“It’s Time for the church to End” How The Last Jedi Might Offer Comfort to Western Christianity

Last Jedi

A small segment of fanboys seem to have A LOT of feelings about The Last Jedi. 

They are alarmed by the “growing trend” of “warrior women protagonists who save the men” instead of playing their “natural role” of damsels in distress. They seem to fear no longer seeing themselves as the main characters, no longer in control of the narrative at large, seeing their roles “usurped” and “stolen” by those they once deemed “lesser” than them.

Good thing this isn’t a problem in society at large.

All joking aside, these fears and outbursts reflect a fear I see playing out in American Christianity, especially in regards to the so-called “death of the Church.”

Declining numbers, “compromising” (AKA “progressive”) theology, and the calling out of long-present hypocrisies and abuses give a number of church leaders cause for alarm, and they seem to think they are all related.

When congregational leaders embrace theology that welcomes LGBTQ+ people to the Table as they are, or when they say “Black Lives Matter” and take firm stances against racism and Nazis, they are seen as compromising the Gospel for political gain.

When esteemed leaders are accused of abuse, the victims are attacked for “slandering” someone who is obviously “a good man.” 

When people no longer identify as Christians because of the evils done in its name, the leaders attack them for being “wishy-washy,” and millennials are labeled the murderers of the Church, along with killers of styrofoam and the like.

These attacks are born out of fear, a fear of losing relevance in the world, of losing power and control over a nation and a narrative we have corruptly controlled for so long, a fear we call the “death of the Church” when really it is the “death of American Christendom.”

And for a people whose founder literally died and then rose again from the dead, we sure are terrified of death.

(WARNING: If you haven’t seen The Last Jedi yet and want to avoid spoilers, it’s best to stop here.)

I loved The Last Jedi for a number of reasons: the women and people of color in leading roles, seeing Carrie Fisher grace the screen one last time, the humor, the adorable Porgs.

My greatest takeaway, though, is the idea that no one side owns the Force, and whether or not specific orders exist to train people in its use, it will continue with or without them.

When Luke says it’s time for the Jedi to end, he looks at examples of how the Jedi have messed up in the past (with the rises of Palpatine and Vader within their ranks serving as examples). And rightfully so. After all, we need to be honest about the evil committed by and within our own ranks.

However, it is Master Yoda who convinces Luke that just because the Jedi were corrupt and failed countless times, the Force continues to call new people to do its work. And as they watch the Force Tree burn together, Luke realizes that the Jedi and the First Order  are not the end all, be all of the Force. They are only vessels. Some use the Force for more corrupt reasons than others, but they cannot completely extinguish it.

So when our cathedrals crumble, our fog machines fizzle out, our conferences cease, our seminaries close, and our rule books burn, God’s Spirit will continue to move.

And when our leaders fail, corruption consumes, and evil seems to permeate our holy walls, we may have to burn it down with holy, renewing fire.

But even when we must, the Body of Christ will rise anew from those ashes, and she will continue God’s salvation. And we will preach, teach, worship, and pray wherever They lead us, from the chapel to the wilderness.

Western Christianity as we know it may die, but the Church will live on.

It’s called resurrection, y’all. It’s kind of our story.

As Rey realized, death and decay bring forth new life, and underneath it all is a balance. And inside us is the same power to raise the dead.

May this comfort us when our ways inevitably die to make way for a Kin-dom beyond our imagination.

Mind Flayers, Systemic Evil, and Other Demonic Forces

ST2 Will

***SPOILERS AHEAD for Season Two of Stranger Things***

“They came to the other side of the sea, to the country of the Gerasenes. And when he had stepped out of the boat, immediately a man out of the tombs with an unclean spirit met him.”
Mark 5:1-2 (NRSV)

One of the last classes I took in seminary was “Spirit World, Global Church.” It addressed topics surrounding what we in Christian-speak call spiritual realms, namely dealing with angels, demons, spiritual warfare, and the like.

I entered the class with great fear and trembling. I used to be a Pentecostal who believed demons could possess my soul if I fell into any form of backsliding, from “engaging in witchcraft” (because of my love of Harry Potter) to doubting basic tenants of Christian orthodoxy. Even watching horror movies and doing yoga could open me to demonic possession and cause me to fall out of God’s favor.

This seminary class seemed tailor-made to bring me face-to-face with this upbringing from which I had run so far away. And as such, I feared being in the class would force me back into the mold of the person I had been years ago: narrow-minded with a black-and-white view of the world and the supernatural. I feared I would abandon my interests and loved ones in an effort to stay “pure” and “untainted,” something I had done in the past.

Thankfully, that didn’t happen.

When he saw Jesus from a distance, he ran and bowed down before him; and he shouted at the top of his voice, “What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I adjure you by God, do not torment me.” For he had said to him, “Come out of the man, you unclean spirit!” Then Jesus asked him, “What is your name?” He replied, “My name is Legion; for we are many.”
Mark 5:6-9 (NRSV)

Despite abandoning most of my old Pentecostal beliefs, possession still scares the shit out of me.

I have never seen an exorcism movie. If I see a picture of Reagan from The Exorcist or see a clip from The Conjuring, I struggle to sleep. When things go bump in the night, I wait for a shadowy demon to jump out from behind a door and take me over.

