Sunday, 30 November 2008


In the episode ‘Objects in Space’ River hears the thoughts of the other folk on board Serenity.

Uncharacteristically Shepherd Book fiercely looks at River and thinks: ‘I don’t give half a hump if you’re innocent or not! So where does that put you?’

What does that mean?

Also, what is the significance of the name ‘Book’ for the character for whom the Bible is so important?

And is it just coincidence that the names ‘River’ and ‘Reaver’ (both victims of the Alliance) are so similar?

Saturday, 29 November 2008


If I haven't referred to Inara much then I've said even less about Simon and River. Time to address that, but first a pithy statement from Book which could have come straight out of a conversation in the Emerging Church.

In the episode Jaynestown, Shepherd Book finds River editing his Bible in order to remove the contradictions.

Book: ‘River you don’t fix the Bible!’

River: ‘It’s broken, it doesn’t make sense!’

Book: ‘It’s not about making sense. It’s about believing in something. And letting that belief be real enough to change your life. It’s about faith. You don’t fix faith, River. It fixes you.’

Commenting on this dialogue, and on the relationship between Simon and River, Alyson Buckman writes:

‘Ironically, River is like the Bible – she “doesn’t make sense,” and her brother attempts to fix her as she attempts to fix the Bible. As Book says about the Bible, the crew of Serenity must come to have faith in River, which they do by the end of [the episode] “Objects in Space.”’
Buckman, AR, ‘Much Madness is Divinest Sense’ in Wilcox, R & Cochran, TR (editors), Investigating Firefly and Serenity: Science Fiction on the Frontier, (London: I.B. Tauris,2008) p.46.


Some of Inara's wisdom from the episode 'Serenity' (Maybe this proves that Book isn't Jonah.)

Book: ‘I've been out of the Abbey two days. I've beaten a lawman senseless. Fallen in with criminals. I watched the captain shoot the man I swore to protect. And I'm not even sure if I think he was wrong. I believe I just … I think I’m on the wrong ship.’

Inara: ‘Maybe. Or maybe you're exactly where you ought to be.’


There seem to be some similarities between the characters of Shepherd Book and Inara. Both have left behind communities; Book left the ‘Order’ of Southdown Abbey for the ‘chaos’ of Serenity, whereas Inara left the Companions’ House in Sihnon where she had at one time harboured ambitions to be the House Priestess. They are both known by their occupation/vocation/calling. Are they both running away from something/someone? Is Book looking for a ticket to Joppa even though he should be going to Nineveh?

Shepherd Book often comes out with pithy statements - as in this exchange from episode 1:

Kaylee: ‘How come you don’t care where you’re going?’

Book: ‘’Cause how you get there is the worthier part.’

As I re-watch the series I am going to look out for ways in which Inara exhibits the same sort of wisdom in what she says.

Or is it wisdom?

Cynthea Masson thinks that some of the pithy sayings used by Inara ‘verge on cliché’ and rather than being full of meaning they are actually used as a way of avoiding actual conversation - ‘an aspect of verbal etiquette in which a Companion would surely be well versed’. Masson, C, ‘But she was naked! And all articulate!’ in Wilcox, R & Cochran, TR (editors), Investigating Firefly and Serenity: Science Fiction on the Frontier, (London: I.B. Tauris,2008) p.20.

Could the same accusation (obviously without the reference to Companion training) be made against Shepherd Book – or against the Church/Emerging Conversation?


I haven't said much about Inara yet, but she comes over as a very spiritual character, both as a result of her training and through her lifestyle.

Whedon explains that:
'Companions trained in all the arts, extremely well-schooled. They lived not unlike nuns, worked not unlike geishas, and often rose to political or social prominence when they retired,’
Whedon, J, Serenity: The Official Visual Companion, (London: Titan Books, 2005) pp.12-13.

After describing temple/sacred prostitution in ancient Middle Eastern society, Andrew Aberdein writes:

‘Inara also exhibits a strong spiritual side. She is frequently associated with religious iconography, primarily Buddhist, and both she and Nandi invoke the Buddha in Chinese imprecations. Moreover, Inara explicitly links the sacred to her practice as a Companion, referring to her shuttle as ‘a consecrated Place of Union’ (Jaynestown).’
Aberdein, A, ‘The Companions and Socrates’ in Wilcox, R & Cochran, TR (editors), Investigating Firefly and Serenity: Science Fiction on the Frontier, (London: I.B. Tauris,2008) p.67.

