I preached a sermon about this show a few weeks back, and it was a blast watching clips and remembering how much I loved this show. The Greatest American Hero is a television show that ran on ABC from 1981-83. It’s a comedy drama about a teacher, an average guy, who is given a superhero suit by aliens. The problem is that he loses the manual, so he has to figure out how to use it by trial and error. What makes the show so brilliant is that that’s how we all feel. We’re all trying to figure life out by trial and error, we all feel like a hero sometimes, but when we do we’re usually not sure how it happened or what we did to make it happen. All superheroes are people we can relate to, but the reason we can relate to him is unique among superhero stories, and it is also the most universal. That’s why I wish I’d written this show, even though I was only eight when it began.
I bet you didn’t think you’d see this one on the list, did you? But I do wish I’d written it because The Hangover brilliantly combines three different genres. It’s base layer is a “friend in trouble” movie, but it’s frosted with a “party movie”, and sprinkled on top is a “detective story,” and each part is stuffed full of some of the zaniest little bits I’ve ever seen in a movie. The tiger in the bathroom, the baby in the drawer, and the random chickens were my favorites, perhaps the chickens most of all because they are never explained. There’s just random chickens wandering around the penthouse, and it’s really, really funny.
And then, as if all of that weren’t funny enough, there’s the song. It’s called either “Doug’s Song” or “Stu’s Song,” and it’s the song song made me laugh harder than any scene in any movie, ever. Chickpastor and I must have watched that scene three times the first time we saw the movie, and each time I needed to pause in between to breathe. Click here to watch it on YouTube.
“The Hangover” is one of the funniest movies I have ever seen, and it brilliantly combines three different genres, and that’s why I wish I’d written it.
I’m going to make some of you mad right away by clarifying that this entry on my list is the film “V for Vendetta,” and not the original comic book series, but I have a reason for doing so. What I love so much about the movie is the way the fascist Norsefire government came to power, something that the comics do not reveal. In the movie, they came to power through a Reichstag fire ploy. These fascist in this story did what many think the Nazi’s did in 1933- create a national crisis, then use it to seize power. It is worth nothing that in both V for Vendetta and Germany in 1933, the fascists were elected to run the government. It was not a hostile takeover, but one that happened using the democratic system. That is an important warning to us all, and the reason I wish I had written this movie, even though I’m sure it’s going to irritate some of you.
When Jesus was baptized, the heavens were ripped open. “Ripped” is a violent word, one we usually associate with bad things, but in this case the ripping is a good thing. Sometimes, God does good things that look like bad things. Telling the difference, when it seems like the sky is falling, is our topic this Sunday.
In case you haven’t read these books by Anne McCaffrey, I’ll tell you what makes them so amazing. It’s the same reason they are on my list, which is that in these stories, dragonriders don’t just ride the dragons, they fall more completely in love with each other than any two humans ever could. Their minds and souls merge, but stay distinct, and McCaffrey wrote those moments in such a way that such a union seemed so wonderful that I wanted that kind of relationship for myself. As an eleven year old boy I wanted a dragon not so I could fly in the sky and shoot fire, but for the depth of the relationship between dragon and rider in these books. It was magical, and in some ways has defined the kind of intimacy I seek with God, my family and those around me. It moved me deeply, and that’s why I wish I’d written them.
There are two reasons this movie is on my list. The second is a major spoiler- you’ve been warned!
I could have never written Six Feet Under, but I wish I had. The picture says it all- this was a show about grief, about endings. How on earth do you write a show about that? I have no idea how they did it, but they did, and what they made was stunning. It was so good, so true, so real, that I could barely stand it. That’s how good it was. Never in a million years could I tackle this topic. I just don’t have it in me. It was too powerful, too moving, and I could seldom sit through an episode. Emotionally, it was just too much, and it’s the first show I could ever say that about. It’s an absolutely amazing show, and I wish I’d written it.
