Sunday, August 31, 2014

The Oldest Question

But Moses said to God, “If I come to the Israelites and say to them, ‘The God of your ancestors has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ what shall I say to them?” God said to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM.” He said further, “Thus you shall say to the Israelites, ‘I AM has sent me to you.’” (Exodus 3:13-14)

It has been referred to in recent episodes as the oldest question in the universe, the question that has been a running gag throughout the fifty year history of the show: Doctor who? It is implied that he has a name, but for whatever reason he won’t tell anyone what it is. He’s just the Doctor to everyone he meets. The implications of what it means to be the Doctor are so tied to his identity that he even had one incarnation that refused the title because he couldn’t stand to have it associated with the one who ended both the Time War and the whole Time Lord race. In “The Day of the Doctor,” the name is described as a promise: “Never cruel or cowardly. Never give up, never give in.” It lets humans know that help has arrived and it strikes fear into the hearts of Daleks, Cybermen, and a myriad of other monsters and bad guys.

There is perhaps an older question in the universe, the one that Moses asked: God who? In the ancient world so full of gods, who are you that people should listen to the message I bring from you? It’s funny how Moses receives the same kind of answer as so many companions over the years. Just as the Doctor is simply that, God just IS. It’s a name that holds a promise: eternal, ever-present, and all-powerful. I AM - that’s all the answer you’re going to get, but it’s all the answer you need.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

What's Your Superpower?

For as in one body we have many members, and not all the members have the same function, so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually we are members one of another. We have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us: prophecy, in proportion to faith; ministry, in ministering; the teacher, in teaching; the exhorter, in exhortation; the giver, in generosity; the leader, in diligence; the compassionate, in cheerfulness. (Romans 12:4-8)

Buffy and her so-called “Scooby Gang.” The X-Men. The Fantastic Four. The Justice League. Even the Thundercats (HO!). Having a team of superheroes to share the work of conquering evil is certainly a popular trope in the world of movies, television, and comics, and for good reason. It is much easier to vanquish the villain when the work can be split between a group and each member of the group can use his, her, or its particular power, mutation, or ability to do things that the other members of the group can’t.

Contributing to the common goal by using one’s unique talents is not a new idea - Paul wrote about it long before Stan Lee or Joss Wheedon made use of it. The church is a group made up of a varied collection of people with a wide variety of God-given talents, and God expects everyone to use those talents to further his Kingdom. It’s not the extent of the talent or gift that’s important, it’s that it is being used to the fullest extent available, however small or large.

So, what’s your superpower? And more importantly, what are you going to do with it?

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Cheeky Women

But she came and knelt before him, saying, "Lord, help me." He answered, "It is not fair to take the children's food and throw it to the dogs." She said, "Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters' table." Then Jesus answered her, "Woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish." And her daughter was healed instantly. (Matthew 15:25-28)

Princess Leia from Star Wars. Laura Hobson from Inspector Morse and Lewis. Donna Noble from Doctor Who. Three of my favorite female characters in film and television, and they all have something in common - these are three cheeky women. Strong women, yes, but more than that, they are quick-witted and ready with the snarky comeback in any situation - something I aspire to every time I think of the perfect retort hours after the conversation.

They can also be disinclined to take “no” for an answer. In “The Fires of Pompeii,” the Doctor insists that they must follow the old “You can’t rewrite history, not one line!” mantra. The volcano monster must be vanquished, even at the expense of the lives of the people of Pompeii, because history says that the town was destroyed in 79 AD and there’s nothing he can do to save them. Donna, on the other hand, sees this for the BS that it is - what’s the point of having a time machine if you can’t help people with it? For every argument that he has, she argues back, and they finally reach a compromise: they can’t save everyone, but they can at least save Caecilius and his family.

The gospel passage in the lectionary this week is an odd one. It’s hard to imagine Jesus turning away anyone who needed his help, regardless of where she’s from. Then again, if Jesus didn’t want to help non-Jews, he wouldn’t have been in the region of Tyre and Sidon to begin with, and he would have let his disciples turn the woman away like they wanted to do. Instead, he makes a comment that leaves the door wide open for this cheeky Canaanite to toss back a cheeky reply as she refuses to accept his first answer. Evidently that is enough to prove herself, for the end result is that she gets what she came for. Jesus said it was because of her faith, but I think I know better. And I think cheekiness is something I will aspire to in my spiritual life as well.