Thursday, 13 November 2008


Some great insights into the characters and storylines in the 'Firefly Diaries' on


Listed all of the key spiritual themes that I have identified so far:
  • Brokenness
  • Sacrifice
  • Lost/Found
  • Community/Family
  • Table Fellowship
  • Death
  • Morality/Ethics/Conscience
  • Betrayal
  • Fear/Hope
  • Prayer
  • Safe/Saved
  • Promised Land
  • Good/Evil
  • Myths
  • No Aliens = No God?
  • Psychic Powers
  • Personhood/Being Human
  • Doubt
  • Nomadic Lifestyle
  • Music
  • Belief

Saturday, 18 October 2008


I'm reading about the understanding(s) of Christian conversion at the moment. In particular I'm looking at:

Finney, J, Emerging Evangelism, (London: Darton, Longman and Todd, 2004)

Percy, M (editor), Previous Convictions: Conversion in the Present Day, (London: SPCK, 2000)

Lamb, C & Bryant, MD (editors), Religious Conversion: Contemporary Practices and Controversies, (London: Cassell, 1999)

Partridge, C & Reid, H (editors), Finding and Losing Faith: Studies in Conversion (Milton Keynes: Paternoster, 2006)

For the purpose of this dissertation I'm focusing my thoughts on how Shepherd Book found (or was found by) faith, how Mal lost his trust in God and where (or in whom) the other characters put their faith.


Jeffery on Savvygeek has a post about possible theories concerning the question 'Who was Shepherd Book?'

He points out that the storyline in the movie 'Serenity' includes a character known as 'The Operative' who was introduced to 'the true background of the reavers' and as a consequence 'relinquished his role as an Operative'.

Commenting on the theory that Book had served as an Operative he says:
'It is possible a similar experience happened to Book. It is possible he went through something that forced him to see the errors of whom he served, and left to become a shepherd, or at least to pose as one.'

Certainly Book 'wasn't born a Shepherd' and presumably must have been through some sort of conversion experience.

Tuesday, 14 October 2008


I really like Bruce Bethke's description of the characters in Firefly. These descriptions are attributed to his friend 'John the screenwriter':

Mal is 'Han Solo [Star Wars] with an actual backstory ... Rick Blaine [Casablanca] with a spaceship instead of a night club. He's a classic lost paladin; an embittered losing-side war vet with a junk freighter, struggling to eke out a living on the fringes of civilization and the law. But underneath his rough exterior he's still got his honour, his pride, and that sense of justice that forces him to get involved and become a big damn hero, from time to time.'

Wash is a 'classic comic-relief sidekick, who gets to have all the emotional reactions the paladin can never show.'

Zoe is a 'tough chick' who served with Mal in the war - 'she's got the whole calls-him-"sir"-even-when-she-doesn't-say-it-out-loud thing going.'

Kaylee - 'it's really nice to see a woman in the role of the engine room grease-monkey.'

Simon, the doctor - 'there's obviously some bad blood between him and Mal, so I'd have to guess he has a little black bag full of patent medicines that save the day on a regular basis and make him worth putting up with.'

River - 'Buffy' - 'the ninety-pound pixie who can toss around men three times her size when she gets mad ... [probably] the focus of the entire plot.'

Jayne - 'big and tough, none too bright, obsessed with weapons, and probably worth his weight in gold in a fight.' Is the name like 'A boy named Sue'? Or is JAYNE a reference to John WAYNE?

Book - 'the preacher with the troubled past'.

Inara - 'the hooker with a heart of gold'.

Bethke, B, ‘Cut 'Em Off at the Horsehead Nebula!', J (ed), Serenity Found: More Unauthorized essays on Joss Whedon's Firefly Universe, (Dallas, TX: Benbella Books, 2007) p176.

Sunday, 12 October 2008


What is learnt from the way in which community is formed on board the spaceship ‘Serenity’?

That's one of the key spiritual themes that I want to tease out in the second chapter of my dissertation.

Matt Stevens highlights this aspect of the storyline in his article about Firefly which can be read on the Damaris website
He even goes as far as to say that 'in Firefly we see the beginnings of a community of grace'.

