“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.

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: 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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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!

When All Saint’s Day Meets Election Day (and Fandom)

On Sunday, I celebrated All Saint’s Day at my Episcopal Church with our Sunday School students. We played a game called “Musical Saints,” a variation on musical chairs in which each chair is labeled with the name of a saint, and the students pick the chair of the correct saint after receiving a clue.

In my preparation for this game, I discovered that the Episcopalians have a plethora of saints. Everyone from Mary Magdalene to Francis of Assisi is represented, and some modern heroes like Sojourner Truth, Florence Nightingale, Johann Sebastian Bach, and C.S. Lewis also qualify as saints. The ancient, ascetic people were obvious choices to the children and assisting adults, but to the modern, “secular” saints, they asked, “Why are these people included?”

I did not wonder why Bach and Truth were in the same league as Francis and Mary. In social reform, music, literature, education, ministry, and ascetic life, each saint reflected the light of God in the world. They brought to focus something of God’s character previously hidden. They noticed God in places others had looked right through.

Why wouldn’t they be considered saints?

Somehow, we’ve accepted the idea that being a “religious” person, like a minister or an ascetic, is the only worthy vocation to qualify for sainthood.

But some of the saints that have influenced me are not overtly religious.

Some of them are even fictional.

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Between Tuesday and Wednesday, I ended up calling on a few of my favorite fictional saints.

On Tuesday evening, after a long day which involved a doctor’s appointment, working, and voting, I arrived home to watch some Doctor Who (Season Nine) while I ate dinner.

As fate would have it, I found myself on The Zygon Invasion/The Zygon Inversion storyline.

The Doctor made his passionate speech, calling out two rivaling species and begging them to make peace with each other. As he spoke, I thought about my neighbor who strongly supported the candidate I feared. I wondered how radical, and maybe even necessary, it would be to take the Doctor’s words and put them into action.

{Potential spoiler graphic for Season 9 of Doctor Who below}

INVERSION OF THE ZYGONS (By Peter Harness and Steven Moffat)

The election ran its course, but I slept through a good portion of it. After hearing the outcome upon awakening, I got myself out of bed to make my daily cup of tea. This was my mug of choice.

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After finishing my breakfast, I sipped tea out of this mug while my roommate and I talked about this new territory our nation is entering. As I sipped, I remembered Harry Potter’s various interactions with people intolerant of difference, and I reminded myself of the importance of being with people who are afraid.

I got through my commute and spent 6 hours at my secretary job. When I left, I changed into street clothes before heading to choir practice, which included one of my favorite T-shirts.

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I wear this shirt on days I need “Slayer-strength” to get through the day, and on this day, I needed all the strength I could get. So before I put it on, I read the names and remembered the characters who bore them. I reflected on all their beauties, imperfections, strengths, flaws, victories, losses, pains and gains, and I carried them with me throughout the rest of the day.

In those two days, I carried the stories of the Doctor, Harry Potter, and Buffy the Vampire Slayer in my heart and on my body. The tokens I carried did not endow me with powers like super-strength or magical ability, but they reminded me of the adventures the characters went through, the trials they faced, and the friends they found in enemies. In remembering their stories, I found peace that we will work through whatever we face.

I regard these characters as saints, because saints are the ones whose stories we tell to find the strength to keep going.

This is why saints, whether real or fictional, are so important. We need Mary and the disciples, the Doctor and his companions, Francis and Clare, Harry and his friends, Absalom Jones and Sojourner Truth, Buffy and the Scoobies, and many others to remind us of the divine image and humanity we carry.

The Doctor, an alien Time Lord who travels through space and time, acts on his Messiah/God-complex in harmful ways then finds redemption. He is beloved and feared by all who meet him. He’s not sure if he’s a “good man,” and he wonders whether it’s worth winning a battle at the cost of losing a life. He is a man who struggles with the laws he is bound to obey, and every now and then he breaks them. He is a traditionalist who pushes the bar, and sometimes, he pushes a bit too far.

He is a saint to all who have struggled with their own desires to fix and control everything. His story reminds us of the importance of presence, of doing what we can, and knowing how to repent when we have gone too far.

Harry Potter is a moody teenager with a heart of gold, a boy who is loyal to his friends and willing to show compassion and mercy to his enemies. From a young age, he could conjure a Patronus, a charm produced from happy memories, despite all the traumas he faced. He looked at the magical world with fresh and wondrous eyes, and he was absent-minded and easily confused when others seemed to understand everything.

He is the saint to all struggling with deep sadness and pain, and to those whom Death has touched in significant ways. His story reminds us to draw out joy in the midst of pain, to learn to live life in such a way that Death can be greeted like an old friend, and the absolute necessity of never going it alone, even when doing so can keep others safe.

Buffy is a fighter and leader who loves clothes, dancing, make-up, and kicking ass for comfort food. She is an empowered woman who takes crap from no one. She pushes herself away from others, but they bring her back to them. She jumps into the action and asks questions later, but she takes responsibility for her choices when they are less than agreeable. She falls in love, gets hurt, and does it all over again. She listens and learns from and with others, fights to keep her family and friends safe, and is willing to show mercy and compassion when people repent.

She is a saint to all who are seen as less than capable, who have put their trust in others only to be hurt and betrayed, and to those who struggle to let others in. Her story reminds us of the strength and power we carry within us, the need to share that power with all, and the importance of friendship.

Saints are those very human people who teach us to look into life’s darkness and proclaim God’s love triumphant in the end. The Doctor, Harry, Buffy, and many more characters, in their divine humanity, proclaim light in the midst of darkness and show us how to keep seeing this light when everything tries to snuff it out.

I’m thankful that we remembered All Saint’s Day on the Sunday before Election Day. In learning the stories of the saints, we remember the saints in our own lives, both real and imaginary. In turn, those saints empower us to move forward when life as we know it merges into a path of change and uncertainty. If they could do it, so can we.

So in the midst of division, fear, hatred, and confusion, let us look to our saints. Let us embrace their humanity and prophetic witness in difficult times. Let us learn from them, not to become “perfect,” but to become more aware of God’s presence in new ways.

We are all stories in the end. Together, let’s make them good ones for those who come after us.

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Who are your saints? What parts of their stories invite you to make it part of your story? What encouragement do they offer you in times of change?