Fangirl Theology: Nostalgia as Deception and Comfort in Stranger Things, American History, and the Bible

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***POTENTIAL MILD SPOILERS FOR STRANGER THINGS SEASON ONE AHEAD***

Nostalgia is a funny thing.

In Greek, it roughly translates to “homesickness.”

This would explain the feelings we experience when we find an old toy, flip through an album of sepia-toned Polaroids, pick up a vinyl record, or binge-watch a season of Stranger Things in less than 24 hours.

In the act of remembering, we experience a type of homesickness, a woebegone sense of longing for the beloved and familiar. While our memories can be positive and negative, nostalgia holds us in those idyllic moments with all its might. It give us glimpses of home and tastes of (more) carefree days.

We are nostalgic, because we can’t help but yearn for the past when our future seems so uncertain, unsafe, and unknown.

My generation gets a lot of flack for our “early-onset nostalgia,” but I think our critics often forget the context of the world in which we came of age. Some contributing factors included a huge economic recession, job and financial instability, and disenfranchisement with the crippling War in Iraq. It only makes sense that we would cling to relics from our past for comfort, especially from a time that, to us, epitomized financial and global security.

Yet we remember so selectively.

Nostalgia insists on the existence of the “good ole days,” a magical time in which “life was easier.”

But does it dare to ask for whom those days were good, and for whom life was easy?

Does it prompt us to wonder who was invisible in our lives then and shed some light on who is absent now?

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Stranger Things tells a story with multiple perspectives through a retro, Stephens Spielburg- and King-esque lens. Three boys search for their missing best friend and discover a strange girl with superpowers, a la E.T. and Firestarter. A teenage girl is caught in a cliche example of a love triangle right out of a John Hughes flick. The boy’s mother and the local police chief work together to find this missing child only to uncover an even darker secret that could have set John Carpenter’s hair on end.

From the clothes the characters wear to the posters on their bedroom walls and the iconic scenes they mimic, the whole show is cut and tailored to pull our nostalgic heartstrings by reminding us of a past time. And yet, with its retro style comes a freshness our generation craves. It is a nostalgic tale, but it is also a tight, fast-paced, edge-of-your-seat story. The acting and writing are phenomenal, and the themes of conquering evil are both comfortingly cliche and organically original.

Many of us need some nostalgic comfort in our country’s chaotic heydays. At the same time, we need to be cautious with it.

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Nostalgia influences our memories, and it can deceive them. There’s always someone or something missing from our strolls down memory lane, and if we take the time to find out why they are gone, we can infuse our fond recollections with a strong dose of reality.

Let’s look at the 1980s themselves. While the decade saw significant economic gains, they came as a result of slashed funding to government assistance programs for the poor and marginalized. While the US kept the USSR at bay, we also sent millions of dollars to corrupt Central American leaders, who spent it on weapons to murder their citizens. In return, we slammed our nation’s borders shut on these refugees when they sought to escape the war zones we had enabled. While the white population believed the country had moved on from racial inequality, the race-fueled “War on Drugs” and prison industrial complex picked up steam.

But these stories are not evident on the surface of this 80s-inspired show.

There is only one person of color in the first season (Lucas, one of Will’s friends), and not only is he relegated to a supporting role, but he gets a lot of flack for being rather reasonable with his concerns about Eleven.

None of the characters are people whose parents are not from the US, or who came to the US as children, and there are no people with disabilities.

This is not to say these characters’ traits and the complete absence of others is completely intentional. But then again, very little about anything systemic is.

And as such, we often chalk it all up to the fact that “things were different back then.”

But here’s the truth, y’all: the people who are absent from this and other stories existed then. They were the heroes of their own stories. At the same time, their stories were unacknowledged, ignored, and even silenced by a majority of Americans.

It’s an absence that, if you’re privileged enough, you have to hunt down. But for the forgotten ones, it is visible and painful.

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Nostalgia’s comfort and trickery is in the biblical text, too. After its devastating collapse, the psalmists celebrated Jerusalem in its glory as if it wasn’t also a place of greed, oppression, and corruption. The prophetic writers were the ones reminding the people of both their triumphant past and the reasons for their tragic downfall.

King David is idealized as the perfect king, and he was a rapist who feuded with his own son to the point of death. Again, a prophet had to bring the man to his senses so he could see the error of his ways.

The writers of the conquest narratives talk about God’s blessing of their successful missions to destroy the Canaanites, but we never hear the Canaanites’ perspective. Unfortunately, they did not receive any prophets, and their stories of pain and loss went unheard.

This is not to say pursuing feelings of nostalgia is a corrupt quest. It is comforting and necessary to remember where we’ve been and who we are, and we should be thankful when we can do so with joy and thankfulness in our hearts.

But it can also blind us. It can hold us back and keep us apathetic. It can make us dwell on what was instead of moving forward into what could be, and it can make us focus on a false narrative instead of digging deeper into the dark Upside Down beneath its facade.

