops them in 1894 Rome, which Rory declares is not funny given he spent two thousand years as a Roman centurion. The Doctor swears he wasn’t trying to be clever, and that he really must get around to adjusting the geo-locator on the TARDIS.
The Doctor and the Ponds come across the remains of a family on whom Angelus had taken out some of his frustration, and realize that nothing human could have done this. They investigate and track down Angelus, who is angrily sulking alone in an abandoned house, having stormed away from the other vampires (especially Darla) in a fit of pique. The Doctor swears to Angelus that his rampage is at an end, Angelus grins darkly and says, “Look, another set of chew toys.”
The Doctor evades Angelus’ attacks by running and leaping about, looking rather like a hyperactive walking-stick, while the Ponds grab whatever makeshift weapons they can. Amy holds a broken piece of window lattice that is shaped like a cross, and Angelus shrinks back snarling. Angelus throws a heavy book at Amy, shattering the lattice, and advances toward her, saying “You think you have a chance against me? I was slitting throats when Frederick the Great was invading Prussia!” A heavy blow strikes Angelus on the back of the neck, and the return stroke sends him flying head over heels. Rory stands over Angelus, holding a table leg as a club: “And I was slitting throats when Emperor Trajan was invading Northern Thrace.” Amy has one of her rare moments of genuinely appreciating Rory.
The moment, however, is short-lived, as Angelus lashes out, shattering Rory’s shin with a vicious kick. As Rory crumples (wishing that he was still made of plastic so that wouldn’t have hurt as much), Angelus backhands Amy across the room and swipes up Rory’s club. The Doctor, finally outraged enough to take decisive action, adjusts his bow tie and looks very cross. As the Doctor begins a stern speech about how he, the Last of the Time Lords, scourge of the Daleks, besieger of Demons’ Run, bane of the Cybermen, will stand for no more, Angelus furiously bashes him over the head repeatedly, decorating the walls with Gallifreyan brain matter.
Angelus stands over the doctor, enjoying the sight of blood and carnage. Suddenly, a length of wood protrudes from his chest as Amy impales him from behind with a chair leg. With a shocked expression, Angelus collapses into a cloud of dust.
Amy turns to the fallen Doctor. Angelus had killed him far too quickly and the Doctor was unable to regenerate. The regenerative powers that had been given to him by River Song, leave his body, travel across time and space, and re-enter River Song. River Song breaks out of prison and takes up the mission of the Doctor. She travels throughout the galaxy in the Doctor’s TARDIS, and the show is renamed “Professor Who.”
Victor: Amy and Rory Pond
Dead: Angelus, The Doctor
The blog software I use has a feature that let’s me know the search terms people used to find my blog. I have collected the strangest search terms for 2012. My conclusion: There are some very weird people out there.
Geek Related Search Terms:
Theology Related Search Terms:
Cheese Related Search Terms:
Random Search Terms:
Hello my friends. I hope you all had a blessed Merry Christmas. We had a delightfully quiet Christmas with lots of food (and chocolate) and much-needed quality “just hanging out” time. It was a geeky Christmas in terms of presents.
Not only did The Doctor visit and bring the dvd set of first season of Doctor Who with David Tennant, AND the 50th anniversary Dr. Who Monopoly, but we also got the Settlers of Catan expansion Cities and Knights. Chuck and I have been trying it out, and it’s going to make our Tuesday Settlers date nights very very interesting.
I can’t believe how quickly this year has flown by. It was a very busy year. On the seminary front, I took 8 classes between January and December (Greek, Theology of Forgiveness, Reformation Era, Patristics, Christology, Spiritual Formation, Research Methods, and Pauline Epistles). I have now completed all of the classes for my degree and am gearing up to start my thesis in February, as well as do my internship by helping out in a college-level class for the semester.
Things were also quite busy on the blog. The blog has reached the magical 100,000 hits in a little over 2 years which was awesome. Thank you so much to my readers, and to those who shared posts through Twitter, Facebook, Google +, and other blogs. And, in September the blog moved from WordPress.com to a self-hosted WordPress.org format. (A big shout-out to Nick who helped me get it all set up).
I think this year had some of my favourite blog posts.
