Friday, December 18, 2015

Unexpected Forgiveness

We welcome another guest post, this one from Kimberly Doremus

Unexpected Forgiveness
The Zygon Inversion
Original Air Date: November 7, 2015

Is anybody ever too evil to be forgiven?  By me? By God?  That question has been a part of human existence since the Fall of man.  Adam and Eve hid from God as soon as they sinned.  In the New Testament, Peter asks Jesus, “Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me and I forgive him? Up to seven times?” (NASB, Matt. 18:21). 
The back half of a two-parter, the eighth episode of the ninth season of the revival, wrestles with that question.  As is frequently the case, the Doctor is unintentionally allegorical to Christ.  Standing in the place of the sinner is “Bonnie”, a Zygon who has taken the form of the Doctor’s companion, Clara.  Bonnie is the commander of a splinter group of Zygons who wish to come out of hiding and destroy the human race.  About thirty minutes into this second episode, Bonnie seems to be within an instant of reaching her goal, and the Doctor is faced with the goal of talking her down.  For almost ten minutes, Peter Capaldi delivers a near soliloquy (with a few brief comments from Bonnie and Kate Lethbridge-Stewart) that will likely be his definitive scene as the Doctor.  Suddenly, instead of a sci-fantasy romp, it’s a lecture on the futility of war…and the power of forgiveness.

To be forgiven, of course, one must first have committed a sin.  Yet so often, when we sin, rather than seeking forgiveness, we seek to pass the blame.  We accuse someone, anyone…often God Himself.  When the Doctor confronts Bonnie with her sin, she deflects. 

“This is wrong.  This is all your fault…You are responsible for all of the violence, all of the suffering. You engineered this situation, Doctor [the tenuous peace between human and Zygon brokered in the fiftieth anniversary special and the “Osgood Boxes” which can supposedly destroy either the humans or their shape-shifting neighbors].  This is your fault…I had to do what I’ve done.”(“The Zygon Inversion,” brackets mine).
Where have I heard that before? The unrepentant sinner who says, “Your God made me this way, so how can He expect me to change?”  Adam, “The woman whom You gave to be with me, she gave me from the tree, and I ate.” (NASB, Gen. 3:12)? Myself?

When we set ourselves up as righteous in our own minds, we find ourselves unable to forgive others, whether they have legitimately sinned against us, or we are blaming them for our own sin to absolve ourselves of guilt.  We cry, with Bonnie, “It’s not fair!”  But the Doctor replies,
“These things have happened, Zygella, they are facts.  You just want cruelty to beget cruelty.  You’re not superior to people who were cruel to you.  You’re just a whole bunch of new cruel people.  A whole bunch of new cruel people being cruel to some other people who’ll end up being cruel to you.  They only way anyone can live in peace is if they’re prepared to forgive.  Why don’t you break the cycle?” (“The Zygon Inversion).
Our Savior’s answer to Peter’s question was similar, “I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven.” (NASB, Matt. 18:22).  In the Lord’s Prayer, He taught us to ask, “And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.” (NASB, Matt. 6:12). Jesus practiced what He preached, as He was nailed to the cross, He prayed for His killers, “Father, forgive them” (NASB, Luke 23:34).

Finally, we admit our sin.  But do we yet seek forgiveness?  Sometimes.  But often, we cling to our sins.  They are familiar, they are comfortable, and we know that we do not deserve forgiveness anyway.  “Might as well be hung for a sheep as a lamb,” as the old saying goes.  Bonnie, our Zygon friend, certainly felt that way. “I’ve started this and I’m not stopping it.  You think they’ll let me go after what I’ve done?”(“The Zygon Inversion”). I imagine our Father’s answer is much the same as the Doctor’s: “You’re all the same, you screaming kids, you know that? ‘Look at me, I’m unforgivable.’ Well, here’s the unforeseeable, I forgive you.  After all you’ve done.  I forgive you.” (“The Zygon Inversion”).

To end with even that would be powerful.  I am reminded of the words of the Passover song, “Dayenu”, which means, “We would have been satisfied” (Sevener, 23).  But the best part is that here is where our analogy breaks down, where we see the difference between the Doctor and Christ.  The Doctor explains that he is capable of forgiving Bonnie because he has been in her shoes, has done the horrific things she contemplates doing.  And that in itself is beautiful, because it reminds us to show compassion from one sinner to another.  However, Jesus Christ does not forgive us because He has sinned like us.  While He “has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin.” (NASB, Heb. 4:15).  Yet He not only forgives us, “He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross” (NASB, 1 Pet. 2:24).  Unexpected forgiveness indeed! 

