Wednesday, 10 June 2009

FINAL POST

My dissertation has been marked and is currently being hardbound ready to take its place in the postgrad reading room at Cliff College.

Thank you to everyone who left comments on this blog and encouraged me along the way.

Here is a complete copy of the final draft.

Tuesday, 10 March 2009

DISSERTATION DRAFT

I'll be giving my dissertation in soon, it still needs a final 'polish' and proof reading, but I'd appreciate comments about the content if anyone has time to have a look.

The final title is Reimagining Faith and Church in the ’Verse: A dialogue between Joss Whedon’s Firefly and contemporary understandings of belief, ministry and mission.

Here are the links to pdf copies of the four key chapters

Chapter 2 Exploring Mal's loss of faith (188 kb)
Chapter 3 Is Shepherd Book a missional figure? (268 kb)
Chapter 4 The two fanfics + a critique (113 kb)
Chapter 5 Reimagining the church (133 kb)

Saturday, 14 February 2009

FANFIC ABOUT SHEPHERD BOOK AND THE EMERGING CHURCH

I have now written a fan fic on Shepherd Book. In this story I have him back in time to the contemporary church in 2009 where is explaining his action on board Serenity to a group studying the emerging church.

From outer space to the margins of the contemporary church
They had some tough and intriguing questions they wanted to ask him. Obviously they all wanted to know about his mysterious past. Was he really a shepherd? Or was he an impostor – a wolf in shepherd’s clothing - perhaps someone recently released from prison or an Alliance operative seeking redemption? The theories were numerous and some quite bizarre, but the students’ curiosity could easily be disguised in a simple request to hear his testimony and find out about his conversion experience.

Some members of the group wanted to interrogate him about the way in which he justified his use of firearms. They’d heard that he advised that although the Bible condemned murder it was ‘somewhat fuzzier on the subject of kneecaps’.

Others were puzzled by the fact that even though he came from the future he seemed to represent a bygone age. To be honest, while they were relieved that their descendants knew the parable of the Good Samaritan, they were disappointed that in 500 years time Christianity would still be characterised by patriarchal images of God, fundamentalist sects and sermons about hell-fire and damnation. They saw this as a warning and wanted the interview to focus on how this situation could be avoided.

So, they had drawn up a list of questions, twenty-seven to be precise, and were anxiously awaiting his arrival in the lecture room.

A hush descended as he entered, smiled at them and took his place at the lecturn. He had not brought any notes – or a PowerPoint presentation. He was dressed in clothes that denoted his vocation; he carried only a light rucksack and a well-worn (and torn) Bible.

‘Shepherd Book’, the convenor said, ‘welcome to our gathering. We’ve been looking forward to meeting you and we have many questions to ask you.’

‘Friends’, Book said in a gentle voice, looking round the room, ‘I hope that I don’t disappoint you, but I’ve come prepared to answer only one question.’

The room held it’s breath. One sceptical member of the class thought that Book was about to come out with one of those pithy sayings of his, which some held in awe as words of wisdom, but which she considered to be merely clich├ęs that he used to avoid actual conversation.

‘One question’, spluttered the convenor, ‘but we’ve compiled quite a list.’ Book took the sheet of paper from his hand and read it silently.

‘Ah, here’s the question’ he said, pointing part way down the page. ‘How might church emerge on board Serenity? I can answer that by telling you a story that starts in a garden …’

After looking round at each of the mystified faces, Book walked away from the lecturn, sat down on a chair, motioned for the others to move their chairs so that they were closer to him and, when everyone was ready, he began his tale.

‘The garden was at Southdown Abbey, where I tended fruit, vegetables, herbs and flowers. Watching the miracle of growth is a delight – though being a gardener does involve backbreaking work and dirty hands – and sometimes things don’t go according to plan. It is hard to put this into words, but I knew that the time had come for me to leave the sanctuary of the Abbey and to venture out once more into the ’Verse. At times it felt like a move from The Order into … total chaos, especially in the hustle and bustle of the crowds at Eavesdown Docks. But it was there that the gardener in me recognised the first tender shoot of church emerging through the words and actions of one of the most caring people I have ever met.

