Church Runaways, Meet Marvel’s Runaways

Runaways

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This year, I didn’t go to church on Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, or even Easter Sunday.

Instead, I binge-read 3 volumes of Marvel’s Runaways, the comic series about “a group of young teens [who] find out their parents are actually supervillains and do the rebellious thing…they become superheroes.” (Read the whole article if you’re a new fan to graphic novels and comics, while you’re at it!)

The group consists of 6 individuals: Chase Stein, the oldest and a stereotypical jock (with a penchant for lasers and vehicles) despite having mad genius parents; Alex Wilder, a lonely MMORPG lover with firm but loving parents who is considered the brains of the group; Nico Minoru, the daughter of two sorcerers who wields the Staff of One, a magical device which can do any spell but only once; Karolina Dean, a Majesdanian alien whose parents hid and suppressed her powers for her whole life; Gertrude “Gert” Yorkes, whose time-traveling parents gifted her a dinosaur with whom she shares a telepathic link; and young Molly Hayes, a precocious pre-teen mutant with the power to lift all the big things.

The series sees the teens coming to terms with their parents true selves, the motives behind their actions, familial and fraternal betrayal, coming of age without the parental guidance they expected to receive, and living with and leading each other through these difficult and new days.

It’s the perfect read for people struggling with the Church, those who have left the Church, those who are thankful they left, and those who still feel remorse over leaving.

There’s Molly Hayes, the youngest Runaway, who is perhaps the most confused over her situation. She is still in that stage of life where adults can still be trusted. She doesn’t have her house, her bed, or her parents, and while she knows they did something wrong, she never witnessed it herself, because the older kids didn’t think she could handle seeing it. She is a runaway, but a reluctant one.

There’s Chase Stein, who rather willingly abandoned his abusive household and came into his own as a member of the Runaways, providing them with a hideout (albeit it literally unstable), fighting baddies with his parents’ technology, and piloting their Leapfrog ship. Being a runaway, in some ways, saves him, and he finds a true family with the rest of the gang.

There’s Nico, Gert, and Karolina, who are aware of their families villainous ways and know they have no choice but to flee them, yet they continue to be haunted by the lives and legacies from which they left behind.

And there’s Alex, the group’s leader, who seems to easily leave his family and lead the Runaways but refuses to cast off his familial identity indefinitely, hoping instead to redeem them.

We’ve seen Big Church, the Christian Machine, act in ways they believe will save us but harm us more. And we’ve become runaways as a result.

But it’s not an easy decision to make, even if it’s a necessary one.

It’s not easy to leave our church homes, our comfy beds of unquestioning faith, the warm hugs from the Christians we love and who love us but suddenly become cold and false, the routine traditions. Sometimes, even after we’ve been gone a while, we still dream of those “good ol’ days” and want them back. Even when we understand that staying would have meant falsehood or even death, returning to business as usual is appealing. At least it meant a home was involved.

Runaway status isn’t always fun. Not having one place to call “home” can wear on you after a while. Rootlessness isn’t the safest way to live. We are creatures of habit and security, and while having nowhere to settle gives greater freedom to make nests in other places, there really is nothing or no place like home.

But Runaways reminds me that realizing the home you once loved is no longer there, and perhaps never was, can be the Good Friday which eventually moves into the Easter of finding family in the ones who have also fled.

Running away is sacred and scary. It can involve putting down roots for a time only to yank them up again. It is being honest with the beauty and the brokenness of our upbringing and figuring out what’s left to salvage. It is dropping our nets and leaving our tax collector booths like Jesus’ disciples and following the One who calls us into a new way of life, one more risky and more fantastic than we care to imagine.

Most of all, running away can remind us we are the Church, and we make home wherever we go, on the run or otherwise.

To the runaways, take comfort and know you are in good company, and even though some may say you’ve fled God, God is with you through the wilderness and in the homestead.

Also, may you find out you have an 87th-century dinosaur with whom you share a telekinetic bond. Because that would be freakin’ awesome.

Geeking Out is Hard to Do

Melanie Biehle

As of late, fulfilling the “geeking out” part of my blog title has been difficult.

I haven’t been able to buy comic books since I can barely afford rent and food. Instead of re-reading Harry Potter, I’m reading The Hate U Give and The Autobiography of Malcolm X to wake up to the issues people of color in our country face. I also can’t binge-watch anything because I gave up Netflix for Lent, and in turn, they’re getting rid of Buffy on April 1st (seriously, God, what’s the deal with that?).

On the surface, the geeking out isn’t happening. But at the same time, it’s alive and well.

I am reading, analyzing, and studying the books on my Black Lives Matter reading list in order to better understand the pain, hope, and calls to action in these stories.

I am engaging in politics by studying legislation and political processes, and calling my representatives to attempt to engage in the conversation with them, even though this isn’t going so well with my current house rep…

I watch news stories, read commentaries, and try my best to have conversations about these passions without attempting to correct everyone on why they’re wrong.

This is where things get difficult…

Some might think calling this “geeking out” minimizes the important work being done in these movements and makes it sound more like a hobby of mine than an actual struggle in which to engage.

But it’s the best term I can think of to describe how passionate I am about engaging with this, to be as devoted as I am to my these phenomenal works of human effort in ways similar to and more dynamic than the devotion I show to most favorite and fandoms.

These are human stories and lives, and they deserve my and our fullest attention and devotion.

So geek out over politics if it makes you engage in them with thought and articulation. Geek out over social justice if it moves you into solidarity and alliances with people who want the same rights as the most privileged in our society. Talk with people about how to rewrite the damaging narratives in our society into a grand reality in which we see each other as equals and embrace our differences as things to be celebrated, not shunned.