We can allow nostalgia to comfort us and remove us from our own reality. Doing so can encourage us to play again, and when we remember how to play, we can change the world. After all, the kids in Stranger Things saved the world because of the wisdom they accumulated while playing Dungeons & Dragons, reading X-Men comics, and watching Star Wars. They were victorious, because they knew the value of play and imagination. Nostalgia can help us recover those traits after we bury them under adulthood’s reason and seriousness.

So go ahead and be nostalgic when you watch Stranger Things, and be comforted and emboldened by it. It’s only natural in a world like this.

And also remember to be honest. Remember that the privilege to look back on a time with nostalgia often comes at the price of someone else’s comfort, and you did nothing to earn it, nor did they.

And remember to do what you can to make this a world in which every person can have a home for which to be homesick as we journey through life.

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Fangirl Theology Series: Stranger Things

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Stranger Things has become one of my all-time favorite shows.

It’s a delightful and frightening coming of age tale in which the weird kids, the preppy teens, and the messed-up adults save the day.

It’s a tale of parallel planes and nostalgia trips that allows us to ask the “What if” questions of life:

What if an evil force invaded, and the little ones and the broken ones, saved the world?

What if there is a world within a world, a place that is here and not here, and it’s threatening to break through?

How do we deal with the repercussions of confronting the darkness in the world?

After looking at the evil in this story, what do we learn about the evils that plague our own reality, and how do we confront it?

There are evil forces at play in the land of Hawkins, Indiana, in the form Demagorgons and warring governments who care more about beating each other than the lives of their citizens. There are the loveable “losers,” the girl with no name but fantastic powers, the single mother barely hanging on, the cop still grieving his daughter’s death, and the dysfunctional step-siblings.

And beneath it all lies the Upside Down, an alternate dimension of death, decay, and darkness, with a creature (and, in the second season, creatures), who seek to infiltrate our realm and destroy us.

In short, it’s a biblical story.

The Bible contains stories of the looming threats of the otherworldly powers of darkness and the present power of Empire, not to mention actual monsters (Job 40:15-24 and 41). Its list of heroes includes infertile nomads, foreigners who glean the fields, a shepherd boy overloooked by his own father, and a refugee born in a manger.

And beneath is all is the Kin-dom of God, God’s Dream for the world, the New Heaven and New Earth, the here but elsewhere, the now but not yet, a space of interdimensional, thin-planed existence.

*****

Storytelling is a formative experience. Sci-fi and fantasy are some of my favorite storytelling mediums, because they remind us of the world’s enchantment. We remember that magic is real, we are not alone, and there are things more beautiful and great than we can comprehend, yet are within our reach.

It’s been a while since I’ve dug into the theology of a good story, and I want to begin again with the dark enchantment of Stranger Things. 

On the blog, I will be spending the next two weeks digging into the theology in Stranger Things through a few themes. I hope you will join me on this and other journeys through the lens of Fangirl Theology!

An Open Letter to Fanboys

Dear Fanboys,

I know you’re upset over the apparent “robbery” of “your” characters: the loss of your Doctors and Thors to women, your white Peter Parker “usurped” by Afro-Hispanic Miles Morales, your straight Hal Jordan “taken over” by queer Alan Parker, your blonde Captain Marvel flying out so Pakistani Muslim Khamala Khan can soar in.

How dare they touch your precious characters, you cry. And all in the name of something as ridiculous as “politically correct” culture.

You cry out to the geekdom gods: “Why have you forsaken me?”

Oh, my dears.

Just stop.

Seriously.

 

This is exactly what you sound like. Do you really want to be Dudley Dursley?

 

Enough with the cries of “P.C. culture is ruining geekdom” and “the canon says this character has to be THIS way,” as if those characters don’t already break accepted laws of physics and science.

 

If a time-traveling, regenerating alien hanging out with their past form makes more sense to you than that same alien regenerating into a woman, you’re being a little choosy with how you apply your logic.

You’re not being persecuted. You’re not losing your stories.

What you’re experiencing is a thing called “change.”

The world and culture are shifting around you. And as such, the representation of that world is going to change.

Straight, cis, able-bodied, white men aren’t the only people calling all of the shots anymore. Not only are more women, people of color, LGBTQ+, and disabled people finally getting the right to tell their stories; they have also been reading, watching, and loving the same characters and worlds you have.

All we are asking is that those heroes look like us once in a while.

But why not make an original character, though, you ask. Why must you “steal” one of ours? Go get your own, you demand!

Ah, yes, why didn’t we think of that? It’s easy, right? After all, your characters seemed to spring up out of nowhere with such frequency, we should be able to do the same.

If only it were the case that movies and shows with diverse casts of characters made by people who aren’t straight, male, or white didn’t take longer to make because producers don’t trust the characters will be likeable or even “articulate.” If only these projects weren’t desperately underfunded to the point that the production companies attempt to bribe their creators with more money if they just cast a white lead. 

Not to mention the frequency with which these beloved, well-rounded shows with this type of casting are dropped.

 

I guess they gotta make way for more episodes of Iron Fist, The Ranch, and whatever else Adam Sandler can cough up.

 

Why aren’t more women and people of color trying to tell their own stories, you ask. Why aren’t they working hard to get in the director’s seat or behind the writing desk?