‘Kaylee really paid attention to me; she observed my interest in ships and my indifference about the destination. In addition, she perceived something of my identity – of who I was - that I hadn’t fully realised myself. This helped me to begin to put into words my reason for being there. She was someone who had faith in people and, I would suggest, also in the One in whose image folk are made.

‘Once on board the ship it was plain that we were a very mixed bunch. I met the rest of the existing crew - the gruff captain with the very well hidden tender heart, the goofy pilot and his Amazon-like warrior wife, the loudmouthed hired gun and the high-class prostitute. Fellow newcomers included the extremely proper young doctor hiding behind dark glasses and the quiet chap (Dobson), who looked like he was doing his best to just blend into the surroundings.

‘This was the second shoot – and it would grow to produce many beautiful and fragrant flowers. It would have been wonderful if everyone on board Serenity was like Kaylee – it’s easy to be nice to those who are kind. However, this was something more – this was the chance to be part of a community of very diverse people, people you don’t immediately warm to, people who would disagree with you and challenge you, but, people who through some indescribable process would become family, people who would learn to trust each other and people who, in the captain’s words, “ain’t always looking for the advantage”. This is the sort of community from which church emerges.

‘I was able to offer this community some of the vegetables and herbs that I had brought with me from my garden. The first meal we shared together – though not without its uncomfortable moments – was enriched by this food and as Simon expressed his gratitude to me I requested permission to offer a prayer of thanks. The captain refused to allow me to say grace out loud. So I said it silently, and the others sitting at the table at the time – Kaylee, Simon, Jayne and Dobson – bowed their heads. I don’t know what they said – perhaps some words remembered from their childhood, or a cry from the heart for their needs at that time – maybe they just took the chance to enjoy a moment of silence – but they had the choice to acknowledge God and they took it.

‘Over the months that we lived together the time we spent around the table produced other fruit. It was there that we shared food and told stories. It was there that relationships grew and agreements were sealed. It was there that we made decisions. Of course, the captain would argue that he made of all of the decisions; in reality he always listened to what we had to say and weighed up the alternatives carefully. Whether we were aware of it or not at the time we would each be thinking about the action that was taken and this would stimulate us to reflect upon our beliefs and priorities – another sign of church emerging.

‘I learnt so much from living amongst these people – but most of all I learnt how to be a friend. A sensitive friend both to those who were open to the beliefs that I held and to those who had closed every part of themselves off from God. I also discovered how to recognise the voice of God whether it came through the sensuous and spiritual Inara, the crudely worded common sense of Jayne or the frightening psychic insights of River.

‘I took inspiration from another shepherd, one who had let Jesus down, but who responded to the Lord’s call to “follow me”. The disciple Simon Peter who set out on a journey to an unknown destination, and was continually transformed – or converted - by those he met along the way (like Cornelius, Acts 10).

‘Well, do you think that I am pushing it too far to say that church might emerge on board Serenity?’

Book paused briefly, then continued: ‘Perhaps that says more about your definition of church than anything else. If you were expecting Sunday services to be held, Jayne to sing hymns and the captain to answer an altar call then you will be disappointed. But if your definition of church is a community focused around Jesus maybe you will acknowledge that the seeds that might one day grow into church were already present.’

The time passed quickly and the long awaited session was over. Nodding his goodbyes to the students Book was escorted from the room, leaving them pondering all that they had heard and learnt that morning.

One thing puzzled them, where had that particular question come from, no one could remember suggesting it.

Thursday, 12 February 2009

WRITING AS AN ATHEIST

Just musing - I got a real buzz out of writing 'The Myth of Serenity' (see my last post) and discovering how the story related to the experiences of biblical characters and stumbling over key words that seemed so appropriate - lost, save, independence. Then, when I posted it and read it back I was quite odd - I'm trying to work out why.

Joss Whedon, as an atheist, writes a script for a Christian who finds meaning in his faith. I, as a Christian, write a script for an atheist coming to terms with the belief that there is no God. But was I really putting myself into the shoes of an atheist? Only to a certain extent because I see Mal's original faith as immature and misplaced and I see his atheism as transitional. Mmmh - that sounds like I'm feeling superior to him, which I don't want and which is probably why I'm feeling odd.