Geek out by writing your stories of worlds only you could dream so we can see the beauty in our own world. Geek out by writing your own story to show others they do not struggle and yearn alone. Geek out by creating art which inspires us to be and do better, to give us comfort and peace in the midst of anxiety and uncertainty, to make us remember how good laughter and tears are for our souls, to put us inside the skin of another and see the world through their eyes and gain a little empathy.

Geek on, friends. We need this passion not only to survive, but to thrive.

“My Power Should be Our Power”: Pentecost Themes in the Series Finale of Buffy the Vampire Slayer

This was the final academic essay I wrote in my seminary career. 

No lie. I turned this in, and got an “A” and a Master’s degree. Please enjoy!

Buff

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Growing up in the Pentecostal church, I heard my church leaders say strong words against most sci-fi and fantasy media. They made their strongest objections against fantasy works that emphasized witchcraft as a plot point, especially the Harry Potter series. When I began struggling with doubts about my Christian faith, however, one of the outlets in which I found solace and even inspiration concerning faith matters was through the medium of sci-fi and fantasy media. These mediums held my questions about the universe and also offered answers and insights rooted in the spiritual world. As a result, I began to become more open to the power of the spirit world in my life and the world around me because of the space made to imagine new ways of living a life of faith as demonstrated by these shows.

One of those influential outlets was a show called Buffy the Vampire Slayer. This show is the story of a young woman, Buffy, who is the “chosen one,” who “alone will stand against the vampires, the demons, and the forces of darkness. She is the slayer.”1 She battles these forces of darkness, but never alone, because she has the help of her Watcher (her trainer and teacher) and her friends, the Scooby Gang. In these tales, she battles evil forces that often serve as metaphors for the trials and tribulations of adolescence and adulthood. She and her group ask existential questions, and more often than not, they do not receive black-and-white answers, which is in alignment with the very gray situations they face. Buffy questions authority and power structures that would have her conform to a patriarchal standard and even topples them. In the series finale of the show, she dismantles the greatest structure of all: the one which makes it so only one Slayer can exist. In a Pentecostal fashion, Buffy unleashes the power granted to her alone to all the potential slayers around the world. After this event, she is no longer truly alone in her destiny to battle evil. I see this as an example of Pentecost on a fantasy show which makes no significant claims to Christianity, at least in an affirming sense.

In this essay, I will explain how the activation of all the potential slayers in the series finale of Buffy the Vampire Slayer is an example of Pentecost in sci-fi/fantasy media. The connections are as such: First, at Pentecost, the Holy Spirit landed on the present disciples, and in Buffy, the scythe activated potentials around the world. Second, the Holy Spirit enacted the gift of tongues to the disciples, and the power within the scythe in Buffy activated the potentials, making them true slayers and no longer only potentials. Finally, the power of the Holy Spirit ushered in the birth of the Church, while the activation of the potentials ushered in a new era of Slayers, in which many, not one, had the power.

To set up this argument, I will go back several episodes in the final season (Season Seven) and describe how these particular episodes set up the plan for the activation of all the potential slayers. In “Get It Done,” episode fifteen of season seven,2 Buffy meets the Shadow Men, who created the first Slayer and the Slayer line. The Shadow Men explain to Buffy how they infused the original slayer with a demonic essence for their strength and offer this essence to Buffy. She is preparing a small army of potential slayers3 to fight an apocalyptic battle against an entity known as the First Evil, and the Shadow Men know Buffy doubts the strength of the army and herself in defeating this enemy. However, when they try to force the entity into Buffy, she refuses and chastises them for creating the Slayer line in the first place. As the Slayer, she knows how isolating and deadly the role is, but she does not want to continue their way of doing things. To further symbolize this severing of ties with her origins, she breaks the staff through which they summoned the demon.4 Before she leaves, the Shadow Men show her a vision of the Hellmouth5 full of vampires and demons waiting to wreak havoc on Sunnydale and Buffy’s small army of potential slayers.

In episode twenty-one of season seven “End of Days,”6 which also serves as the penultimate episode of the series, Buffy finds a scythe in a vineyard guarded by the First Evil and a corrupt pastor named Caleb, who is under the First’s influence. After a brief altercation, Buffy returns home and shows it to the Scooby gang, her Watcher Giles, and fellow Slayer Faith.7 Buffy and Faith both feel an increase in strength from the scythe, and both feel that it is meant for them. Seeking more answers, Buffy returns to the vineyard and is greeted by a female Guardian, the last of a group of women who hid the scythe so a future Slayer would find it and use it for the final battle over the Hellmouth. Before Buffy can talk with her more, the Guardian is killed by Caleb, and a final battle between the two ensues.

This leads into the series finale, “Chosen.” Buffy defeats Caleb with the scythe, but she and her army still have to contend with the First Evil and its Hellmouth army. A couple of nights before their final battle, Buffy has a confrontation with the First, who, as an incorporeal being, can only take the form of people who have died. In its confrontation with Buffy, the First appears first as Caleb the preacher and Buffy herself. As Caleb, the First tells Buffy, “None of those girlies will ever know real power unless you’re dead.”8 The First then appears as Buffy and recalls the story of Slayers, reiterating that it is Buffy’s destiny to fight and even die alone. However, it is after this interaction, which is meant to shake Buffy’s confidence, that Buffy realizes an alternate plan, which she brings to the Scooby gang: her best friend Willow, a very strong Wicca, will use her magic to unleash the power of the scythe, which contains the power of the Slayer, into all of the potentials in Buffy’s army and around the world. When she shares this idea with the potentials, she speaks into the history of Slayers being alone, but in enacting this plan, she is breaking that structure in order to share her power with all potentials: “I say my power should be our power.”9 After Willow performs the spell and the potentials receive their true Slayer strength, they and their allies fight the onslaught of demons in the Hellmouth. At the end of the battle, the world is not only saved but changed, and now that she’s not the one and only chosen anymore, Buffy is left with a final question from Willow: “What are we gonna do now?”10

