The Husbands of River Song And the Road to Emmaus

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.
pizap-com14740729946411  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.

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“I don’t think you want to become that man.”- The Temptation of Violence

DOCTOR: We can end this right now. We could save everyone right now.
AMY: This is not how we roll, and you know it. What happened to you, Doctor? When did killing someone become an option?
DOCTOR: Jex has to answer for his crimes.
AMY: And what then? Are you going to hunt down everyone who’s made a gun or a bullet or a bomb?
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In my introduction to preaching class (I am in the final year of the Masters of divinity program) the instructor asserted that no matter how many times a pastor has preached on a specific biblical text he/she should be able to craft a different sermon each time that takes into account their current context. In a similar vein, I decided to write a blog post on the above quote from the episode, A Town Called Mercy.I know have written on the episodes and the aforementioned quotes and to be honest I will be touching on a recurring theme on this blog which seems to be a variation of the biblical mandate “to love your enemies” (which has turned into an over-used cliché that masks the difficulty of such a task) and to follow Christ in trying to demonstrate a way of living that runs counter to the status quo of daily life.

In A Town Called Mercy the Doctor struggles with his own inner demons based on his decision to destroy galifrey (this is a pre-The Day of the Doctor episode) and the numerous instances where he has tried to save lives and failed. Yet in addition to his struggles with his own guilt, there is something pure, raw and relatable about his anger and his belief that killing Jex would not make Jex pay for his past actions but would also protect the town from the Gunslinger seeking to bring Jex to justice (or rather what the Gunslinger considers to be justice: Jex’s death) I at least, relate to the Doctor’s anger and his struggle with the temptation to believe the myth of redemptive violence: that death and destruction can ultimately bring about justice.

In the past few days, a handful of police officers have been killed and the police officers and politicians want to lay the blame of their deaths on the Black Lives Matter and police accountability movements. Despite the fact that the murder of police officers are down and that the numbers of officers killed by gunfire so far (24) nowhere compares to the numbers of civilians killed by officers, police departments throughout the nation have argued that there is a “war on police officers.” The injustice and absurdity of such an argument angers me. The fact that 786 people can be killed by police officers and over 100 of those killed are unarmed (and one should question the remaining deaths of those considered to be “armed,” especially if the only record of the incident is the word of the police officer) renders the assertion that there is a “war on police officers” to be disingenuous. To be clear, I am not arguing that police officers are “bad” in fact I find the dichotomy of “good” cops and “bad” cops to be false. I think most cops are regular people-with the strengths and weaknesses that we all struggle with. While there are cases of rogue cops-the larger issue is institutional.  The American legal system-including law enforcement is built on notions that foster white supremacy and compliance to authoritarianism. As citizens we are supposed to accept the idea that somehow black and brown people rare inherently more violent than their white peers. We are to acquiescence to the notion that the state can and should be able to kill with impunity-no questions asks. We are encouraged to comply with the state’s demands and actions in the name of “national security” even if it involves the deaths of hundreds of American citizens, false imprisonment, and the erosion of civil liberties.

As a person of faith-it is disheartening to see how cycles of oppression and valence continue unabated. As a person of color it angers me that some of the issues that the civil rights movement were addressing are still a problem and that the state refuses to acknowledge the existence of said issues, let alone take steps towards a sustainable solution. It feels as if there is no hope that of long lasting change. And it is this despair that causes me to wonder, in the darkest recesses of my heart, if violence might, in fact, be the answer. If the state refuses to listen to relatively peaceful protests, then maybe we should fight back. If the lives of black and brown people (though it is important to acknowledge unarmed white people are also killed by police) seem to value so little to the state and to police officers, why the hell should I care if a police officer is randomly gunned down? While I would never engage in physical violence, I find myself thinking that perhaps in order for change to occur we need to start using the state’s tactics against it. In other words, I find myself very much empathizing with the eleventh doctor’s decision to put a gun to Jex’s head. Violence seems to offer a solution.

Amy Pond however, points out the futility and cruelty of such action. Not only should the Doctor avoid reducing himself to Jex’s level but she wants to know what happens after he kills Jex. Amy responds, “AMY: And what then? Are you going to hunt down everyone who’s made a gun or a bullet or a bomb?” If the doctor kills Jex because of his past actions of injustice, then where will the killing end? Who else should be executed-those who make bombs and the guns that lead to war and destruction? And what about the ways in which we all in some measure benefit from oppression and injustice? If we point the gun at those we believe to be the cause of oppression, then at some point we will need to point the weapon at ourselves.