It could also be because I don't know if I'm ready for the question, 'What did you do your dissertation on?' 'Oh, I wrote a story about how there is no God.'

Wednesday, 11 February 2009

THE MYTH OF SERENITY

For my dissertation I have taken Mal’s crisis of faith, juxtaposed it with several different biblical images and written it out in the form of a myth which reflects its setting at the start (genesis) of the very first episode.

From the light of certainty into the dark night of the soul[1]

In the beginning darkness covered the valley of the shadow of death. And light shone in the darkness – the light of gunfire – and in the light stood the man and the woman. Side by side they fought, united with others in their battle for disunion and independence.[2] Nothing was impossible for this man, he felt full of the Spirit of God. He wore the symbol of his faith close to his heart. God was on his side; God would not let him down.

And the man stood in the darkness and proclaimed victory. He was oblivious to the scene of chaos and destruction all around him. He knew that even if he fell the angels would catch him. He kissed the symbol of his faith … and in that kiss experienced betrayal.

The woman brought the word to him: ‘Our orders are to surrender. No one is coming to save us.’

The war was lost and so was the man.

The look in his eyes said it all.

‘My God, why have you forsaken me?’

After long days and nights of further suffering he walked away from that valley – though some say that he never really left. He returned, for a brief time to the ranch where he was brought up and to the church community where the seeds of his faith had been planted and nurtured. And his return stirred up something in those he met. They did not know what to say to him, but his brokenness spilt out through the only part of the Bible that made any sense. He told his own story through Naomi’s words:
Call me no longer, Malcolm (which means ‘follower of St Columba’)
Call me Mal (which is Latin for ‘bad’)
For the Almighty has dealt with me badly.
I went away full
But the Lord has brought me back empty;
Why call me Malcolm,
When the Lord has dealt harshly with me,
And the Almighty has brought calamity upon me.[3]

In his rage he cried out to God: ‘How could you let the Alliance win?
I put my trust in you; I was doing the impossible for you! You abandoned me!’

Then he turned to the congregation and said: ‘How could you have so deceived yourselves and deceived me into believing that there was a God who loves and cares for us? Well I aim to make sure no one else makes that mistake. See, I cried out to God for help and he didn’t come. I listened for his voice and the silence was deafening. Now I gotta go on living in a ’Verse that’s going to be very different from the one I fought for. And only one thing is certain in this new life – there is no God – we live and die alone.’


[1] Based on Genesis 1-3; Job 30-31; Psalms 22; 23 and 91:11-12 ; Matthew 4:6; 26:49 and 27:46; Luke 1:37.
[2] A line inspired by a description of the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia: ‘It is an army of remarkable unity, fighting for disunion.’ Shaara, Killer Angels pp.xxv-xxvi.
[3] Based on Ruth 1:19-21.
Meaning of the name Malcolm taken from http://www.babynames.co.uk/meaning_origin_name_Malcolm.htm accessed 31 January 2009. River points out in The Train Job (Whedon, Firefly Episode 1.2) that Mal means bad. There is no evidence in Firefly that his name changed at this point. ‘Mal’ seems to be his preferred name, he is usually only called ‘Malcolm’ on official records.

Monday, 2 February 2009

INTERPRETING MAL'S EXPERIENCE THROUGH THE EYES OF NAOMI

Been thinking about the similiarities between the experience of Mal in and after the battle at Serenity Valley (pilot episode) and the story of Naomi from the biblical book of Ruth.

Call me no longer, Malcolm (which means ‘follower of St Columba’)
Call me Mal (which is Latin for ‘bad’)
For the Almighty has dealt with me badly.
I went away full
But the LORD has brought me back empty;
Why call me Malcolm,
When the Lord has dealt harshly with me,
And the Almighty has brought calamity upon me?

What do you think?

Saturday, 17 January 2009

FIREFLY FANFIC

For Chapter 4 of my dissertation I'm attempting to creatively explore faith within the 'verse by writing a fanfic. The three ideas that I am pursing at the moment are:

1.) During the pilot episode 'Serenity', the crew, with the exception of Mal, bow their heads and say grace silently - I'm going to attempt to write their prayers.