End

Clive Banks

This unleashing of the power of the scythe in “Chosen” is a Pentecost event. At Pentecost, as recounted in Acts 2, the Holy Spirit landed on the present disciples. While they are gathered in Jerusalem, “a sound like a violent rush of wind”11 fills the place. Then “divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them.”12 Upon being touched by these tongues of fire, the Holy Spirit fills them and gives them the ability to speak in other languages.13 The Holy Spirit landed on the disciples and changed them. They had taken Jesus’ command to stay in Jerusalem and wait for the Holy Spirit to come to them,14 and at Pentecost, they become empowered to spread the Gospel around the world. They are no longer in waiting but ready to act. In similar ways, the power of the Slayer within the scythe “lands on” all the potentials around the world.

In Buffy, the scythe activated potentials around the world, although the manifestation of the strength in the Slayers appeared in a different way than it did to the apostles at Pentecost. The audience first sees the power of the scythe transferring as Willow performs the spell, when “[s]uddenly, she’s overcome with power. She looks up, as the scythe and Willow start to glow with a bright white light.”15 After this scene, there is a flashback to Buffy making her speech to the potentials about her power becoming “our power.” She explains to the potentials how there is only one Slayer in each generation because “a bunch of men who died thousands of years ago made up that rule.”16 However, Buffy quickly points out that Willow is more powerful than those men ever were, and because of Willow’s magical prowess and this powerful scythe, they are going to change the rule. As Buffy’s speech continues, there are clips of young women in various scenarios: the potentials look out at the demons swarming for battle and stand taller and stronger, a young girl at bat in a baseball game starts out looking nervous then smiles confidently, a teenage girls has fallen out of her chair in school after being overcome by her new found strength, and another young woman grabs the wrist of a man trying to slap her.17 The power within the scythe has been unleashed, and the potentials around the world are no longer potentials: they are Slayers. Like the disciples, they no longer need to wait for their strength to come to them. Now, it is made manifest within them.

An obvious difference between these two scenarios is how the power is given to each group, the disciples and the potentials. In Acts, the gift of the Holy Spirit is an act of divine initiation, whereas in Buffy, the power is given by human means, or at least from a source outside of the concept of the Christian God. Willow releases the power from the scythe through the power of magic, and while in the mythology of the series this power comes from an outside source, it is initiated by Buffy, Willow, and their friends. However, in both instances, a power traditionally wielded by one or a few is now made available to many.

The Pentecost event in Acts and the Pentecost-like event in Buffy show further similarities in that both events result in the empowerment of the people affected by these manifestations. In Acts, the Holy Spirit brought the gift of tongues to the disciples. In a similar way, the power of the Slayer within the scythe in Buffy activated the potentials, making them true slayers and no longer slayers-in-waiting. The gift of tongues in Acts is a two-fold miracle:

first, the disciples are inspired by the Holy Spirit to declare the “wonders of God” in a spiritual language that is unintelligible to human beings (i.e., glossolalia); secondly, the Jews in the crowd who represent a diverse group of countries are miraculously enabled to understand the glossolalia of the disciples so that it appears to them that the disciples are speaking in each of their own mother-tongues.”18

This manifestation of the Holy Spirit is a sign of unity for the disciples and all those who witness the event. It is also symbolic of the work which will be done to bring Gentiles and Jews into community together.

At Pentecost, diverse languages are not nullified; instead, unity occurs in the midst of a diversity of languages through the power of the Holy Spirit. According to Acts, some of the following languages present are listed in Acts 2:9-11: “Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabs.” Yet in the midst of this plurality of languages and cultures, communication happens by the power of the Holy Spirit. The mission of the Church sees this unity in the midst of plurality received among diverse communities over long periods of time and in a plurality of cultural settings.”19 At Pentecost, there are multiple tongues offering praises to God, and part of the Church’s mission is to continue bringing different peoples of various languages and cultures together to offer such praises.

A Pentecost-like unity occurs in Buffy, but the unity occurs in a sharing of power instead of a sharing of languages. In “Chosen,” Buffy defies both her own supernatural origins and a common theme in superhero tales: only one person can save the world. Instead, she insists “my power should be our power.”20 According to Buffy’s wish, Willow is able to “transfer Buffy’s power to all the potential slayers in the world… [and commence] a religious power that is furthermore disconnected from patriarchy and clearly defined as female.”21 The once-potentials receive the fullness of their powers and are able to fight against the evil entities within the Hellmouth and close this Hellmouth for good. A new line of Slayers begins, in which power is shared by all who are chosen to wield the power instead of a lone warrior.

Potentials

Buffy Wiki

This unity of power is similar to the outpouring of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, because in a supernatural event, a transference of power is made from one person to many. At Pentecost, the promised Spirit arrives and anoints the disciples for their mission, empowering them to be Christ’s body on earth. This is the arrival of the Great Counselor, who will guide them in all things after Jesus’ ascension. Since Pentecost, Christians have been able to follow Christ because of the gift of the Holy Spirit. Likewise, when Willow’s spell releases the power of the scythe and gives that power to the potentials, all women who can be slayers become slayers. The power resting within them becomes real.

Once these manifestations of power occur, from the Holy Spirit and the scythe, a new era begins in each of these stories. The power of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost ushered in the birth of the Church. The activation of the potentials ushered in a new era of Slayers, in which many, not one, had the power.