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Episode: Kill The Moon (Series 8)

     If one were to look at the Kill The Moon episode through a Christian lens, their immediate read might be about the sanctity of life, specifically unborn life. We could talk about abortion and the value of every unique life and equate it to Christian morals and ethics. However, I’m more interested in another aspect of this episode. I want to look at the tension that is built up in the relationship between the 12th Doctor and Clara.

     In the episode, the Doctor, Clara, and Courtney (one of Clara’s students) travel to the moon in the near future. They land inside a shuttle just as it roughly lands onto the moon. The shuttle is carrying nuclear bombs along with its crew, who was sent there to destroy the moon. The moon has put on weight and it wreaking havoc upon Earth’s gravitational field and causing massive tides. They all soon discover that the moon is actually a giant egg with a growing baby creature inside and it’s about to hatch. They are faced with a choice, to blow up the moon to kill the baby creature or let it hatch. Both options have their risks. Clara advocates for the life of the baby, while Captain Lundvik is set on killing the baby in hopes to save those on Earth. With little time to spare, they have to decide what to do. Clara turns to the Doctor for advice, but the Doctor chooses to remove himself from the situation. He says there are tiny moments when big things are decided and he can’t always see the outcome.  He tells Clara, that the Earth isn’t his home and that he can’t make the decision, she does. In a snide remark, the Doctor tells Clara it’s time to take the stabilizers off her bike. Clara is extremely offended and hurt by his remark and subsequent departure.

     In our relationship with God we have a choice to make, to accept Jesus as our Lord and Savior or to not. God gave us freewill and choice, so he can’t force us to choose. Even though He may orchestrate events in our lives to reveal certain truths for us to base our decision on, it’s still up to us. Our initial choice to follow Jesus may outwardly or even at the moment seem as a little act, but it’s one of the biggest most important choices we can make in our lives.

     I’m going to talk about the time when the Doctor leaves and equate it to those times when God is silent. When we feel alone and have to make a choice. We can try to figure out the decision logically, listing pros and cons, or getting multiple opinions, but in the end it’s still up to our gut choice and us. As in Clara’s last minute choice to not kill the baby, regardless of Earth’s choice to kill it. I would bet that Clara had already made up her mind on her choice even before asking the people of the Earth to choose. As soon as Clara makes the choice the Doctor materializes in his TARDIS and teleports them to back on to Earth to watch the hatching. The Doctor reveals that Clara’s choice was the right one and amongst the biggest ones to have been made in all of humanity. The baby creature is born and is beautiful. It doesn’t destroy Earth, it just flies off and leaves a new egg in its place. The incident brings hope to the people of Earth. They saw something wonderful in the blackness and didn’t want to destroy it. Humanity strives upward and starts to travel to space and endures till the end of time.

Afterward, Clara expresses her anger towards the Doctor. She yells at him in the TARDIS with heated words and tears in her eyes. I can’t help but think about my young self and my prayers. I was so mad at God for his silence. I empathized with Clara when she told the Doctor to go away and not come back. I think about how I walked away from faith because I felt like God had left me when I needed him most. Anger is a strong emotion and can cloud our judgment. Just as Danny Pink told Clara, she is not actually done with the Doctor because she is still angry with him. That she should calm down and see if she can say it then. I think too often when I confessed my non-belief in God, there was anger residing within. It was never a calm profession. 

     In the following episode, Mummy on the Orient Express, Clara decides to have one last hurrah with the Doctor. While on the trip, Clara gets trapped in a room with another lady and confessed that she hated the Doctor for weeks. The lady replies with a rather insightful truth that hatred is too strong of an emotion to waste on someone you don’t like. I ignored the fact that I couldn’t call myself an atheist if I hated a God I didn’t believe in. Even in my doubt and disbelief I think I knew in my heart God was still there. Just as Clara couldn’t stay away from adventures with the Doctor, I too eventually returned to God. Granted my return was less simple and emotionally messier then Clara’s return, but nonetheless. Anger is a human emotion given to us by God and even when we are mad at Him he can use it to somehow bring us back to Him. He truly is all-knowing and worthy of praise!