I have been thinking about the way in which Shepherd Book leaves one community (Southdown Abbey) and becomes part of another (Serenity). I wonder if these words from Mike Riddell encapsulate something of Book's experience:

'I have tried to get by on my own, to be a rugged individual. Apart from the fact that I lack ruggedness, it doesn't work anyway. Sure I need my spaces; but without people around they don't seem like spaces - more like a vacuum. At last I have had to face up to it: I need people. I need relationships. Only in the context of belonging somewhere can I make sense of who I am. Over the years I have come to value the shaping power of community. I'm not sure any more that it's possible to be human apart from community. All of us need a place to stand - a group of people who know us as we really are and yet still love us. A community is a place where you can fight without fear of rejection. The search for truth is not a solo venture. We need to hear all the voices if we are going to make sense of the universe.'
Riddell, M, alt.spirit@metro.m3: Alternative spirituality for the third millennium, (Oxford: Lion Publishing, 1997) pp62-63.

The last two sentences of that quote really speak to me. Might even retitle my dissertation "Making sense of the 'verse."

Monday, 6 October 2008


Steve Taylor questions the missional nature of the parable of the lost sheep here.


As part of my thinking about the character of Shepherd Book, I've been exploring the image of the 'shepherd' within the Bible. Key passages include, Psalm 23, Ezekiel 34, Luke 15, John 10 & John 21. The shepherd's responsibilities involve guiding, protecting, providing for and gathering the sheep.

Stanley Skreslet's book, Picturing Christian Witness, (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmanns, 2006) devotes a chapter to this subject and questions the ways in which the role of the shepherd is, or isn't, missional.

At the end of the chapter there is a copy of Fan Pu's papercut 'The Lost Sheep' Skreslet observes:

'In the shepherd's outstretched arm, one can perceive a determination to extend the reach of Christian pastoral compassion ... The sheep is lost, without sufficient resources of its own to cope in an unforgiving environment, where brambles threaten to ensnare and immobilize disoriented wayfarers. The searcher beckons, but the picture leaves room for the sheep to react to the shepherd's gesture in the symbolic gap that separates the two figures. A positive response from the sheep depends in part on whether or not Jesus' voices has been heard in the human shepherd's call' (pp189-190).

Is Shepherd Book that sort of shepherd? Does he have a mission? Is he looking for the lost - or is he the one who is lost? Will the voice of Jesus be heard through his voice?

When asked by Kaylee in episode 1 if he is a missionary he replies:
'I guess ... I'm a Shepherd, from the Southdown Abbey ... Been out of the world for a spell. Like to walk it a while, maybe bring the word to them as needs it told.'

Tuesday, 30 September 2008


I'm intrigued by the theme song for Firefly and in particular the line 'You can't take the sky from me'.

In the context of Firefly is the sky/space the new 'promised land' wherein salvation is found?

Where are people looking for salvation today?


Reading more about Westerns gives me additional insights into the make up of Mal's character: Peter Francis writes:
There is a recurring image of the Western hero beaten to a pulp and yet overcoming physical woulnds to defeat the bad.
He quotes Gary Wills who writes about John Wayne's popularity:
The archtypal American is a displaced person - arrived from a rejected past, breaking into a glorious future, fearless himself, feared by others, killing but cleansing the world of things that 'need killing,'loving but not bound by love, rootless but carrying the Centre in himself, a gyroscopic direction-setter, a travelling norm.
Then he lists other characteristics such as 'active rather than passive' 'not emotional but rather coldly rational and logical' 'in control' 'seeks to triumph' 'no compromise'.

See 'Clint Eastwood Westerns: Promised Land and Real Men' by Peter Francis in Christianson, E.S., Francis, P & Telford, W.R., Cinema Divinite, (London: SCM Press, 2005) pp 187-188.

Mal's loyalty for his crew overshadows some of these characteristics but in general they could have been written as a description of his personality.

Even when he puts his hands up in a gesture of surrender (which seems to happen in almost every episode!) he still seems to be in control of the situation.

Monday, 29 September 2008


I realised that most of my background reading has been about the genre of sci-fi and not about the western - and as Firefly brings the two together I thought that I ought to correct that oversight.

So, yesterday I read 'Clint Eastwood Westerns: Promised Land and Real Men' by Peter Francis in Christianson, E.S., Francis, P & Telford, W.R., Cinema Divinite, (London: SCM Press, 2005) pp 182-198.

I have to confess to being woefully ignorant of this particular genre. However, Francis' description of the preacher in Pale Rider made me wonder what other preachers there are in westerns - and how they compare/contrast with Shepherd Book?

Can anyone help me here?


Right, got to get serious about this dissertation now. I'm going to try to blog 'little and often'.