Later on in the episode the doctor recognizes the futility of violence. The Doctor tells Walter, a 17 year old who wants to kill Jex that doing so would only extend the cycle of violence:

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In the gospels, there are verses in which Jesus condemns violence. One such case occurs in Matthew 26:47-56, in which Jesus is being arrested. One of his followers cuts off the ear of the high priest’s slave and Jesus responds, “put your sword back into its place, for all who take the sword will perish by the sword.” (Matthew26:52). By the time Matthew was written, the Jewish temple had been destroyed and the armed revolt on the part of some Jewish people was brutally put down. The fact is that violence is rarely if ever redemptive and it often perpetrates more injustice and oppression.  Furthermore, what did cutting off the slave’s ear accomplish? It didn’t end the systematic exploitation and injustice Jesus often railed against. And as a slave of the high priest-how much power did the slave truly have? Likewise, what does the act of killing an individual cop accomplish? Does it end police brutality? Does it eradicate institutional racism?  Or does it simply expand the suffering that violence causes?

Intellectually and spiritually I understand this. As someone who yearns for a better world, I understand that violence-even in the name of justice or in response to injustice, often only creates more pain and suffering. Yet despite knowing that I find myself wanting to act like the person in Matthew who cut off the slave’s ear, or like the Doctor who put a gun to the head of the person who committed horrible atrocities. I have to continually listen to the prompting in my spirit and the yearning in my heart that tells me there is another way, a better way to respond to injustice.

Every Christmas is Last Christmas and this is Ours.

Underneath the jokes and silliness (the scene where Santa Claus triumphantly rides Rudolph, comes to mind) lies an undercurrent of sorrow and regret. After all, the end of season 8 saw Danny die and Clara and the Doctor lying to one another, believing that doing so was in the other person’s best interest. Clara, who is more shocked by the appearance of the Doctor, than with the appearance of Santa Claus and his elves on her roof, tells the Doctor that she never thought she would see him again. In fact when he first appears she does not utter a word and simply stares at him in shock. And as the TARDIS starts up she remarks,

Clara: Oh that noise. I never knew how much I loved it.

Clara and the Doctor together again, facing a new and confusing danger. Before the Doctor showed up, Clara was grieving her double loss. She lost Danny, the person she loves and the person she lied to on a consistent basis, taking for granted that he would always be at home waiting for her to return from her adventures. And she lost the Doctor and with him the possibilities of exploring new worlds and encountering strange creatures. She was alone in her grief. The life she knew with the Doctor was over and the life she had with Danny along with the future she planned to have with him was nothing more than a dream. But the Doctor coming back into her life represented not only the possibility of a new beginning but also serves as a connection to her past, the past she wants so badly to return to. It makes sense that when the Doctor asks her about her beliefs in Santa Claus that she would answer in the affirmative:

Doctor: There’s something you have to ask yourself and it’s important. Your life may depend on it, everybody’s life. Do you really believe in Santa clause?

Clara: Do you know what? Yeah. Right now…yeah I think I do.

Santa Claus represents a fantasy and the fulfillment of deeply cherished wishes. Clara’s reaction to the Doctor’s sudden return is reminiscent of a child on Christmas morning getting the one gift that he/she was pinning and hoping for. And when Clara later learns that this is a dream and that what is happening is not real, her voice registers the disappointment.

But despite the cheerful and perplexing beginning to the episode, we are quickly reminded that Clara is still grieving. Clara, frightened, confused, and perhaps a bit excited at the dangerous situation she and the Doctor have just landed in, quickly becomes awash in anger, regret, and guilt when the Doctor, in an attempt to protect her from the dream crabs mentions Danny and states that he is probably flirting and texting other women. She slaps the Doctor, not simply because no woman would want to hear that said about a loved one, but because she knew that Danny was dead and he was never coming back.

Doctor: I was only…

Clara: Danny Pink is dead.

Doctor: No he’s not.

Clara: He’s dead.

Her grief over Danny’s death remains palpable. In one scene as Clara desperately attempts to stop thinking about the dream crab that is slowly making its way towards her, she sits on the floor, expressing her remorse and guilt over how she treated Danny:

Clara: Danny…Danny… Danny pink, I love you. I know I’ll never see you again and I’m sorry. I’m sorry I lied. I’m sorry.

In the next moment, she is transported into a world where Danny Pink is still alive and where she gets to spend Christmas with him. The happiness in her face is evident and when the Doctor comes to inform her that she is not only dreaming but dying, she doesn’t want to leave. She would rather continue dreaming than go back to a reality without Danny. In fact, it’s not the Doctor who convinces her to wake up-but Danny. Clara, in her subconscious knows, that Danny would want her to get on with her life. He would want her to live.

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For many Christians, Christmas, at least theologically speaking, is a celebratory holiday. Christmas celebrates the story of the incarnation (whether one believes it to be a “literal, historical event” or a metaphor)-of God becoming flesh, of God coming into our messy, broken, world through the form of a helpless baby. The incarnation tells the story of God breaking into our world, to protest violence and injustice, and to bring healing to a broken world. Christmas is viewed as a day of hope, yet it is also a day of suffering, pain and death. Being human means confronting finitude and death. The celebration of new life is always paired with the knowledge that all life eventually ends

Some people this year are reeling from the fact that Christmas 2013, was the last holiday they would spend with a loved one and that this year their loved one’s presence is reduced to a memory, an empty table or bed. Others are struggling with the fact that this Christmas might very well be the last one they have with their loved one, as they witness family members or friends struggle with illnesses and failing health etc. And yet for others, we don’t know what the future holds-our loved ones are healthy, (or appear so) and there is no reason to suspect that next year’s Christmas will be any different from this year’s. Yet all it takes is a couple of minutes for life to be uprooted. Neither Danny nor Clara ever imagined that he would be killed in a car accident. They never imagined that in the minutes between the last words he uttered and Clara’s brief pause as she waited for him to respond, that he would be killed.