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Don't Blink

Guest post by Margaret Schrock

     This semester I ventured into a new way of thinking by exploring the connections between two seemingly unrelated topics – Christianity and Dr Who. Since I’ve been a Dr Who fan for over 30 years, “Bigger on the Inside: Christianity and Dr Who” seemed the perfect seminary class for me. In our first class we watched “Blink” (season 3, episode 10; originally aired 6/9/2007). Widely considered one of the best episodes, it introduced the Weeping Angels. Inspired by an angel statue in a cemetery, writer David Moffat created an alien that could move incredibly quickly and silently when it was not observed, but then turned to stone when seen.  Thus the tenth Doctor, played by David Tennant, warns Sally Sparrow, “Don’t blink. Don’t even blink. Blink and you’re dead. They’re fast, faster than you can believe. Don’t turn your back, don’t look away, and don’t blink!” 

     Although loved by many, “Blink” was not a favorite of mine. As I watched “Blink” in our first class, I had to ask myself, “Why don’t you like this one?” My first response was that it was too scary. Certainly Weeping Angels were purposely designed to be scary monsters. However, as I watched, I found “Blink” no scarier than other episodes.  I concluded that it was the angels.

     The portrayal of angels as evil alien monsters bothered me. When I look at angel statues they seem peaceful, serene, even comforting. I have one in my backyard flower garden. Never would I associate them with danger.  Yet, in “Blink,” look away, and angel statues suddenly move, become demonic, and attack with outstretched arms, bared fangs and expressions of pure evil.

     Angels. Why angels? As a Christian I think of angels as the “good guys.” God’s mighty messengers sent to bring important announcements to earth.  They are described as “ministering spirits sent to serve those who will inherit salvation” (Heb. 1:14). But in “Blink” they are the “bad guys.”

     But have I forgotten, the Bible teaches of two types of angels – those who remained loyal to God and those who rebelled against Him. Those who remained loyal are the “good guys,” but those who rebelled are not. They are fallen angels, demons, spiritual beings that work against God and His people.

     “Blink” gives a glimpse of how deceptive evil can be. The Weeping Angels appeared as harmless statues but in reality were dangerous predators. Likewise, Scripture teaches that Satan masquerades as an angel of light (II Cor. 11:14) but in reality is our enemy seeking to devour us (I Pet. 5:8). 


Evil is real. Evil is destructive. But sometimes it is not easy to identify. Evil can look good. What is truly destructive can appear to be harmless. “Blink” can be a reminder to keep our spiritual eyes wide open and see evil for what it is. Heed the warning and don’t blink!

Saturday, August 1, 2015

Dr. Greg Thornbury Lecture On "Bigger on the Inside"

The book launch in March was quite the occasion, and the highlight was surely Dr. Greg Thornbury of King's College's lecture. You can find a recording of it here: Book Launch Lecture


Thursday, July 9, 2015

On Aliens and Ourselves

     Aliens are a fascinating trope in science-fiction, and the ways that they are used and presented says a lot about a given work. To make a truly alien being is, for one thing, very difficult and rarely attempted, because let's face it, you can't write what you don't know. More often, aliens serve as stand-ins for humans, but not with the complexity or depth that a human being possesses. When they do present us with complexity and depth, it is usually because they are acting, well, human. Aliens are often more two-dimensional, presenting a facet of human behavior, but worked out to an extreme degree. This usually serves either as a warning to humanity to prevent such an extreme, or a condemnation of us for not being extreme in such a way.

     I think that is an interesting place to go to see what the message of a particular work of science-fiction presents to us. It gives us an image of ourselves, which, while distorted, can cast light on our behavior in helpful ways. I'll start with a villain. The Cybermen!

     Oh boy, am I glad those costumes got better. Anyway, never trust a robot, but almost worse, a cyborg. The cybermen present us with a long-standing and prevalent fear of the effects of technology on human beings individually and socially. What happens when technology progresses unchecked? What do we do when our devices seem to have overtaken and control us? From the cybermen and the Borg, to Terminators and Thinking Machines (20 points if you get that last reference), this fear is deep-seated and has lined many a science-fictions author's pockets.

     We see this powerfully with the return of the cybermen in the second series of the reboot, episode 5, "Rise of the Cybermen." I guess they weren't worried about giving the ending away on this one, which is good because the message is pretty heavy-handed anyway. First off, the Doctor, Rose, and Mickey find themselves in a parallel universe unexpectedly, but sadly there are no counterparts sporting goatees (20 more points for this one). Rose is most surprised to see a billboard with her long-deceased father, working for Cybus Industries in this universe (subtle with the name there).