A thought that's been buzzing around in my head ever since I heard a recording of a seminar about Battlestar Galactica at Greenbelt is:
Is the fact that there are no aliens (i.e. nothing supernatural) in Firefly, symbolic of a world in which there is no God?

Saturday, 19 July 2008


Kaylee (the mechanic on Serenity) also features in the notes on the Bible Study on
' Kaylee seems to peer into Inara’s world and romanticises it, thinking that she gets some rich clients who give her things and make her feel pretty, the rest of the world seems to think this is the case too as her profession has a high status in the planets. Looking in from outside Kaylee wishes that she could have pretty things, be a normal" girl, wear pretty dresses, dance with men to nice music. Kaylee wants to live in the world beyond her own fence, the grass is always greener over there. ... And when she’s faced with the reality she meets people that want to keep her on the other side of the fence, people who look pretty on the outside but are not too pretty on the inside. These people make her feel unwelcome, unpretty. While she also meets others who seem to find her enchanting for who she really is at the same party.'

Similar comments, about the ordinariness of Kaylee's character and the way in which it is seen in the people we come into contact with every day, are made in Burns, M, ‘Mars needs Women’ in Espenson, J (ed), Serenity Found: More Unauthorized essays on Joss Whedon's Firefly Universe, (Dallas, TX: Benbella Books, 2007) pp18-19:

' they had Kaylee's heart, that fragile fear that people were looking down on them, that they weren't good enough or smart enough. ... Kaylee can fix nearly everything, sees the good in everyone, can't handle a gun. ... Kaylee was the beating heart of the show as she tended the beating heart of Serenity. Where have you ever seen anyone like her on a spaceship before?'


Episode 4 'Shindig' is about the differences between the lifestyles of Mal and Inara.

Inara is a companion - high class prostitute - which seems to be a legal and respectable occupation. Mal - who is a unquestionably a criminal (albeit one that the audience is urged to cheer for) - looks down on Inara's profession. The Bible Study on the Youth Ministry Blog relates this to the Biblical story of the one who said 'Friend let me remove the speck from your eye', whilst ignoring the log in his/her own eye.

Note to self - I would like to reflect further on the ease with which the audience (including me) can excuse the criminal aspects of Mal's life.

Wednesday, 9 July 2008


I'm trying to keep a healthy balance in my studies of Firefly so I'm going to take note of the observations outlined on The stance taken on that site is summed up in the following words:

'Don’t misunderstand me. I happen to think that Firefly was very good for a series in its first season, operating under a great deal of pressure. Given the circumstances, Firefly was a bona fide success. But it is far from deserving of the near deity status granted to it by its most ardent fans. In the following critique, I will analyze the show’s successes as well as its missteps and failures …'


Quote from the Youth Ministry Blog’s Study on Episode 3 ‘Bushwacked’:
‘The crew have an argument about if they will look after the dead on the ship, Book says “How we deal with our dead is what differs us from those who did the killing” and they go ahead with the plan to look after the dead.’
This reminded me of the story of Rizpah from 2 Samuel 21:1-14. Her vigil (over the bodies of her sons) prompted David (who is far from innocent in that story) to take appropriate action.

Friday, 4 July 2008


Don't you think that this set from the Episode 'Out of Gas' could be a picture of an Alt.Worship Venue?

Thursday, 3 July 2008


There is a Study on Episode 2 'The Train Job' on
which focuses on the way in which Mal handles the ethical dilemma that he faces once he realises that the job he has accepted involves stealing vital medical supplies.

Reading the notes for this episode in Firefly: The Official Companion Volume One, (London: Titan Books, 2006), p.54, I see that Joss Whedon felt that the act of returning the stolen goods in this episode, whilst not being against the ethos of the show, was a concession to the Network who wanted Mal to be a more likeable character. He is quoted as saying, 'In a harsher version [Mal] wouldn't [return the medicine], because his crew was starving and he needed to get them through'. He seems to have wanted the storylines to reflect the more complex nature of ethical dilemmas rather than a simple right/wrong distinction.

This leads me to ask:
What guidance can the Church/Christians give in the light of such dilemmas?
What right do we have to challenge the actions of others?
How do we remove the planks from our own eyes?

Those questions lead me to another one posed in the Youth Ministry Blog's Study Series: ' How do we approach people who have said that they are not interested in faith or, more specifically our faith?'

This comment arises out of a conversation between Mal and Book in which Mal says: 'If I'm your mission, Shepherd, best give it up. You're welcome on my boat. God ain't.'