Here’s the short answer: They are.

They’re working their asses off.

They’re also being met with microagressions like “I’m pleasantly surprised you knew what you were doing,” are blamed for a variety of minor issues for the sake of being a “minority,” and fearing that if they drop any “ethnic” dialogue or bring up too many “issues,” they’ll lose the project for good.

 

Not to mention the legitimate and very threatening harassment they receive online for critiquing video games while having vaginas and posting selfies with their fellow artists. 

These add up real quick and make pursuing a passion that much more exhausting and even dangerous. And it takes a special kind of strength to be willing to pursue what you love when all of that is coming at you every day.

When we get excited over a female Doctor, a woman of color being the main character in the new Star Trek, and actual Muslim women writing the story of an actual Muslim superhero, it’s not because we want to “steal” your characters for the sake of being “P.C.” We are excited, because just like you got David Tennant and 11 other men as the Doctor, and you had Captains Kirk and Picard (take your pick), we get Jodie Whittaker’s Doctor and First Officer Burnham. We get people who are like us telling stories about heroes who are like us. We have icons to admire and exonerate, whom we aspire to be one day, just as you always have.

 

It looks like a sun is collapsing behind her, and she’s still taking time to pose all stoically for the camera. How badass is that?!

 

When only one-third of speaking characters are female, despite the fact that women represent just over half the population in America, when just 28.3 percent of characters with dialogue are from non-white racial/ethnic groups, though such groups are nearly 40 percent of the U.S. population, and when only two percent of speaking characters are identified as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transsexual, we will line up in huge numbers for Wonder Woman’s release and binge watch The Handmaid’s Tale, American Gods, and Transparent.

When negative mass media portrayals of black men shape public views of and attitudes toward men of color, which can result in self-demoralization and a reduction of self-esteem for people of color and enable judges to hand out harsher sentences and the police to shoot indiscriminately, we will rejoice when Idris Elba heads The Dark Tower, John Boyega is a lead in Star Wars, and A Wrinkle in Time is driven by Storm Reid with Ava Duvernay at the helm.

So instead of complaining, please support us. We have good stories to tell. Heck, we even have universal stories to share, believe it or not.

Support us because you want more people to love fandom and geek culture.

Support us because stories are sacred and affect all of us in sacred ways.

Support us because we’re all a bunch of geeks who are into some crazy, weird, phenomenal stories, so we might as well enjoy them together while the rest of the world casts their judgmental looks upon our weirdness.

Bridal Showers and Tesseracts and Female Doctors, Oh My! (Or: SWEET BABY JESUS, THINGS ARE LOOKING UP!)

A WRINKLE IN TIME13

Bleeding Cool

ComingSoon.net

Y’all.

This has been one hell of a weekend.

I got to attend a bridal shower thrown by two beloved cousins, with whom I spent some of the best moments of my childhood. My future mother-in-law and her sister met my extended family for the first time, and to my great relief, everyone got along famously.

Not to mention, my fiance and I received a vacuum, a Crock Pot, ceramic pots and pans, and other amazing gifts.

That evening, I went to my cousin Megan’s house, where we sat around a roaring fire in the fire pit, and I played with her adorable, headbutting little girl and traded silly stories and political tirades with my aunts and mother.

On Sunday, I went to my aunt Leslie’s pool, where I squeezed some swimming time in between my younger cousins’ attempts to treat me like the human equivalent of a jungle gym.

The family time and bridal celebration alone made it an incredible weekend.

The geeky celebrations that occurred alongside them made everything ten times sweeter.

The Wrinkle in Time trailer dropped and blew the world away, highlighting its beautiful cast and phenomenal story of a young girl on a journey to save her father and the universe from an evil darkness.

After several fan campaigns, the 13th Doctor is officially going to be a woman, much to the joy of many young women, the necessary feedback and critiques of women of color, and the chagrin of silly “fanboys.”

Y’all, this is an amazing week to not only be a geek, but to be a female geek.

Women of color, both young and old, dominate Madeline L’Engle’s beloved sci-fi story, which is also directed by a woman of color, the amazing Ava Duvernay, and released by Disney, which practically owns the realm of imagination right now.

An intelligent and talented woman (albeit a white, blonde, and thin one, which carries its own issues) will be embodying an immortal Time Lord/Lady who carries wisdom and knowledge of all of time and space.

After months of news stories that would tell women, people of color, LGBTQ+ people, and other marginalized people that there is no hope, fantasy kicked down the door, grabbed us by the hand, and took us away to worlds into which we are not only allowed to enter, but into which we are called to lead the rest of the world.

For once, I don’t care what the “haters” have to say.

The joys of being with family, of celebrating my fiance and I and our love and life together, of being a fangirl, an activist, and a seeker of the Kingdom of God broke through the despair of my anxiety, stress, and skepticism. The joy of these beautiful works of art reminded me that if neither the world nor the Church will lead us into the Kingdom of God, then maybe the imagination of sci-fi and fantasy will.

This weekend, for the first time in a long time, joy won.

 

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

Pinterest

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.