Pentecost is often described as the birthday of the Church. This event was the result of Jesus’ promise to send the Spirit to the disciples if they waited in Jerusalem. The fact that they both waited in Jerusalem and then left to begin the ministry of the Church is significant in itself. Instead of keeping the disciples in Jerusalem, the center of Judaism, Pentecost “leads away from Jerusalem, to a missionary movement scattered to “the ends of the earth;” it decenters (or, at least, portends the decentering of) Jerusalem as the locus of divine worship.”22 The Holy Spirit is not a dormant creature willing to let the disciples remain within the familiarity of Jerusalem. Instead, similar to how it drove Jesus into the wilderness, the Holy Spirit guides the disciples to the Gentiles. In this way, Pentecost constitutes…a criticism of an ethics of election focused on the privileged place of those who claim by birth to be descendants of Abraham.”23 With the Holy Spirit, any barriers between different peoples are dissolved, but their differences are not nullified. Instead, the different people and cultures are brought together in the Church by the Holy Spirit’s power to bridge communication and cultural gaps. As a result, Pentecost is also at least an implicit critique of Rome, whose imperial destiny (so it was said) was to “form one body under the name of Romans.””24 The Church is being formed in the image of Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit, not in the image or by the power of any one nation or people.

Since the Holy Spirit is forming the Church into Christ’s body on earth, the Spirit is also at work empowering the individuals within the Church to be made in the image of Christ. The gift of tongues is a significant sign of this power. The outpouring of the Spirit makes the Church possible “not by the dissolution of multiple languages but rather by embodiment in a people generated by the Spirit, gathered in the name of Jesus Christ.”25 By maintaining unity in diversity, the Holy Spirit is able to form different individuals into Christ’s image without negating what makes people unique. Pentecost also serves as the fulfillment of Moses’ wish that “all the Lord’s people were prophets” (Num. 11:29; cf. Joel 2:28-29/Acts 2:17-18) and, as such, represents an equipping of the church for its divinely appointed mission.”26 Peter explains in Acts 2:14-26 how the Law and Prophets foresaw this outpouring of the Spirit and the universality of the Spirit’s influence. This is especially evident in Peter’s use of Joel 2:28, in which young and old, and male and female, will receive the Spirit and prophesy freely. This empowerment of the Holy Spirit in bringing unity in language and prophecy equips the Church to be Christ’s body in the world.

As the Holy Spirit brought forth the era of the Church, so too did the unleashing of the scythe’s Slayer power usher in a new era of Slayers. Buffy and Faith are no longer the only Slayers in the world. Now, they can share their power with every woman destined to be a Slayer. This sharing of power is a significant tool of empowerment, especially for heroines. Most heroines experience three character traits: “Firstly, sacrificial heroines are made to feel guilty of their positions as heroines. Secondly, they are made to want to give back their power. Finally, the only possible community for them is a patriarchal one.”27 By sharing her power, Buffy subverts these tropes. She no longer feels guilty about her power, she does not want to give it up, and with Willow’s help, she creates a matriarchal community centered on power-sharing instead of power-hoarding.

The activation of all Slayers empowers the Slayers as individuals and as a community. The images of the young women receiving their powers during Buffy’s speech shows empowered individual women. The final battle demonstrates what this empowerment looks like in a communal sense. The potentials have a legitimate chance at helping Buffy and Faith, because they are equal to them in strength. Previous episodes saw a deterioration of community, but coming around this plan and receiving power from the scythe united Buffy’s army. There is no longer only one, nor is there only two, to bear the weight of the world. The activation gives the chance for anyone who can be a Slayer to be a Slayer.

It is important to notice the Christian story in different genres of media, because Christians need to be reminded that media influences our culture, Christian or otherwise. I chose the medium of Buffy the Vampire Slayer for its spiritual elements and because of the Pentecost event in the series finale. Making these connections between biblical text and popular culture helps Christians to better understand the demographics and language of our culture, because in order to understand the people not in the Church, it is first important to understand the stories that influence them.

The Church needs to continue noticing and embracing these themes of empowerment, in both the biblical story and stories in popular culture, because the Church is in a world full of people who are oppressed and disempowered. Pentecost, the birthday of the Church, is a day about empowerment by the Holy Spirit to become a new people bringing to life a new kingdom. “Chosen” is the conclusion to a story about female empowerment, a story that needs to be told more often in a world which regularly oppresses women. The Church needs both of these stories about sharing power instead of hoarding it, because in the gift of the Holy Spirit, Jesus said to disciples past and present, “My power should be our power.”

pentecost

Grace Clovis Presbyterian Church

Works Cited

Acts 1-2. NRSV.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer. “Chosen.” UPN. May 20, 2003. Written and directed by Joss Whedon.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer. “End of Days.” UPN. May 13, 2003. Written by Douglas Petrie and Jane Espenson. Directed by Marita Grabiak.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer. “Get It Done.” UPN. February 18, 2003. Written and directed by Douglas Petrie.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer – Synopsis.” IMDB.com. http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0118276/.

‘Chosen’ Transcript.” BuffyWorld.com. http://www.buffyworld.com/buffy/transcripts/144_tran.html.

Franke, John R. “’We Hear the Wonders of God in Our Own Languages:’ Exploring the Significance of the Spirit’s Speaking Through Culture.” Cultural Encounters 6, no. 1 (2010): 7-23.

Green, Joel B. “In Our Own Languages: Pentecost, Babel, and the Shaping of Christian Community in Acts 2:1-13.” in The Word Leaps the Gap: Essays on Scripture and Theology in Honor of Richard B. Hayes, edited by J. Ross Wagner, C. Kavin Rowe, and A. Katherine Grieb. Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdaman’s Publishing Co., 2008. 198-213.