Later Book is advised by Inara to pray that Mal returns safely from the Train Job. Book states, 'I don't think the Captain would much like me praying for him.' Inara replies, 'Don't tell him - I never do.'

Sunday, 29 June 2008


There's some great comments on a Study Series on Firefly on The entry for 13th May focuses on Episode One. As well as commenting on the effects of Mal's experience at the Valley of Serenity and Book's doubts about whether he is in the right place, this study material also draws attention to ...
  • The similarities between the crew/passengers of Firefly and the disciples that Jesus called - ' How did Jesus choose the people who followed him? Would we be hard pressed to not find people like the characters in Firefly in Jesus’s followers? The prostitute, the criminal, the priest, the lover, the husband, the mechanic, the doctor, the sick, the abused…'
  • Book's response to Kaylee's perceptive comment (made during their first encounter) - Kaylee: 'how come you don't care where you're going?' Book: 'Cause how you get there is the worthier part.'
  • The way in which, if we want to be truly missional, we need to make an effort to really pay attention to those around us - to be as observant and as interested in others as Kaylee is - as was demonstrated in the conversation quoted above.
  • Also based on that conversation is the question: ' How open are we to people who are on a journey to a non-specified destination? '
  • The importance of the table fellowship that the characters share.
  • A comparison of Joss Whedon's storytelling technique with the way in which we do, or don't, engage with the stories of the characters that we come across in the Bible.

Some great ideas there. The first and last points make me want to imaginatively explore/juxtapose Gospel stories and Firefly storylines - i.e. putting Firefly characters into Biblical stories and seeing how they react - and vice versa, introducing Biblical characters to the crew of Serenity.

There are four of these study guides online so far - I'll comment each of them over the next few days.

Saturday, 28 June 2008


Here's the introduction to Shepherd Book's character from

' He is a priest, older and a little wiser than the rest of the crew. It is unclear if Book is on a mission to spread the word of God throughout the universe or on a personal “walk-a-bout.” He’s found God, but he still needs to find himself.'


I was very interested to read B. E. Wheatley's blog entry 'WWSBD - What Would Shepherd Book Do'.

Whilst acknowledging that Book is a flawed character, he outlines the way in which the Shepherd demonstrates a missional model of living. Inspired by Michael Frost's book 'Exiles' he writes:
' [Shepherd Book] embraces the call to God’s mission in this world (Missio Dei) he clearly sees beyond the titles smuggler, thief and whore and recognises the fingerprint of God in peoples lives (Imago Dei) and seeks to find where Jesus is already at work and dares to step into that context and work with him (Participatus Christo). He moves outside his comfort zone and finds Proximity with those he seeks to serve and love. He clearly seeks to practice the presence of Christ in the midst of serenity’s crew, living as he believes Jesus would aboard the ship. He embraces material and temporal powerlessness although there is an indication that he had the potential to come among these people from a position of power he instead came as one of them and as a servant. Finally he does in key moments embrace proclamation, he becomes the voice of God in situations far removed from the church. '

As I reread that paragraph I can think of instances from the show which back up each of his comments. For example 'he moves outside his comfort zone' is illustrated by his admission to Inara in Episode 1 'I think I'm on the wrong ship'. She replies 'Maybe. Or maybe you're exactly where you ought to be.'

I presume the statement: 'there is an indication that he had the potential to come among these people from a position of power' is based upon the fact that when Book was injured in the episode 'Safe' the Alliance Commander took one look at his identity card and said 'Get this man to the infirmary at once.' This is another one of the cryptic clues to Book's mysterious past.

I going to continue looking at the character of Shepherd Book through this particular lens as I rewatch the DVD.

B. E. Wheatley goes on to comment that

' What attracts me to [Book] is that the character was created by a self confessed atheist and absurdist, Joss Wedon. I see Joss (alongside the likes of Kevin Smith and Larry and Andy Wachowski) as a key voice for a group of subcultures that I have a massive heart for. To me Shepherd Book is a call to the church from those subcultures about the kind of people they wish we were. To put it simply – They like Shepherd Book but not the Church and I think that means they wish the church was missional.'

This is another fascinating facet of this study - that is addressing one of the suggestions from my post on 25th April i.e. ‘Reflect on the possible journey that led the film maker to produce what you have just seen’.

Friday, 27 June 2008


In the episode 'Objects in Space', the bounty hunter, Early, who seems to have information about Shepherd Book's background, tells Simon 'That ain't a Shepherd'.

What are we supposed to make of that comment?