I did a series on Women in the Reformation, looking specifically at Invectives and Insults that leading Protestant women faced for their attempts to proclaim the Gospel:
In light of this new egalitarian theology, women from a variety of backgrounds found a voice and entered into the action of proclaiming the Gospel and wrestling with the new theology of justification by faith. As Daniel Frankforter notes, at the advent of the Reformation, “many women comprehended immediately what it was about, embraced its faith, preached its message and encouraged its leaders.” Unfortunately, the response from the leaders of the Reformation to these women actively participating in preaching and teaching was not entirely positive. More often than not, the women who chose to write, preach and teach were met with invectives, attempts to expunge their writings, and silence.
I did a tongue-in-cheek exhortation on why Christians should never read the Patristic Fathers:
10. They’re boring. They don’t talk about anything interesting. Ever. And they are polite and never ever disagree with each other.
9. People were baptized naked. Yup. Naked. Oh my victorian/evangelical sensibilities!
8. What do you mean there were women in leadership in the early church? Church Mothers? Desert Mothers? Everyone knows that the only biblical model for women is to be at home in high heels and have supper in the oven…
Speaking of tongue-in-cheek humourous posts, I also did a very loose interpretation and reimagining of Proverbs 31, In Praise of the Geeky Wife:
A wife of geeky character who can find? She is worth far more than gold-pressed latinum.
Her husband has full confidence in her and lacks no season of Doctor Who.
She brings him buffs, not de-buffs, all the days of her life.
She grinds mats and rep and works with eager hands.
She is like Cyrano Jones, bringing her tribbles from afar…
I wrote about how Ariel from The Little Mermaid and Merida from Brave are illustrations of young evangelicals:
I guess what it comes down to is this: I wish there was a little more humility; a little more listening. I get the disenfranchisement of the young people in the church today, I really do. I am of that generation. I think the difference is that I didn’t grow up in the Church, so I didn’t have my rebel moment. I came into the Church at the age of 16 with my eyes somewhat open to what I was choosing. It was (through the grace and power of the Holy Spirit) my choice to respond to the gracious gift of Jesus; it wasn’t forced on me (“you have to be a Christian because that is what this family does”). Add to that, I have spent a lot of time reading Church history, listening to the elders who have gone before, and sitting under their wisdom. It has changed me. It has softened me. It has made me (somewhat) more patient with the foibles and frustrations of a Church that is made up of imperfect humans.
I wrote one post on the Biblical Womanhood hoopla that arose in the blogosphere after Rachel Held Evans’ newest book came out:
For 17 years I have struggled through the minefield of messages and advice, trying to be an obedient disciple of Jesus. And yet, I have also learned that much of the “advice” that is given out by well-meaning lay leaders in the church is loaded with spiritual guilt and peer pressure. Not only is there a desire to be a faithful servant, but there is a social need to fit in. And when those pressures are combined with “biblical” wisdom, it becomes a power cocktail of stress and anxiety, one that leads to a salvation by works rather than a salvation by faith, as women try their best to live up to the expectations.
I introduced y’all to some of my favourite female theologians, and Chuck talked about how to be a smart consumer of the academic literature that focuses on the complementarian-egalitarian gender debate:
First, there is a difference between “gender differences” and “inherent gender differences.” Gender differences (and that includes personality differences) are often substantial, but are the product of both biological and social factors. So finding larger differences than previous studies found does not lock us into the interpretation that these differences are all about God’s design. Also, the CBMW author rails against secular academics who are trying to prove that gender differences are “negligible, circumstantial and not a part of design,” but ignores the fact that the study (which I’m guessing he didn’t read) is about a conflict between academics who expect gender differences to be small and other academics (mostly evolutionary psychologists) who expect them to be large…Pointing to a poorly written study in a poor-quality journal and using it to “prove” an organization’s position actually serves to undercut the credibility of said organization.
On the sci-fi front, I wrote about the theme of apocalypse and the nature of humanity as portrayed in the Whedon-verse and Doctor Who and compared it to a Christian theological understanding:
Indeed, and here is the biggest difference, the Christian apocalypse is primarily redemptive. The Christian apocalypse is not about utter and total destruction. The earth and humanity will not be left in ruin, where the survivors are left alone to somehow bravely rebuild their lives. True there will be judgment (and violence). But even that judgment is redemptive.
So once again I want to say thank you to all of you out there. Some people think that blogging is an impersonal and isolating endeavour, but I have made new friends and even met some of you in real life as a result of the community that has been formed through the blogosphere.
May you all have a restful Christmas holiday. And I look forward to all the conversations that will happen in the blogosphere in 2013.