In The Husbands of River Song, River has no idea that the Time Lord she loves and holds dear has regenerated. As a result she kept expecting the Doctor to look and behave a specific way. This of course leads to some amusing instances. For example, when the Doctor gets to pretend that he does not know that the TARDIS is bigger on the inside and he gets to give what he thinks is the proper reaction to being confronted with this fact.
And of course, it’s always amusing to see the Doctor’s reaction when River opens up a hidden cabinet of whiskey or when she explains that pressing a particular button would evacuate the waste on deck seven. Not to mention the sarcastic comment she makes as he watches River make out with Ramone.
DOCTOR: Urgh! Doesn’t it get dull after a while? As an activity, it’s not hugely varied, is it?
RIVER: I’m so sorry. This is my husband, Ramone.
DOCTOR: Another one? Are you going to kill him, too?
In addition to making snog comments and witnessing how River acts when she’s not aware of the Doctor’s presence, the Doctor also gets to learn not only how River feels about him (which I am sure he knew all along) but also how she believes the Doctor views her.
FLEMMING: You’re the woman he loves.
RIVER: No, I’m not.
FLEMMING: She’s lying. RIVER: The Doctor does not and has never loved me. I’m not lying.
CYBORG: Confirmed. The life form is not lying.
FLEMMING: Impossible. This is a trick.
RIVER: No, it isn’t.
And one of the funniest and poignant scenes is when the River finally realizes that the Doctor is standing right beside her:
RIVER: When you love the Doctor, it’s like loving the stars themselves. You don’t expect a sunset to admire you back. And if I happen to find myself in danger, let me tell you, the Doctor is not stupid enough, or sentimental enough, and he is certainly not in love enough to find himself standing in it with me!
DOCTOR: Hello, sweetie.
RIVER: You are so doing those roots.
DOCTOR: What, the roots of the sunset
Watching River and the 12th Doctor interact, especially when River doesn’t realize she’s with the Doctor is pretty funny and amusing. For the most part. Then there are the scenes mentioned above. Where River essentially says that she doesn’t think the Doctor loves her. When she discovers that the Doctor is standing next to her and he starts lightly teasing her about her comments about the sunset and stars, she tries to play off her statements that she was just talking to keep them alive. But what we the audience knows, what River knows, and what the Doctor knows is that there is an sliver of truth in her statements. The Doctor isn’t particularly known for being apt at giving and receiving love. While one could argue that perhaps he shows love in a different way, it’s hard to argue with the fact that he can be incredibly selfish. And while he cares deeply about those he travels with, he is also known to use them; sometimes for a noble great purpose, sometimes just because he can be self-centered and selfish. He does care about River Song. But it is easy to see why she would have felt as if he didn’t love her back. But I can imagine how it must have felt to be convinced that the Doctor was not by her side, only to look over and discover he was there all along. It’s not a conventional declaration of love, because well the Doctor doesn’t do that, but it does demonstrate that he does care for her and that he is there for her.
The thing is, when we get to know and love people, our familiarity can blind us. When we meet someone new, especially a potential friend, romantic partner, or even business partner or colleague, we are paying attention to every little detail. We might have preconceived notions of a person, it’s hard not to. But if we want to get to know a person we try not to hold on too tightly to those preconceived notions. But when we know someone or more accurately when we think we know all there is to know about a person, we stop trying to learn about them.
Christians, at least Christians in America, seem to think that we know all there is about Jesus and God. I know I fall into that trap. Maybe even more so since I got an M.Div., which to be honest, I have been mainly using to annoy evangelicals who pretend they are interested in having a conversation but really just want to convert me to their way of thinking. But there is this sense of, “I don’t need to learn anything else. I have a degree.” Or for Christians who don’t have an M.Div. it’s, “I go to church every Sunday.” Or “I read the Bible every day.” Sometimes these assumptions don’t cause too much harm. We go about our day, holding onto our ideas about Jesus and God and make it through life. Sometime however, what we think about God can cause harm. Because when we go around saying, “well this is God. Or this is Jesus” then we need to think about what or whom we are excluding. When we paint Jesus as a beautiful, blonde hair white man, what are we saying about women and people of color? When we envision Jesus as sinless and flawless and God as a punishing judge, how then do we view those in the prison system or even those who society projects as being dangerous and lawless (ie black men and women, Native Americans)? When we act as if Jesus is/was American and God is on our side, then what are we saying about the young kids, and the men and women who are being slaughtered by American bombs and guns? When we present God as police officer, judge, juror, and executioner, then how do we react when a police officer slaughters a young black boy, a mentally ill person, or an unarmed man or woman? Our ideas about God can have life and death consequences. Our ideas about God can expose how we view the “other,” whoever that “other” may be. Our ideas about God in fact prevent us from knowing God.