Sunday, August 10, 2014


...if you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For one believes with the heart and so is justified, and one confesses with the mouth and so is saved. The scripture says, "No one who believes in him will be put to shame." For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; the same Lord is Lord of all and is generous to all who call on him. For, "Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved." (Romans 10:9-13)

The Daleks and the Cybermen are the Doctor’s two most famous enemies, and both turn up in the season finale of the second series of New Who, a two-part story consisting of episodes “Army of Ghosts” and “Doomsday.” The Cybermen are the main villains in the story, suddenly appearing all over London, and indeed, all over the planet, in an attempt to take over the world.

The primary characteristics of Cybermen are their uniformity and their lack of emotion. Their mission is always to add to their own numbers by “upgrading” humans by turning them into what are basically organic robots, which to the Cybermen is a vast improvement over chaotic lives driven by an ever-changing array of feelings. In “Doomsday,” once the Cybermen are in place and starting to capture humans, the Cyberleader sends out a message to the world: 

“This broadcast is for humankind. Cybermen now occupy every landmass on this planet; but you need not fear. Cybermen will remove fear. Cybermen will remove sex, and class, and colour, and creed. You will become identical. You will become like us.”

It may seem strange to equate God with killer robots from a television show, but once you notice the similarities it’s really not a very difficult leap. God’s love is the great equalizer. Salvation is offered to everyone and everyone is capable of obtaining it -- all you have to do is believe. You don’t have to come from a certain place, you don’t have to be a certain ethnicity or gender or social class. And best of all, you don't have to give up any of your wonderfully messy human emotions.

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Go Away and Deal With It

Now when Jesus heard this, he withdrew from there in a boat to a deserted place by himself. But when the crowds heard it, they followed him on foot from the towns….When it was evening, the disciples came to him and said, “This is a deserted place, and the hour is now late; send the crowds away so that they may go into the villages and buy food for themselves.” Jesus said to them, “They need not go away; you give them something to eat.” (Matthew 14:13, 15-16)

Last week’s episode of Falling Skies, titled “Door Number Three,” begins with the reunification of Tom Mason’s family. For the first time since the beginning of the season, when yet another alien attack scattered them in many different directions, he is finally in the same place as all four of his children and the woman he loves. All is not well, however. It is stressful enough for Tom to deal with the fact that the young woman before him is his less-than-two-year-old little girl, thanks to her weird human/alien hybrid DNA. Now, Lexi is in a cocoon, and only time will tell whether she remains mostly human or emerges more like the enemy Espheni.

Family issues or not, Tom is a leader and many people now look up to him for guidance and direction in the fight to survive. His oldest son, Hal, comes to him to ask what the next move is, what he should tell the people who are clamoring for answers, listing all the possibilities while Tom mostly tunes him out.

“Yeah, that makes sense,” Tom replies. “Yeah, we’ll do that, we’ll do all that. Stop them from making more human skitters, liberate ghettos, rescue the kids from Matt’s camp. But not today. I just got my family back in one place, in one piece. I’m not going anywhere.”

Hal is not satisfied with this answer: “What should I tell the people? Take a breather? Pretend like we’re not facing the extinction of humankind?”

“You can tell them whatever you want. I’ve given everything to these people. And to this fight. Today I’m going to be here for my daughter.”

Even Jesus needed time away from the people he gave his all to. Matthew places the feeding of the five thousand directly after an account of the beheading of John the Baptist by Herod. The “this” that Jesus heard and that caused him to seek quiet and solitude was the news of his cousin’s execution. Time and space to grieve was not to be had, however, as hordes of people took off on foot and met him on the other side of the lake, clamoring for attention, healing, teaching. As usual, Jesus put aside his personal needs at that point and showed his love for them, but he seems to have run out of patience by the time his disciples get to him. They lack authority or initiative to carry out the plan they have devised, so they bring it to the Teacher. “The people are hungry, send them away so they can find something to eat.”

“You feed them. You are fully capable, adult men. Use your God-given brains and figure this one out. Go away and leave me in peace for a few minutes and don’t come back until you have a solution.”

Amazingly enough, that’s just what the disciples did. It wasn’t much of a solution, granted, and they seem to see it as proof only of the lack of another viable alternative to the plan they presented initially, but Jesus blessed their efforts by blessing the food, and all of the people ate supper that night.

So what are you waiting for?