Menzies, Robert P. “The Role of Glossolalia in Luke-Acts.” Asian Journal of Pentecostal Studies 15, no. 2 (2012): 47-72.

Sjo, Sofia. “Are Female Messiahs Changing the Trick? Women, Religion, and Power in Popular Culture and Society.” in Reconfiguration: Interdisciplinary Perspectives on Religion in a Post- Secular Society, edited by Stefanie Knauss and Alexander D. Ornella. Krotenthallergasse: LIT Verlag, 2007. 59-72.

1 “Buffy the Vampire Slayer – Synopsis,” IMDB.com, accessed July 24, 2016, http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0118276/.
2 Buffy the Vampire Slayer, “Get It Done,” UPN, February 18, 2003, written and directed by Douglas Petrie.
3 In the “Buffyverse,” as it is called by fans, the potential slayers are girls chosen by Fate to become the Slayer when the previous Slayer dies.
4 Sofia Sjo, “Are Female Messiahs Changing the Trick? Women, Religion, and Power in Popular Culture and Society,” in Reconfiguration: Interdisciplinary Perspectives on Religion in a Post-Secular Society ed. by Stefanie Knauss and Alexander D. Ornella, (Krotenthallergasse: LIT Verlag), 2007, 70.
5 In the “Buffyverse,” the Hellmouth is the opening to the barrier between Earth and hell dimensions, which makes it a natural home to many of the demons and evil forces against which Buffy fights.
6 Buffy the Vampire Slayer, “End of Days,” UPN, May 13, 2003, written by Douglas Petrie and Jane Espenson, directed by Marita Grabiak.
7 Traditionally, only one Slayer can be active at a time. However, upon Buffy’s brief death in “Prophecy Girl (Season 1, Episode 12), another Slayer, Kendra, was activated (Season 2, Episodes 9 and 10). After Kendra is killed in “Becoming, Part I” (Season 2, Episode 21), Faith was activated and became part of the series in “Faith, Hope, and Trick” (Season 3, Episode 3).
8 Buffy the Vampire Slayer, “Chosen,” UPN, May 20, 2003, written and directed by Joss Whedon.
9 Buffy the Vampire Slayer, “Chosen.” 2003.
10 Ibid.
11 Acts 2:2 (NRSV).
12 Acts 2:3 (NRSV).
13 Acts 2:4 (NRSV).
14 Acts 1:4-5 (NRSV).
15 “’Chosen’ Transcript,” BuffyWorld.com, accessed July 24, 2016, http://www.buffyworld.com/buffy/transcripts/144_tran.html.
16 Buffy the Vampire Slayer, “Chosen,” 2003.
17 “’Chosen’ Transcript,” BuffyWorld.com.
18 Robert P. Menzies, “The Role of Glossolalia in Luke-Acts,” Asian Journal of Pentecostal Studies, 15 no. 1 (2012): 52.
19 John R. Franke, “’We Hear the Wonders of God in Our Own Languages:’ Exploring the Significance of the Spirit’s Speaking Through Culture,” Cultural Encounters 6, no. 1 (2010): 18.
20 Buffy the Vampire Slayer, “Chosen,” 2003.
21 Sjo, “Female Messiahs,” 71.
22 Joel B. Green, “In Our Own Languages: Pentecost, Babel, and the Shaping of Christian Community in Acts 2:1-13,” in The Word Leaps the Gap: Essays on Scripture and Theology in Honor of Richard B. Hayes. ed. by J. Ross Wagner, C. Kavin Rowe, and A. Katherine Grieb, (Grand Rapids:William B. Eerdaman’s Publishing Co.), 2008, 212.
23 Green, “In Our Own Languages,” 212.
24 Ibid.
25 Ibid., 199.
26 Menzies, “Glossolalia,” 58.
27 Sjo, “Female Messiahs,” 70.

Why Ms. Marvel and Muslim Representation are Important

marvel

marvel.wikia.com

When I first walked into a comic book store two and a half years ago, I went straight for the Marvel section to grab Ms. Marvel Issue 1 (2014).

I knew nothing about Carol Danvers. I barely knew anything about Kree or Inhumans.

But I knew about Kamala Khan, the second-generation, Pakistani-American, Muslim teenager who carried the title of the super-heroine Ms. Marvel.

Kamala’s run as Ms. Marvel, previously portrayed as the blonde-haired, blue-eyed Carol Danvers, began in February 2014. While she isn’t the first Muslim superhero in the Marvel universe, she is the first to have get her own solo title and story.

When I found this out, I wanted to read her story, which sounded interesting and exciting on its own.

But I also had a bigger reason.

It’s no mystery that post-9/11 America has not been the kindest or safest place for Muslims. Pastors burn Qurans, men rip hijabs off of women, and people demand that incoming refugees and immigrants take religious tests in order to prove whether or not they are Muslims and, therefore, terrorists. Anti-Muslim sentiments and hate crimes have only increased in the month after the election.

Thankfully, I’ve also heard many in my own Christian circle strive to be more open to, inclusive of, and engaged with those they call “our Muslim brothers and sisters.” I appreciate and affirm these efforts and encourage all of my Christian friends to continue them.

But the term “our Muslim brothers and sisters” is not just a phrase to me or a call to go out of my way to interact with this group as if I can avoid them.

Muslims are my actual brother, sister, father, stepmom, and half of my extended family. They are my flesh and blood.

And that is why Ms. Marvel is so important to me.

This is a female American Muslim who is a person, not a token or a poster child. She is a teenager who goes to school, fights with her parents and brother, attends the mosque, quotes the Quran in the name of justice, and is obsessed with the Avengers. She also messes up often: she falls for a boy who hurts her, takes her best friend for granted, and is betrayed by her idol. She is a character whose ethnicity and religion is incorporated into “the larger, more holistic representation of what it is to be a person.”