I am 27 years old and have not set foot in a Pentecostal church in over 5 years, yet I am still held captive by the theology of demonic possession.

I don’t mess with this stuff. Even though I do not 100% believe in it, I give it enough respect in the hope that it won’t happen to me.

I am fully aware that this isn’t a foolproof plan.

But when I took the class, I began to think about ways our spirits and our bodies, the so-called “spirit realm” and the “physical realm,” are connected, how there are times when it’s hard to tell where one ends and the other begins.

A couple of months after I completed the class, I binge-watched Stranger Things.

Last month, my husband and I finished the second season, and once again, I can’t help but think of possession and the blurred lines between the two realms.

Now there on the hillside a great herd of swine was feeding; and the unclean spirits begged him, “Send us into the swine; let us enter them.” So he gave them permission. And the unclean spirits came out and entered the swine; and the herd, numbering about two thousand, rushed down the steep bank into the sea, and were drowned in the sea.
Mark 5:11-13 (NRSV)

Stranger Things tackles possession in Season Two. There is the “Mind Flayer,” a monster made of shadows and tendrils, who invades Will’s body, mind, and soul, forcing itself into its human host and causing Will to lose agency over himself.

It’s a parasitic relationship. There is neither camaraderie nor mutuality; the one uses the other for its own gain. In the process, the demonic force separates its host from his loved ones. It steals memories from and inflicts bodily harm upon Will. Under the Mind Flayer’s possession, Will unwittingly leads the soldiers who wish to close the Upside Down to their grotesque demise, and he is only able to communicate with his loved ones by tapping out Morse code with his fingers.

Fortunately, Season Two ends with the Mind Flayer fleeing for its life after a confrontation with some space heaters and Will dancing with a girl at the Snow Ball. But before we get our hopes up that all is well, we see a shot of the monster watching over Hawkins in the Upside Down while Sting’s creepy ass song fades out.

And as the music and monster fade, we are left wondering if everything really will be OK.

Stories about possession usually end on a happy note. Once the evil is gone, life seemingly goes “back to normal,” whatever that means. The possessed person has little to no memory of the horrifying experience, and they skip through life happier for having survived.

But how do we move forward after evil has touched and consumed us?

Some, like Will, go to the dance, hang out with their friends and family, and try to recover. Some, like the demoniac, work within their own communities to spread the good news of new life, new beginnings, and new hope.

But what about people touched by the physical evils of this world?

My church taught me it takes great trust in Jesus to cast out a demon, and where Jesus is, evil cannot dwell. But as the years went by, and I continued to see people possessed by real-world demons, I wondered if this meant not a lot of people trusted Jesus, or if Jesus is absent more often than he says.

I wondered how I’m supposed to look at evil and possession, not only through the lens of the supernatural, but as the very real and physical evils that nip at our heels every day.

Now, I believe we are possessed when we are separated from God, ourselves, and each other.

Systemic racism makes evil puppets out of us as much, if not more so, than a demonic entity can. There is demonic activity in our obsession with power and wealth at the expense of our human siblings and our very planet. Evil wins when we look at others, from our closest loved ones to strangers on the street, from avatars in cyberspace to our own reflections, and see anything less than the image of God worthy of honor and dignity.

I also continue to believe that good art turns our own reality upside down to show us how to confront and shape it. It creates monsters so we know they can be slain. It creates heroes and villains so we know how, as humans, we can rise and fall.

So while there may not be a physical Mind Flayer beneath our feet, there are powers that seek to do harm, first to the individual and then on a global scale. And we have the power to either destroy these powers or be drawn into doing their bidding.

We have the power to buy into white supremacy or break its stranglehold over us and over people of color. We have the power to buy into a “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” mentality or help those who are drowning under systemic oppression. We can go with the mob mentality of ignoring abuse and brutality when it happens in front of us, or we can call it out when it happens and prevent it from happening in the first place.

We have all received the holy calling to live in camaraderie and mutuality with each other, and we have all, at one time or another, answered that call by exploiting each other.

We have the capacity to be Mind Flayers, and we have the ability to slay them.

Which path will we choose?

*****

By the grace of God, may we realize when the demonic entities of evil are possessing us, as oppressors and as victims of oppression.

May those possessed and used as tools of oppression find ways to break free from our destructive cycles. May those possessed by oppression find freedom, identity, comfort, and love in themselves and their communities.

And when we break free from our yokes of possession and oppression, may we exorcise the demon-possessed systems, that their evil work may die for good, and new life may be born.

Fangirl Theology Series: Stranger Things

ST2 Poster

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.

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.

Weekly Themes

Hello, friends!

Starting this week, I will be posting more regularly on the blog, and with themes for certain days:

Mental Health Monday – in which I give an update about my mental health and offer tips and anecdotes for those with similar struggles

Throwback Tuesday – in which I share a past post to showcase more of my journey and common themes explored on this blog

Theological Thursday – in which I share theological questions, thoughts, and reflections

Fangirl Friday – in which I continue my Fangirl Theology series and geek out over my latest fangirl crazes

I hope you’ll continue to check in throughout the week and share the posts with anyone you think would be interested in your topics. Also, if you want to see anything specific covered within the range of these themes, please let me know in the comments section on the blog or here! I appreciate all of your support and want your voices to be heard!

Blessings,
Linds