I recently read 'Bread and Wine' by Ignazio Silone. Set in the 1930's this book tells the story of Pietro Spina, an anti-Fascist revolutionary who goes into hiding by disguising himself as a priest. Pietro (or Don Paolo as he becomes) is taken aback by the way in which he is treated once he adopts the identity of a 'man of God' e.g. the questions people ask him, the confessions made to him, the way that they expect him to act and the way that his presence in the community is viewed as a good omen. Although he puts up a great deal of resistance, and keeps making the excuse that he is not authorised to serve in this diocese, he is drawn into acting in certain ways because of the garments that he is wearing/the role that he has assumed.

Did a similar thing happened to Shepherd Book? Did he assume the identity of a Shepherd in order to hide from his enemies/a particular situation/himself - and in doing so did he actually (over time) become a Shepherd?

Or is it just that he doesn't fit the stereotypical image of a priest and therefore, in the eyes of Early, can't possibly be one? That prompts the question - how are contemporary 'Shepherds' breaking the mould?

Saturday, 31 May 2008


Sometimes I’ve felt as though the decision to study a sci-fi series for my dissertation on the emerging church was a bit too wacky! So I was greatly encouraged by Mike Alsford’s work on ‘Religious Themes in Science Fiction’, especially as he describes the way in which this particular genre encourages us to face both hope and dread.

'To contemplate a destiny amongst the stars whilst at the same time recognising our capacity for greed and self destruction; to aspire to new levels of existence, transformations to ever more blessed states of being, while acknowledging our equal potential to create and become monsters; to look forward to a future paradise or to dread the end results of urban decay and social collapse: hope and dread –these are indeed two of the poles that define us.'
Alsford, M, What If? Religious Themes in Science Fiction, (London: Darton, Longman and Todd, 2000) pp2-3.

Maggie Burns seems to take this a step further by declaring that Sci-fi makes us face our hopes, fears (=dread) and the truth.

‘… the highest goal of science fiction is to tell us the truth about ourselves. We find it in every sci-fi work that has ever tried to say: “This is how it is. Don’t pretend, don’t turn away, don’t lie. This is who you are. This is what we are.” … Firefly … sets out to show us our world through a created one.’ Burns, M, ‘Mars needs Women’ in Espenson, J (ed), Serenity Found: More Unauhorized essays on Joss Whedon's Firefly Universe, (Dallas, TX: Benbella Books, 2007) pp15-16.

This belief, in the power of story to touch us at a deep level, is my starting

Thursday, 22 May 2008


Eric Greene points out how, in Star Trek, 'Spock reflected Kirk's intellect and McCoy embodied Kirk's emotions. Watching McCoy and Spock argue was like seeing Kirk's internal dialogue externalized.'

Similarly in Firefly the characters of Simon and Jayne are set in direct contrast. Simon is devoted to the protection of his sister, he has risked everything for her - in the episode Safe he is even willing to be burnt at the stake with her - Mal shows the same sort of loyalty to his ship and crew. Conversely, Jayne displays a practical self interest and is unable to understand acts of altruism. 'Jayne's strictly rational common sense and Simon's Quixotic and chivalric devotion established the two men as opposites and repeatedly led them to butt heads.'

Green continues: 'Zoe shares Mal's experience as a soldier, the primal bonds developed by comrades in arms, and understands his special relationship to Serenity Valley. Kaylee shares Mal's love of the ship, Inara his emotional guardedness and fear of intimacy; River, like Mal, has been interferred with and wounded by the Alliance. And Wash ... represents Mal's spirit of resistance to authority and is the one most likely to challenge Mal's orders. ... But while the rest of the crew tended to reflect Mal that is, Book reflected Mal that was, but is no more: Mal as a believer.'

After describing the opening scenes of the pilot episode Green writes: 'In a few concise gestures an entire arc was implied and understood. Mal believed once but no longer. While Book, a former sinner we may assume, now believed. It would seem that just as the defeat at Serenity Valley stripped Mal of his belief, something pushed the shadowy Book into the light. While belief in something larger disappointed Mal, that very belief may have saved Book. Thus, like the rest of the crew, Book reflected an aspect of Mal, but it was more of a reflection in the literal sense: a reverse image.' Greene, E, 'The Good Book' in Espenson, J (ed), Serenity Found: More Unauhorized essays on Joss Whedon's Firefly Universe, (Dallas, TX: Benbella Books, 2007) pp80-82.

