I am a geek.
I have always been a geek, and I will always be a geek.
Fortunately, there are plenty of intersections between geek culture and the Gospel, even if they aren’t always intentional. JRR Tolkien considered the Lord of the Rings to be a profoundly Catholic work. The Harry Potter stories follow a struggle between good and evil that *spoiler alert* ends with the main character offering his own life to save the lives of all others. Much of science fiction follows a similar arc, what Joseph Campbell referred to as the hero cycle. Fans of Star Wars and the Matrix are familiar with the concept of a “chosen one” who will restore order to the universe. A character is called to a quest, goes on a journey which eventually leads through a world of death and darkness, before rising in triumph. I think these things speak to us because we are, each of us, made for glory.
All of this is a preamble. A proof of concept if you will. The Apostle Paul said, “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable–if anything is excellent or praiseworthy–think about such things.” (Philippians 4:8).
In short, we can chat about the Gospel through the lens of a science fiction television show. If that seems preposterous, please re-read the previous paragraphs.
On Saturday, November 25, the world lost actor Ron Glass. I first encountered Glass as Shepherd Darriel Book in the cult classic “Firefly”. I loved his character. Glass brought a sense of warmth, humor, and emotional complexity to the role.
A Shepherd, in the Firefly Universe, is a pastor. Shepherd Book takes up with the nomadic crew of the spaceship Serenity and travels with them. He remains even after he learns that they are smugglers. Over the course of the show Book struggles with questions of morality, of legalism and grace, as he interacts with mercenaries, prostitutes, rebel soldiers, and other rogues.
After learning of Ron Glass’s death I began revisiting scenes from the show. Something in the first episode struck me.
When we first see Shepherd Book, he is wandering through a spaceport, looking for a ship to travel on. A character named Kaylee, the mechanic on the Serenity, approaches and convinces him to travel on their ship. Over the course of their conversation, Book states that he is not concerned with where the ship is travelling.
“How come you don’t care where you’re going?” she asks.
“Because how you get there is the worthier part,” he responds.
The statement struck me as message that more Christians could stand to embrace.
There is a common belief among many Christians that Heaven is the only concern of a Christian life. Jesus came to die and be resurrected, giving us a free pass to Heaven if we accept it. In this view of the Christian faith, the teachings of Jesus are interesting, but sort of beside the point.
The Bible seems to disagree.
“He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” (Micah 6:8 NIV)
“Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.” (James 1:27 NIV)
“ ‘What should we do then?’ The crowd asked. John answered, ‘Anyone who has two shirts should share with the one who has none, and anyone who has food should do the same.’ Even tax collectors came to be baptized. ‘Teacher,’ they asked, ‘what should we do?’ ‘Don’t collect any more than you are required to,’ he told them. Then some soldiers asked him, ‘And what should we do?’ He replied, ‘Don’t extort money and don’t accuse people falsely-be content with your pay.’ ” (Luke 3:10-15)
“Not everyone who calls out to me ‘Lord! Lord!’ will enter the Kingdom of Heaven. Only those who actually do the will of my Father who is in heaven.” (Matthew 7:21 NIV)
A few chapters later, Jesus explains how we do the will of God.
“ ‘Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?’ Jesus replied: ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.’ ” (Matthew 22:36-40 NIV)
If we take these verses seriously, then we have to start thinking that Heaven isn’t the main goal for a Christian. Maybe, as Shepherd book said, how we get there is the worthier part.
Don’t get me wrong. We are all completely dependent on grace. All the good works in the world won’t gain us God’s love. God loved us completely before we were born. God accepts us, knowing that we are broken and prone to sin.
In theology, this is referred to as prevenient grace. It is grace that God gave us before any decision on our part. Grace that works independent of us. It is absolutely essential, but God doesn’t stop there. God is not done with us. As John wrote in Revelations:
“He who was seated on the throne said, ‘I am making everything new!’ ” (Revelations 21:5 NIV)
This is where Sanctifying grace comes into play, Sanctifying grace transforms us into who God wants us to be. Unlike prevenient grace, we play an active role in this process. God works in us and through us. We are called to act as God’s hands and feet, to play an active role in making all things new.
Perhaps Jesus’s ultimate goal was not to give us a ticket to a magic, faraway paradise, but to restore the world to the way that God intended it to be from the beginning.
All of this brings me back to the show Firefly and the character of Shepherd Book.
His character has struggles and triumphs over the course of the show and subsequent movie. Travelling with the crew of Serenity, he is given the chance to care for the wounded and suffering, to minister to those experiencing doubt and despair, and to develop deep and abiding relationships. He experiences tragedy and heartbreak. He struggles with his faith at times, but ultimately makes a profound difference in the lives of those around him. *spoiler alert* Even in death he works to make a difference, imploring the character of Malcolm Reynolds to find and hold on to something to believe. His dedication and belief play no small part in the eventual victory over the dark, insidious forces of the Alliance.
Imagine if he had only been concerned with his destination?
What would have been lost?
What do we lose in this world by concerning ourselves only with the next world?
God is making all things new and wants us to help. God expects us to help.
Thank you Ron Glass. Thank you for your work. It taught me more than you’d imagine.
For folks who are interested in honoring Ron Glass’s memory, you can contribute to the charitable organization he worked with: The Wooten Center http://www.wootencenter.org/