The Bible is filled with stories where the disciples are unable at least at first to recognize Jesus. One of the most popular is found in Luke 24:13-35. This story is often referred to as, “The Road to Emmaus.” Two disciples are asked by a strange man what they were discussing. And they talk about Jesus and the miracles that he did and they talk about the hope they had, that seemed to be dashed when Jesus was crucified:
“He was a man of God, a prophet, dynamic in work and word, blessed by both God and all the people. Then our high priests and leaders betrayed him, got him sentenced to death, and crucified him. And we had our hopes up that he was the One, the One about to deliver Israel. And it is now the third day since it happened. But now some of our women have completely confused us. Early this morning they were at the tomb and couldn’t find his body. They came back with the story that they had seen a vision of angels who said he was alive. Some of our friends went off to the tomb to check and found it empty just as the women said, but they didn’t see Jesus.” (The Message, 24:19-24)
The man responds, “So thick-headed! So slow-hearted! Why can’t you simply believe all that the prophets said? Don’t you see that these things had to happen, that the Messiah had to suffer and only then enter into his glory?” Then he started at the beginning, with the Books of Moses, and went on through all the Prophets, pointing out everything in the Scriptures that referred to him.” (The Message, 24: 25-27)
But it isn’t until the two disciples are about to eat and break bed with the strange man that they recognize that it was Jesus and like a ghost, he vanishes.
Like the disciples, we can be “so thick headed! So slow hearted.” We have these ideas about Jesus and God that we hold on so tightly that we allow them to blind us. Like the disciples, like River Song, we don’t recognize the person standing right next to us. Who is Jesus? Jesus is Tyre King, the young boy shot and killed by police for carrying a BB gun. A young boy that so many are condemning. But then again when we view Jesus and God as police officers guarding the gates of heaven, keeping certain people out, then it is not surprising that we believe the words of police officers and will do anything to justify the death of someone who we consider to be unworthy of love and life.
Who is Jesus? Jesus is the children and women and men being killed in the Middle East because of the United States “War on Terror.” But when we view Jesus and God as synonymous with the American soldier and the military, then of course we don’t give a second thought to the people being forced to live through a 9/11 experience every day.
Who is Jesus? Jesus is the Palestinian child being shot dead by an Israeli soldier. No, this isn’t an anti-Semitic claim. Christianity has blamed Judaism for the death of Jesus and has used it as an excuse to bully, kill, and discriminate against Jewish people. And although some Christians stood up against Hitler, far too many were all too happy to go along with his “final solution.” But recognizing the horrors of the holocaust and how Christians have discriminated against and killed Jewish people, does not mean that one needs to blindly accept what the Israeli government does. Many Christians are using faith to blindly support the Israeli government because they believe that is what God wants and demands. But do we really want to believe in a God that is ok with shooting children in the head? Do we really want to believe in a God that endorses collective punishment? In the Bible, we have stories about a God that endorsed slaughtering people and taking over land. That was how one community/nation understood God a long time ago, and they weren’t the only ones. Ancient Babylonians, Persians, etc also believed that their gods were telling them to take over land. Do we still want to hold onto that idea of God today?
Our preconceptions about people can blind us to who they are-even if they are standing right in front of us. To be fair, River didn’t know the Doctor had regenerated and most of us won’t have to deal with people who frequently change their body and face. Yet preconceived notions can be just as disorienting and blinding. We see that in the story of the two disciples on the way to Emmaus and we see that today when preconceived notions about God and Jesus get people killed. And it is difficult having to do the hard work of periodically re-evaluating what we think we know about other people, about God, about ourselves. Bu it’s worth it if it saves lives. And it’s not something we do alone. There’s a lot about God I don’t know and won’t pretend to know. But there’s one idea I hold on tightly too: that God is with us as we navigate this complicated, unpredictable, beautiful, messy, tragic, life.
DOCTOR: Mmm. What do you think of the towers?
RIVER: I love them.
DOCTOR: Then why are you ignoring them?
RIVER: They’re ignoring me. But then you can’t expect a monolith to love you back.
DOCTOR: No, you can’t.