I want to explore further what it is that brings people to accept faith and what leads them to reject it - knowing of course that there is no one simple/correct answer and that a lot of people today have lost faith in the church rather than in God.

Monday, 12 May 2008


Captain Malcolm Reynolds - ‘Mal’

‘…a dark, world-weary man, with an unshakeable love and loyalty for his adopted family.’ Firefly: The Official Companion Volume One, (London: Titan Books, 2006), p.26.

I didn’t like Mal at first. Neither did River; in the second episode, Train Job, she commented that his name ‘Mal’ means ‘bad’ in Latin. His character has a complex mixture of good and bad features. A very strong leader, he does not like to be questioned – but he is fiercely protective of his crew.

Nathan Fillion (the actor who plays Mal) said: ‘Someone asked me why he so zealously guards over the safety of his crew and I look at it that Mal gathers to him that which he no longer has within himself. In Wash, he has a lust for life and a sense of humour he’s lost. In Jayne, he has selfishness. In Book, he has spirituality. In Kaylee, he has innocence. Everybody represents a facet of himself that he has lost and that’s why he keeps them close and safe, and yet at arm’s length.’ Quoted in Firefly: Volume One, p.26. I’m interested in exploring his relationships with the others, particularly Book.

The opening scenes of the series begin with his faith – and the way in which it was betrayed. They detail events which occurred six years earlier when he was a Sergeant fighting as for the Independents in order to stop the Alliance from unifying the inhabited worlds under a single rule. He really believed that he could do the impossible. Even in the trenches of the battlefield in Serenity Valley, with bodies falling around him, he could not contemplate defeat. He declared: ‘Our angels are going to soar overhead.’ He kissed the cross around his neck and said: ‘We’re just too pretty for God to let us die.’

Then Zoe relayed the message that no one was coming to save them and that their orders were to surrender. The sky filled with enemy ships and Mal just stared in disbelief.

Friday, 9 May 2008


I had to give a presentation about my dissertation at Cliff College on Wednesday. Preparing for that gave me a chance to check out how I would introduce the key story lines and characters from 'Firefly'/'Serenity' to those who've never even heard of it. Here are is the sort of thing that I said (or wanted to say) - eventually this will form the basis of chapter 1 ...

Devised by Joss Whedon, 'Firefly' is set 500 years in the future when the earth has become uninhabitable and other planets have been terraformed (representing our fears for the effects of climate change and our hopes for the continuation of human life).

The series records the journey made by the nine characters who live on a ‘Firefly’ model of spaceship called ‘Serenity’. Life on the planets they visit (in what is known as the 'verse) resembles that in the 'wild west', complete with saloons, hard manual labour and gun fights.

The show's unique features include an interesting combination of the genres of sci-fi and western, and the fact that it is a sci-fi without alien life forms (though some humans have mutated into creatures known as 'reavers').

'Firefly' was cut after just one series. When it came out on DVD it developed a cult following - the support and campaigning of the fans (known as 'Browncoats') led to the production of the film 'Serenity'.

As the show ended prematurely there were a number of loose ends and unanswered questions about the plot. Joss Whedon has produced a comic book to fill part of the gap and fans have sought to provide their own answers to some questions by writing 'fanfics' or working through a role play game.

The characters are pictured here - front row: Zoe (first mate), Mal (captain) and Kaylee (mechanic); Back row: Shepherd Book (preacher), River (sister of Simon), Wash (pilot, husband of Zoe), Jayne (member of the crew), Simon (doctor) and Inara (companion/'legal' prostitute).

To some extent they are a mixture of fugitives, mercenaries and losers who will take any job which pays enough to give them something to eat and sufficient fuel to keep flying. Although they will undertake criminal activities they do exhibit a conscience - SPOILER - for instance, they take on a job which involves the theft of medicine but when they meet some of the ill people who need that medicine they return the stolen goods.

I'll use the next few posts to introduce the characters in more detail and say what interests me about their experiences and personalities.

Sunday, 27 April 2008


Here's another source: Pollard, N & Couch, S, Get more like Jesus while watching TV, (Milton Keynes: Authentic Media, 2005)

In Appendix 1 (p.99) Caroline Puntis outlines the suggestions made by Damaris ( for reflecting upon a film:
  1. 'Identify the underlying world view: What beliefs, values and attitudes are being communicated?'
  2. 'Analyse the worldview: Do these ideas make sense? Do they fit with the real world? Do they work?'
  3. 'Affirm truth: What rings true with Christian faith as seen in the Bible?'
  4. 'Identify error: What seems to be inconsistent with Christian faith?'
  5. 'Identify a response: How should we respond to this material or this worldview as individuals, as a church, as a community?’

