Thursday, January 13, 2011

"Being Human": relflections on a BBC TV Series, a Genesis melodrama and Gospel incarnation!

I have enjoyed watching the BBC series ‘Being Human’, a TV drama/comedy revolving round the struggles of George (a werewolf), Mitchell (a vampire) and Annie (a ghost) as they wrestle with what it means to be human. Seeking meaning and purpose, looking for community and belonging, finding love, coping with setbacks and having to deal with disabilities, being ostracised, and stigmatised.

On top of this they have their own nightmares to attend to. Mitchell has to struggle with overcoming an addiction (blood) and changing the behaviour of his tribe, a counter culture that sees itself (at least during the first series) with the potential to overthrow and dominate, enslave the rest of us. George wrestles with trying to live normally with a disease that affects him and with which he can kill and infect others, one that if it became known would mean he was totally ostracised if not killed. He deals with the consequences of infecting the women he loves. Annie has to wrestle with being irrelevant and invisible to all but a few. A state she was in before her death as she lived in an abusive relationship with her fiancée who eventual killed her. In each other they find a community where they can start to heal and become more human by flatting together.

There may be obvious connections with certain issues in our society and by exploring these through the use of older myths from our literary and folklore past the writers and producers has done a good job. We all have to wrestle with the dark monster that lurks within us. We all have to somehow learn to find meaning and purpose and love and community and transcendence amidst the brokenness. Setting the series in a post-industrial wasteland like Bristol, which even on sunny days seems to have a layer of darkness and decay (no offence to the city of Bristol).

Like many new remediation and retelling of vampire, ghost and werewolf stories we find that we are captivated and drawn into the lives of what we are conditioned to see as evil and the thing of nightmares. Perhaps this is part of the way this series connects with our post modern, post colonial, multi cultural urban landscape. We find ourselves living next day to the other, they are no, longer the thing of myth or propaganda, rather they are... human and our stories are intermingled and we need to get along. In the midst of that we form new tribes, based round lifestyles and life choices. Flats and workplaces, local haunts, neighbourhoods and fibre optic links.

One thing I find hard to take is that the villains in this comedy/drama, the haters, are from religious folk. Dr’s who are determined to rid the world of vampires, werewolves and ghosts. Who (and I hope it does not ruin the plot for those behind even way off at the end of the world New Zealand) kneel before a cross and pray before they ring and arrange for a twelve steps meeting of vampires to be fire bombed. Slowly as we see the back story of these folk we see that they too ares struggling with being human, the main protagonist is haunted with nightmares of seeing children and we assume loved ones being killed and their throat being cut out. We never see the vampire that does it and I suspect that he is a vampire in denial. The other main character is slowly falling in love with Mitchell. Maybe  this is a reflection of what post moderns have said all along and those who win write history!

Perhaps in the world we live in, it is right that people see some religious and Christian people as haters and as the agents of anti-human evil. Since 9/11 the world has been in fear of fanatic Islam, there is sadly a history of Christianity being connected to murderous regimes. One of the haunting questions of the Holocaust and Nazi-ism is how could a country that had been so Christianised and the centre of such deep profound theology also be so easily lead into a hateful political system that saw human split into Aryan and non human categories. I was talking to a left wing gay activist on Monday and heard her say that she and her community disliked Christians who were fervently anti gay, while appreciating Christian groups who went to gay pride marches with placards that said simply “we are sorry”, “we are sorry for the way our brethren have treated you”. She also admitted to being fascinated with Jesus as a historical character and as a social revolutionary. We found ourselves agreeing that the world would be a better place if Jesus followers were a lot more like Jesus.

The show has made me wonder about being human, about being a follower of Jesus about having to identify with the worst as well as the best of the Christian faith/religion and its legacy. As a spiritual discipline I’ve been reading through ‘The One year bible’ and as its January I’ve found myself reading through the Genesis account, having daily instalments of that melodrama that is the lives of the patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob (Israel) and the lads. I’ve found myself thinking I’m not sure I like these folk that much, and wondering how their stories could be seen as anything but cautionary tales for those who purport to identify Christianity strongly with family values. But they are very human, they are not super human super spiritual flawless heroes from the past. They struggle with doubts, feuds, family disagreements, wrestling with living in a foreign land, working with limited resources, being afraid, going their own way, even plotting and conniving and family violence. They are very human and what it tells me more and more is that relationship with God is based on God’s grace and God’s love and God’s faithfulness. Not that we are not called be to changed by experiencing that, but that in the end it is all about God’s grace. Therefore we are called to be that gracious to others.

The other section of scripture I am reading is the gospel of Matthew and we find in the gospels in Jesus someone who finds themselves alongside those ostracised by their society. He invites a tax collector to come follow him, He heals the sick and demon possessed, makes people whole, he calls us to love our enemies. I wonder if Jesus were to walk into the series ’being human’ what would change? Jesus would find himself with and alongside the vampire, werewolf and ghost. Now I know that academic theology may not really allow for such expressions of the undead, but in Jesus day just perhaps the unclean lepers, gentiles and quisling tax collectors and others that seemed to be drawn to Jesus we probably as vilified in religious circles as these others. Jesus came to give us life and again as Leonard Sweet says (sorry just my other serious reading material at the moment) says Jesus came to make us totally human. We are called to share how in our struggles how Jesus enables us to find meaning and purpose, community, belonging and family, and to stop living as the undead and find abundant life. Not sorrow free or struggle free ‘come to Jesus and it will be all right’ life, but a fullness of life as basic relationships are formed and matured in love.

I had intended to finish this reflection off with some practical out workings for me, but as i wrote them they seemed a bit cheesy and trite. I guess the scripture does warn people not to leave it till after they die become undead beofre they contemplater eternity and look for new life in Christ. Secondly we can settle for life as undead rather than life in all its abundance that Christ speaks of offering us. Lastly let me just say I sense the spirit inviting me  to get out of the office more and mixed up in the drama/comedy of the world around me. To risk being human and in the midst of that share the one who is able to make us whole.

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