Kamala isn’t just a girl who happens to be Muslim AND a superhero. Her identity and ideas about justice flow from her religious faith and family heritage. She rebukes the stereotype of Muslim women being oppressed and passive. Instead, she is physically, mentally, and emotionally strong with similar limits as other superheroes. Her religion does not hold her back. It pushes her forward.

Kamala Khan’s Ms. Marvel is an important icon in an age when people are calling out inherent racism in our media, from movements like #OscarsSoWhite and backlash against whitewashing characters who should be portrayed by people of color. She is a breath of fresh air in a storm of common negative media narratives surrounding Muslim Americans, including, but not limited to, threats of ISIS within and outside US; the Boston Marathon, San Bernardino, and Pulse Nightclub attacks; and Ahmed Mohamed’s arrest for building a clock his teacher suspected of being a bomb. She is someone that can represent my siblings, parents, and family well, someone to remind them that they are good, beautiful, whole people just as they are, with their dark, curly hair, large brown eyes, and olive skin. They are not tokens or terrorists. They are people with stories similar to and different from Kamala’s, and their stories are worth telling and upholding. This is what Ms. Marvel’s story says to my family and other Muslim Americans.

When people of color and from minority groups demand better representation, it isn’t a whiny demand from brats who just “want everything their way.” It’s a call to acknowledge a broad range of people as complete, complex human beings in the same way so many white, hetero, cis, Christian, and able-bodied people already are. It is a plea to notice and honor the divine humanity of brown, black, and Muslim (among other people groups) in realistic, well-rounded, and accurate ways.

In short, it is a cry for justice.

So broaden your horizons. Not all of the media you consume should be headlined by people who look like and have similar backgrounds and lifestyles as you. If you’re Christian, find some stories from Muslim, Hindu, or even atheist perspectives. If you’re white, read the stories of black and brown characters (even better, get stories like those written BY people of color). If you’re able-bodied, seek the stories of people with disabilities. The point is, don’t limit your stories. Seek all of them from as many perspectives as possible. Recognize the divine humanity in each diverse story. If you’re a creator, make sure if your characters are people of color or different religions that you do your homework well in bringing them to life. Make sure they are real people whose ethnicity and religious beliefs add to their character instead of forcing them into a stereotype.

This is important, holy work, friends, and it is hard work. We won’t always say the right things or portray people as well as we could. We will blunder. I know I have many times.

But know that this is work for justice. This work of honoring stories honors the beautiful humanity  within each person, including my own family. And we need this work to be done now more than ever.

Fangirl Theology: Apocalypse Survival Guide, According to Buffy

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io9.gizmodo.com

After the election, I began re-watching Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

Because the world around me felt so apocalyptic, and she seemed to be the best one to handle such a situation.

I mean “apocalyptic” in every sense of the word. I mean it in that it feels like the world around me is about to change significantly, or even end as I know it. But mostly, I say “apocalyptic” because of what this election season has uncovered and revealed.

That’s the real meaning of apocalypse in Greek: “to uncover/to reveal.” If you think about it for a moment, it makes complete sense that this is the word we would also use to describe world-altering/ending events.

Look at what is uncovered when the world starts shifting and the dust is shaken off. We see the cracks in our systems and how they are closer to toppling over than we expected. We notice the people upon whose backs those systems were built, the ones who have always known the truth about how the world works, but we have been too preoccupied and privileged to notice. We see the darkness which permeates it all, and it is frightening.

Apocalypse is not a new cultural phenomenon. We see it in everything from The Hunger Games and The Maze Runner to The Walking Dead. It’s as if something in our collective psyche has sensed this cosmic shift just waiting to happen, and our imaginations ran with it.

Here we are, on the cusp, perhaps already falling over, and I am looking for everything to hold onto.

Enter Buffy, the Queen of Apocalypses. (The plural is necessary)

In season one, Buffy resists the Master, an ancient vampire who seeks to rule the human world, and after dying briefly at his hands, Buffy destroys him. In season two, Buffy’s beau Angel loses his soul, tries to destroy her life AND the world, and she has to avert the damage by killing him (after he becomes good again). In season three, the town mayor turns into an all-powerful, giant demon snake on graduation day to usher in a new world order before Buffy’s gang and the senior class blow him up. Season four sees the gang taking down a corrupt government organization whose creation tries to create monster-human hybrids, season five sees the gang battling a chaos-seeking god, season six tackles the apocalyptic desires of regular humans and Buffy’s own friend, and season seven concludes the series with a final confrontation with the First Evil.

And those are just the season finales.

So when things feel apocalyptic, I turn to Buffy, because she knows how to handle these situations. Apocalypses don’t break her but push her into leadership. They turn some of her enemies into reluctant heroes and make heroes out of her “ordinary” friends. In Buffy, as in life, apocalypses have the capacity to unbalance power. They can enable people in power to grab more of it, or give the underprivileged and marginalized a chance to finally have a taste of it. Buffy and her gang work hard to make sure the power stays out of the hands of those who would do great harm with it and instead put it in the hands of those deemed less worthy.

This is part of God’s story, too. In the Revelation from John, apocalyptic imagination runs wild. There’s fantastic imagery and symbols, which represent the corruption of empire, the oppression of others, and the love of God finally putting this evil to rest. There is an ushering out of the old ways of power to give cataclysmic birth to a new way of life. This final “uncovering” reveals the powers of the world as they are, in all of their atrocities and corruption, and the revealing of the world as it was meant to be, ruled by God through Jesus, with restored communion and relationship, and tears wiped away. This is the day when heaven comes to earth, and evil is forever banished from it.

