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.'