To get ready for an important business meeting, we put on a suit. To relax, we throw on pajamas and fuzzy slippers. Clothes matter, and in the story we hear today, Jesus changes his clothes. Just like in our lives, the clothes mean something, and the reactions of those around him reveal a lot about how they, and we, think about God. This is a message you won’t want to miss about who wears the pants- God, or us?
My wife, Chickpastor, and I started watching Downton Abbey two weeks ago, and we have already watched all of season one and the first episode of season two. We like it so much that I’m having to limit my time on the internet to avoid reading season two spoilers. I knew I had to try it when seventy year olds and thirty year olds alike told me how much they liked it. Only later did I realize that those seventy year olds were all women, and the thirty year olds were all television critics, but I’m glad I missed those details because if I had noticed them I probably wouldn’t have watched it, and I am really enjoying it. It’s been awhile since I’ve been able to sink my teeth into a TV show, and there is so much great drama in this show that we always end up reflecting on it after it’s over.
The first two episodes showed me many things I had not previously seen about the relationship between an English lord and his subjects, and it got me thinking about church and the relationship pastors have historically had with their churches. This really got started when I heard Mike Breen speak back in August, but he’s English, so the topic of “lord and subject” is one that he is more familiar with than I am. It wasn’t until I saw Downton Abbey that I realized what Mike was talking about, and how deeply this “lord-subject” reletionship is ingrained into the church structures that Christians brought here from Europe.
On Downton Abbey, the lord owns everything and the servants own nothing, but they each basically give their lives to each other. The lord lives to serve the estate, which includes providing for the servants. The servants live to serve their Lord, providing for his needs so that he can provide for theirs. It basically functions as a welfare state, in which the servants give all they are to their lord, andin return the lord doles out whatever they need, as he sees fit.
All churches used to be that way, and many still are. Churches functioned like castles or keeps, with the title being passed down from one pastor to another instead of being kept within the family, but, like a feudal lord, it was treated as though the position was more important the person in it. Whoever held the title at the time was responsible for providing services like a feudal lord does: worship is a service, and so too are baptisms, funerals and weddings. Even the building is provided. The job of the congregation is to serve the church and it’s head, the pastor. They pay money and donate their time, and in return the pastor takes care of them by providing those services. That’s the social contract. It is also a kind of welfare state, only it’s a spiritual one.
Jesus addressed this very topic in Luke 22:2-27: “A dispute also arose among them, as to which of them was to be regarded as the greatest. And he said to them, “The kings of the Gentiles exercise lordship over them, and those in authority over them are called benefactors. But not so with you. Rather, let the greatest among you become as the youngest, and the leader as one who serves. For who is the greater, one who reclines at table or one who serves? Is it not the one who reclines at table? But I am among you as the one who serves.”
What’s fascinating to me about this is the lord of Downton Abbey would never, ever serve food to those beneath him. The castle, and those who rely on it, are his life’s work, but not in that way. There are clearly defined rules about who does what, and the social contract is clear: you give to the lord, and the lord doles it back out to you.
Jesus has a different social contract in mind.
In the Kingdom of God, there are no lords except God. No person is greater, no person is lesser, than anyone else. We are all together, serving one another, loving one another, not as lord and subject to other people, but all of us together on the same level. Further, we are not merely subjects of the lord. Instead, we are also God’s children. We are not servants, we are heirs, who are also subjects of the lord but get to sit at the same table as the lord and learning how to be like the lord. It is fascinating to watch Downton Abbey and see how important it is for the lord to pass on what he has learned to an heir. God is the same way! God wants to pass on all God is to us and we, like the oldest child Mary Grantham on Downton Abbey, want to do things our way instead.
That is the social contract God intends for us. All people on the same level, not as mere subjects of God but as heirs. It’s a wonderful vision of the church that we are trying to live out in The River. It’s new, it’s different, and there are plenty of hiccups, but it’s wonderful. So, too, is Downton Abbey, but I’d rather keep it where it belongs: on TV.