So what do we do when it seems like the Hellmouth has opened, and demons are spewing out?

What do we do with a promise for all weeping to cease when we can’t stop the tears from flowing night and day?

That’s what we’re grappling with now. For those of us who have had the blind removed from our eyes and the carpet pulled out from under, the initial revelation is shocking and horrifying. When we see, as Richard Rohr describes it, that “[our] leaders…mirror what we have become as a nation. They are our shadow self for all to see,” the sight is not a pretty one. It is a terror, perhaps the kind which God described to Jeremiah when foretelling Jerusalem’s destruction, a terror repulsive to the world but to which a majority of the citizens remained blind.

Apocalypses render the world bare. They wipe the collective slate clean. Things can begin anew. These are times for pain, despair, trial, resistance, upheaval, and change, all to make way for a new way of life, closer to the way it was meant to be.

So now, with the Hellmouth open and an apocalypse underway, we continue to do Buffy’s work.

We live as Slayers and Scoobies in this apocalyptic age. We resist, uncover, and unmask evil and corrupt systems to reveal what they are to the world. We resist by protesting, creating art, being with people on the margins and offering them our encouragement, listening ears, and assistance in their movements. We start bringing about the final revelation every day.

Apocalypses happen, more often than we realize and more often than we may want. But they give us opportunities: to upset structures, to usher in a new and more just era, to take power from the powerful and give it to the disenfranchised.

Let’s do this.

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legionofleia.com

Fangirl Theology: What Harry Potter Taught Me About Social Justice

I’ve been thinking a lot about social justice.

I’ve also been thinking a lot about Harry Potter.

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NPR

After election season, so many people found solace in these stories, a peace they first experienced in their youth.

I’m also caught up in this phenomenon. I want to go home and dig my books out again and lose myself in them like I once did. I want to go Hogwarts and have adventures with Harry, Ron, and Hermione. I want to learn spells and play Quidditch. I want to devour those pages for hours and not realize any time has gone by.

I want to feel the excitement and wonder I always encounter when I return to those pages. I miss sympathizing with these layered characters in their struggles, from teenage angst and stress to losing loved ones and resisting evil.

But now, more than ever, I feel like I need these stories again. Actually, I think we all do.

I believe the reason so many people are returning to these stories and are quoting, tweeting, and even shouting them, online and at protests, is because they know how necessary Harry’s story is for us now.

Why?

Because this story taught us about seeking justice and loving mercy.

It’s a message we heard loud and clear when we were young. It is a message we remember. It is one we see the need to proclaim now, to our nation and our world.

This story taught us to care for the orphans, like Harry himself and his godson, Teddy Lupin. It taught us to protect and stand up for the marginalized, for Muggleborns like Hermione and Colin Creevey, for house elves and centaurs, and for outsiders like Hagrid and Neville. It taught us that when the Voldemorts and Umbridges of the world begin to rise, we join Dumbledore’s Army and resist supremacy, censorship, and corrupt power. With Harry, we learned how good education teaches us to love and empower others instead of hoard all the good information for ourselves.

We learned that there are forces which, like dementors, threaten to consume our joy and peace, but we also learned we have the strength within ourselves to cast them out. We learned that we all have evil within us. Some, like Voldemort and Mr. and Mrs. Dursley, keep their hearts closed off from love and change, and it is their downfall. But there are some very imperfect people, like Draco Malfoy, Snape, Dudley, and even Dumbledore himself, who realize the errors of their ways and find redemption.

These stories are part of the reason why so many millenials are passionate about social justice. When we find ourselves face to face with white, male, heterosexual, cis-gender supremacy, we do not remain silent, because J.K. Rowling’s characters were anything but that. When we seem to be dominated by those who would harm the marginalized, we counter those systems, because her stories gave us the means to notice and challenge them.

We saw Harry fight Voldemort’s killing curses with disarming spells. We saw Hermione, a “Mudblood,” perform magic and spout wisdom beyond the skills of her “pureblood” peers. We saw Ron confront his demons when destroying a Horcrux and Dumbledore confront his past failures while teaching Harry the importance of love and compassion. We saw Hagrid’s unconditional love for and acceptance of all manner of creatures and Snape’s imperfect loyalty to Dumbledore.

We come by this passion honestly. We don’t run after these stories for the sole purpose of their fantasy and inspiration. We love Harry Potter, because these stories speak to what’s already within us. These are stories which call to the desire for justice which is in our DNA. It is the DNA we carry as image-bearers of the One who loves and judges out of mercy, who cares for the orphan, the widow, and the foreigner among us, and whose heart breaks when we do not do the same. These stories resonate so well with us, because they draws on God’s story, written throughout history and evident in all those tales which teach us to do justice and love mercy.

When we return to the Harry Potter stories, we are not returning to a childhood nostalgia or an escapist fantasy.

We are returning to a story of God’s love and redemption in and through God’s people, a story in which the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness does not overcome it.

It is a story we need this Advent, maybe this year more than ever.

“Dark and difficult times lie ahead. Soon we must all face the choice between what is right and what is easy.” – Albus Dumbledore, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire

How will we be the light in this darkness? What will keep us burning? How will we resist the evil before us? What “Dumbledore’s Army” movements call to you?

Fangirl Theology: 7 Theological Lessons from Buffy the Vampire Slayer

This is a continuation of my Fangirl Theology series and is my third post on the topic, following Doctor Who, the Church, and My Messiah Complex and When All Saint’s Day Meets Election Day (and Fandom). This was originally conceived as a three-part series, but I’m planning to extend it a bit longer. So, if you have any favorite fangirl/fanboy topics you wish to see theologically deconstructed, please comment at the bottom! Thanks for reading!