I'm going to apply these guidelines when I rewatch 'Firefly' and 'Serenity' as I think that they will help to facilitate cross-cultural and counter-cultural reflection.

I'm a little cautious about the use of the word 'error' in the 4th point. I want to make a stand for what I believe to be morally right and wrong, but I'm also willing to be challenged about what I believe.

Does that sound like I'm sitting on the fence? What I'm trying to say is that: ‘We need to be open about the possibility that film will challenge us and sometimes cause us to rethink our understanding and expression of the faith we hold dear’ see Maher, I, Reel Issues: Engaging film and faith, (Swindon: Bible Society, 1998) p.6.

Saturday, 26 April 2008


Just so that I don't forget - these are some key websites:

A site which explains the storyline and introduces the characters in 'Firefly'/'Serenity'

A forum with stories written by fans about the characters in ‘Firefly’/‘Serenity’ (this is the inspiration for chapter 3 of the dissertation outline)

A Damaris study guide on ‘Serenity’

A Damaris article on ‘Firefly’

Articles about spirituality & film and a review of ‘Serenity’ by Steve Taylor

Official Fans (known as Browncoats) Website

A blog entry about the spirituality of sci-fi (with a description of Shepherd Book - the preacher)

Friday, 25 April 2008


Last year I made notes about some useful resources that identified ways to reflect upon the spirituality of films. I'm going to copy those notes into this blog. Here's the first one:

One key source is: Higgins, G, How Movies Helped Save my Soul: Finding Spiritual Fingerprints in Culturally Significant Films, (Lake Mary, FL: Relevant Books, 2003)

Dozens of films have challenged or inspired Gareth Higgins and he groups them together under fourteen headings, such as ‘Brokenness’, ‘Anti-heroes’, ‘Justice’ & ‘fear’. He covers a wide range of films from ‘The Wizard of Oz’ to ‘The Omen’. Written in a 'chatty' style this book motivates the reader to watch or re-watch the films described, and gives insight into how to look for ‘spiritual fingerprints’ in other movies.

Higgins gives the following advice for those who want to explore the meanings of films further (pp.3-9):

  • Read decent film magazines and some good books about film e.g. Derek Malcolm’s ‘A Century of Cinema’;
  • ‘Don’t read reviews before you see films’;
  • ‘Don’t expect “realism” as a mark of a film’s quality’;
  • ‘Do not eat popcorn when watching films’;
  • Watch movies with friends and then talk about them over a meal - ‘food and drink grease the wheels of conversation like nothing else’;
  • ‘Give the film your full attention … Observe how the camera moves … look around the screen for things you may have previously missed’;
  • ‘Consider what the difference between a good and a bad performance is’;
  • ‘Reflect on the possible journey that led the film maker to produce what you have just seen’;
  • ‘Don’t talk during the credits’ and do not discuss the film for at least ten minutes after the end of the credits – then your impression of the film won’t be ruined by negative comments from others who weren’t so moved.

Thursday, 17 April 2008


I am currently working towards an MA in Leadership, Renewal and Mission through Cliff College.

For my dissertation I intend to explore the spiritual themes of the sci-fi/western series ‘Firefly’ and the film ‘Serenity’.

The dissertation has to be completed by the end of March 2009. So far I've formulated the following outline:

Chapter 1: Setting the context by describing the characters and storylines presented in ‘Firefly’ and ‘Serenity’.

Chapter 2: What insights into the nature of spirituality and the emerging church are gleaned from these programmes? (eg: What is learnt from the way in which community is formed on board the spaceship ‘Serenity’.)

Chapter 3: Re-imagine a new storyline for the show – ‘How might the church emerge in the ’verse?’ or ‘Where will the search for Serenity lead’

Chapter 4: Reflection on the above exercise asking ‘What is a church?’ and ‘How can it be allowed/encouraged to emerge in an alternative society?’

Chapter 5: Critique of the usefulness of the above exercise.

My hypothesis is that an imaginative/fictitious exercise (Chapter3), which engages with ‘popular culture’ and with ‘the emerging conversation’, can reveal useful insights into the way in which the church can be re-imagined in the twenty-first century.

I'll be using this blog to record my observations as I work through this process.

I'm keen to develop a conversation with other people who are interested in spirituality, sci-fi (in particular 'Firefly'/'Serenity') and the emerging church.