2.) I'm going to juxtapose the meal that the crew share in 'Out of Gas' and the subsequent experience that Mal goes through when he is left to die alone (and sheds much blood in the process) with the biblical story of Jesus and his disciples at the Last Supper and in the Garden of Gethsemane.

3.) I intend to look at some of the characteristics that are begining to be named as being part of the Emerging Church (e.g. http://www.emergingchurch.info/reflection/stevetaylor/index.htm) whilst asking the question 'what sort of church would Shepherd Book lead?' and let the answer take a narrative form.

Help please - anyone know of similar fanfics/stories? Any ideas will be gratefully received and acknowledged.

FLOATING IDEAS - ANY SUGGESTIONS?

I'm still playing around with the overall title for the dissertation and with titles for each of the chapters, but these are some of the ideas I've had:

Re-imagining the Church in the ’Verse

Just Keep On Walking, Preacher Man

Faith in a Vacuum

The Search for Serenity

Give me some [sacred] space

Firefly: a small natural light in the darkness

Journey into the black

Why do you always assume I'm talking about God?


Comments and suggestions welcome ...

READING THEOLOGY ALONGSIDE FIREFLY

Other things that have fascinated me as I've alternated reading books about Firefly with theological/emerging church/spirituality texts are:

Thinking about 'Earth-that-was' (which had to be left behind) alongside inherited church or 'the-church-as-it-has-been' to quote John Pritchard (page 131 in 'The Life and Work of a Priest'.)

The way in which Whedon's version of the future incorporates ideas and images from so many different cultures and time periods alongside the 'ancient-future' nature of the emerging church.

River's words to Shepherd Book: 'Just keep on walking Preacher Man!' alongside Austin Farrer's image of the priest as a 'walking sacrament' (quoted in Pritchard, J, The Life and Work of a Priest, (London: SPCK, 2007) p.86.

Thursday, 15 January 2009

CLIFF COLLEGE DISSERTATION

Right, this is the outline of my dissertation as it stands at the moment (just about ten weeks left until submission date) ...

Introduction 800 words
Outline of dissertation and of methodology used
i.e. how do you study popular culture theologically?

Chapter 1 2000 words
Description of the show
i.e. the characters & the ship, key storylines, the fans and Joss Whedon

Chapters 2 & 3 3700 words
Exploration of some of the spiritual themes that can be identified in the show
i.e. is the fact that there are no aliens (i.e. nothing supernatural) in Firefly, symbolic of a world in which there is no God? The nature of faith/belief and doubt as illustrated in the show. Darkness and silence in the 'verse. Brokenness and ways of trying to fix it.

Chapter 4 1700 words
The writing of a fanfic

Chapter 5 1700 words
How does this exercise challenge the Church in 2009?
I will explore this through the question: is Shepherd Book a missional character? From an emerging church/missional point of view how does he inspire/challenge/disappoint?

Chapter 6 1600 words
Reflection upon the usefulness of the above exercise

Conclusion 500 words
Summary

I've got about 20,000 words of notes and quotes. I'm still doing a lot of reading - alternating books about Firefly with theological/emerging church/spirituality texts which is proving very inspiring.

For instance I find myself reading about the 'dark dwelling place of God' in Rollins, P, How (Not) to Speak of God, (London: SPCK, 2006) p.82 and then coming across this statement about the episode 'Bushwacked' - 'What River sees when she gazes into the blackness of space is not the harsh emptiness of Mal, the psychotic insanity of the Reavers, or the absent God the (the) Book, but instead the divine Nothing of the mystics, a recognition of a void, an emptiness that is not good or bad, right or wrong, sacred or profane, upside down or right side up, but a possibility for creation, a tentative wandering path for the future.’ Erickson, G, ‘Humanity in a “Place of Nothin’” in Firefly’ in Wilcox, RV & Cochran, TR (editors), Investigating Firefly and Serenity: Science Fiction on the Frontier, (London: I.B. Tauris, 2008) p.179