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Maybe you’re devastated by all this division in our country. Maybe you need some good ol’ female empowerment. Or maybe you’re really curious as to why this post even makes the connections between Buffy and Christian theology.

Regardless of why you’re here, I hope this gives you hope and reminds you that you can slay with the best of them!

Here are 7 theological lessons from Buffy the Vampire Slayer!

FOR THOSE WHO HAVE NOT FINISHED THE SERIES, THERE WILL BE SPOILERS!

7. We are stronger together. 

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David had Jonathan, Naomi had Ruth, the disciples had Jesus and each other, Paul had the apostles and leaders of the churches (although he was still pretty abrasive with them). The Scriptures rarely have anyone going it alone, because the writers of these stories knew the truth of these ancient words: “It is not good for [people] to be alone.” (Genesis 2:18) In the same way, Buffy has the love and support of her friends and family. Even when she feels isolated because of her Slayer duties, she never has to live out her calling entirely alone. In fact, there are times when having her support group saves her life, as is the case in Season Four when she and her friends merge their psyches together to bring down an otherwise unbeatable enemy.

6. Humans are both badass and flawed.

Shangel’s Reviews and US Weekly

I’m specifically focusing on female characters because of the emphasis on female empowerment throughout the course of the show. Buffy can defeat an armada of vampires single-handed, but sometimes she lets that get to her head and doesn’t listen to others when it comes to dealing with life. Willow is kind and gentle but is willing to wipe peoples’ memories so she doesn’t have to deal with the consequences of her actions towards them. Faith is strong and fierce but doesn’t always have the best moral compass. Cordelia is prissy and sassy with the heart of a fighter. These women are as human and flawed as any male, and women need to be reminded that they too are made in God’s divine image and are still desperately human. In the Bible, Sarah manipulated a patriarchal system to get a son out of her maidservant, then proceeded to treat her like garbage. Still, she is considered the matriarch of the Hebrew line. Mary Magdalene had actual demons which required exorcism, and she was the first person to witness Jesus’ resurrection. Just like the women in Buffy, women in the Bible are complex and simple, holy and human.

5. Darkness will not overcome the light, although it can make the light harder to notice at times.

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Pinterest

The Israelites lived through generations of exile and homecoming, which caused significant trauma and pain, along with great perseverance and hope. The Romans crucified Jesus, who embodied hope and restoration, but the grave could not contain him. Buffy and her gang encounter powerful forces of darkness in their adventures together, in the form of Big Bads, unexpected and senseless deaths, and broken relationships. But even though the monsters threaten to overtake them, the power to keep them at bay abounds in equal, if not greater, measure within them.

4. Repentance and forgiveness are difficult and possible, even in the worst of people and the worst of situations. 

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Once More with Extreme Prejudice

Joseph’s brothers threw him in a well and sold him into slavery out of jealousy. After enduring significant hardships, rising to power in Egypt, and meeting with his brothers again (while also tormenting them), Joseph forgives and finds restored relationship with his family. Before he was Paul, Saul of Tarsus persecuted and killed Christians with joy. After his conversion, Paul became Christianity’s greatest champion. Buffy and her friends exhibit this similar struggles with repentance and forgiveness. Buffy’s friends and lovers hurt her in deep ways, and it takes significant time and personal healing for her to forgive them. After Willow, in her “Dark” form, kills someone and threatens to destroy the world, she does the hard work of both accepting and mastering her darkness, and her friends do this work with her. In these stories, repentance is not easy, and forgiveness is not cheap, but they are both possible.

3. Power should be shared, not hoarded. 

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Buzzfeed

Buffy is a unique Slayer in that she insists on surrounding herself with friends and allies who assist her in her duties. While past Slayers lived out their callings in isolation, Buffy shares her journey and calling with others. This idea of fully sharing power comes to its fulfillment at the conclusion of the series. In the series finale, Willow unleashes the power from a magical scythe to empower all potential Slayers so that Buffy is no longer alone in her mission. At Pentecost, the Holy Spirit touched all those gathered at the Temple in order to imbue them with the power to share the Gospel by giving them the ability to speak different languages. Power is not something to be held by one but to be shared by many. Only in sharing power can God’s love and kingdom be made manifest in a diverse world.

2. Death affects every single one of us, but it is not the final word. 

Action Flick Chick and Wicked Horror

The Jewish culture of Israel dies, is exiled, and returns, only for this cycle to resume a few hundred years later. Jesus dies and walks out of the grave. Giles loses Jenny, Buffy loses her mother, and Willow loses Tara. Death comes for every single one of us and all of the ones we love. It unites us in our humanity, but it is never the last word. Resurrection occurs in biblical tales and in Buffy’s stories. New loves come, lives continue in new and altered ways, and the world keeps turning. These characters remind us to deal with death in its enormity, grieve well, and learn somehow to move on into a new life.

1. Life is hard, painful, and beautiful.

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Buffy and the gang endure immense hardships in their work together, but they still find reasons to keep fighting the good fight. Buffy encourages her sister to “be brave [and] live” in this hard life. Then, she must live into the reality of her own words after her friends resurrect her, and she must endure the hells of human life after respite in heaven. It is only after a long, intense, and difficult season that she finds something worth living for again. Job struggles through his losses and wonders what the point of life and living is, and even after God appears to him in a whirlwind, his questions are not all answered. However, he gains a new perspective and begins a new life in light of these revelations. There is no guarantee that life will be easy, and sometimes, it barely feels worth the trouble, but deep within the crevices, there is beauty, and it is worth pursuing.

What theological insights resonated most with you? Which ones did I miss? As a part of my Fangirl Theology series, please comment with your own theological insights into your favorite fandoms, or any fandoms you might want to discuss further!