     But that's not all. In a Bradbury-esque turn, everyone in this universe's London is sporting EarPod devices that pipe that feed information directly into people's brains. This produces a population that is distracted by what they are listening to, browsing, or the phone conversations they are having. Utterly
absorbed in these activities, no one ever seems to take the EarBuds, er, Pods off. That is a real shame, because these are exactly what the Cybermen will use to control their minds and bring them in for "Upgrades." You see, the head of Cybus industries is trying to "better" humanity by putting the human brain into a metal body, thus freeing us from all the pesky limitations of this squishy bag of meat we walk around in.

     There is a lot to consider here. What limits are there to technological progress, for one? The general populace have dumbly accepted the newest gadgets they are given, without considering whether said gadgets are actually helpful or not. Meanwhile, the people at the technological forefront are pushing the boundaries of science with their research. Sounds great, right? That is, unless I like my squishy meatbag. "Progress" is a term that seems to always have positive overtones, and so we can easily be convinced of the moral goodness of a thing simply by tacking this on as an adjective. But technology changes us, and whether it is for better or worse depends often enough on how we use that technology. Is all technological advancement good, or bad? No. But some are more dangerous than others.

     Consider the effects of the EarPods. First they absorb a person in such a way that keeps them constantly occupied, constantly distracted. If one spends all of their time absorbed in superficial distractions, we should ask where creative, original, and critical thinking will come from? The brain is as much a tool as a phone, and if we use it poorly on a regular basis, it will degrade and stultify. 

     Socially, the effects are more obvious. The turn to the internal world is much easier, much more tempting when technology aids it. Meanwhile, real human interaction suffers. People begin to act alike, but the person they all become is superficial, self-absorbed, and frankly boring. But who cares, because cat pictures! It is interesting that the effects are not only the loss of individualism, but of community as well. These are connected. Only a real, substantial, distinct individualism can create a real, substantial, distinct community. A community is a collection of individuals, but because dull and lifeless when all those people are alike in their dull, carbon-copy selves. The heavy-handed metaphor in the episode could only be missed if you were blind and deaf, and therefore unaware that the episode was playing: technology can be a barrier to real human interactions and individuality. Eventually, the people all become so alike they are indistinguishable, becoming Cybermen with no sense of self at all, only that of creating more Cybermen. 

     Therein lies the final metaphor I want to mention. The Cybermen don't seem to have aspirations to power for power's sake, or some great malevolent desire to simply destroy. Rather, they mindlessly desire to simply create more of themselves, more carbon copies, more people that fit a uniform mold. Order is achieved only through the assimilation of all that makes us unique into a nice, tidy, clean form. Individuality is frightening, because it is unpredictable, and understanding one another is difficult. So when we encounter that which is different, disturbing, or that simply doesn't fit our expectations, we grow unsettled, and often try to fit that difference into our categories. The real danger of consuming technology mindlessly is certainly here, but the warning against enforcing conformity is just as poignant. It's one thing to pat yourself on the back and say "good job for being you, you're not a victim of the conformists!" It's another to look at yourself and ask, "am I the Cyberman? Am I the one who expects conformity?" Prejudice and conformity hold hands most often, and we Christians most of all must be wary of this, because Christ embraces all cultures, all colors, all faces, and does not hold any one cultural mold, any one of them, in higher regard than another.

     So the Cybermen are great "aliens," because they hold a mirror up for us. Do I mindlessly consume? What do I do that both dulls my individuality, and separates me from others? Is it important to actually critique and question the technology I use, and how I use it?

These are my musings, and some nuance needs added. Surely all conformity is not bad, right? Well, what do you think?

Sunday, May 3, 2015

Doctor Who and Prayer

Over at Theology for Nerds (which is my name for the Promised Land prophesied of old, incidentally), they have some great thoughts on the good Doctor and how it functions as a very usable metaphor for the Christian life. I especially like how they remind us to think of Christ as a person, an endlessly interesting human being, and not just an abstract God-beyond-the-veil. The transcendent deity of Christ must of course not be forgotten, but we on the more traditional side of Christianity do tend to collapse the human into the divine and thus actually do harm to our vision of Christ. He became a human so that we could see the Word manifest in the flesh, as a person, with all that involves excepting sin. To think of Jesus as a stern and implacable judge gets one side of His nature, but misses the wonderful tenderness, humor, companionship, and joy that is communicated through His perfect humanity.

Enough commentary, go read their post, it's an interesting one. And while we're at it, let us know how the humanity of Christ has impacted you or your understanding of redemption and the Christian life. It would be wonderful to get other's thoughts into this discussion.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Write Up From The King's College

Thanks to The King's College NYC for the spot-on summary of the book and release party, found here.

We intend to keep up the interactions with the good Doctor here, so stay tuned!