Likewise, every day, somewhere in the world, family members and friends are coming to terms with a loved one’s unexpected death. A car accident, a fast moving illness, a fall, a suicide, events which seem to come out of nowhere and irrevocably change the lives of those left behind. I imagine that the family and friends of those on flight Air Asia QZ8501, never expected that a routine, short flight would bring their world crashing down. Yes there have been two incidents earlier in the year with Malaysian airlines, yet the chances of such an incident occurring in the first place is astronomical, and for it to happen again within the same year strikes one as impossible. It’s the stuff of movies, but not something that happens in this day and age. Millions of planes take off and land safely throughout the world multiple times a day. This particular air craft had completed over 13,000 successful flights before embarking on this one. Yet the family and friends of Air Asia QZ8501 are facing hours and days (hopefully no more than that) of uncertainty. The life that they were enjoying just a few days ago has irrevocably been changed and as the hours drag into days the chances of finding their loved ones alive decreases. I imagine their mind goes back to the last conversation, the last time they spoke with a loved one.

It is easy to see why Clara didn’t want to wake up. Waking up meant going back to a reality where Danny no longer exists but staying in the dream world would ultimately cause her death. In a similar way so many Christians seem to be caught in their own version of a dream world-they embrace a theological worldview that states that if they only pray hard enough, or go to church enough, or act “good” enough that everything will turn out ok. The pains and bruises of life won’t hurt them. Or they embrace a sentimentalized version of the incarnation-one with cute baby animals, an adorable baby Jesus, and a remarkably clean and relaxed Mary. All traces of pain and suffering are neatly left out of the commercialized representation of Jesus’ birth. Others hold on to the idea of an afterlife. I am not saying that an afterlife does or does not exist, I don’t know. However, there are some who focus so much on the possibility of an afterlife that they forget to live in the here and now. They hold on desperately to a notion of heaven that will provide them with a second chance to see their loved ones or to make amends. Living in the real world requires an acknowledgment of the messiness of life.

Yet, in the midst of the undercurrents of sorrow and grief in the episode, hope is also embraced. In some cases, second chances are possible. Danny was gone, Clara was going to spend the rest of her life without his physical presence. But yet she and the Doctor do get a second chance. They get to start again.

Doctor: We should do this every Christmas;

Clara: Because every Christmas is last Christmas.

Doctor: I’m sorry. I was stupid. I should have come back earlier. I wish that I had.

Santa: Doctor, how much do you wish that?

The Doctor thought he waited too long to go help Clara. He believed that 62 years had passed and he arrived to find Clara older, frailer, and dying. He very well may have been saying goodbye to her. And of course he regrets it. He grieves the adventures they never had, the years he missed. But in this case, the Doctor and Clara are still under the influence of the dream crabs, meaning that he still has time to save her before it is too late. He still has time to go on adventures with her while she is young and able.

Clara: Well look at you all happy. That’s rare.

Doctor: You know what’s rarer? Second chances. I never get a second chance, so what happened this time? I don’t even know who to thank.

There is a fine line between having hope and getting lost in a fantasy world of wishful thinking. In fact, it’s not always easy to tell the difference. I wish  a checklist existed that one can consult that will let one know, “ok you are acting out of hope,” or “you need a reality check.” But like most things in life, hope isn’t that easy to define. But there is one major difference between hope and living in a dream world: hope takes pain, suffering and death seriously. It does not seek to present a sanitized and pristine version of life, but it takes into account the sorrow and grief that encompasses life. Yet hope states that one will not be destroyed by death and anguish.

Hope confronts the reality of death yet it also holds on to the idea that life is meaningful. It grieves the loss of a loved one while also cherishing the time and moments that were shared. Hope looks at the incarnation story and refuses to sanitize it, it recognizes that Jesus came into the world as we all do-through a process that is painful (for the mother) and messy, yet it recognizes the beauty in that moment. Hope recognizes that Jesus’ life would be one of anguish and trouble, but that good would come out of all the betrayal, persecution, and violence Jesus would suffer.

In the Forest of the Night: Seeing the Things in Front of Us.

DOCTOR: You can’t really tell if something’s an addiction till you try and give it up.
CLARA: And you never have.
DOCTOR: Let me know how it goes.

After Kill the Moon Clara is intent on ending her travels with the Doctor. In the beginning of Mummy on the Orient Express, we find that weeks have passed since the previous episode and while Clara still resolves to stop traveling, she no longer declares her hatred for the Doctor. Yet despite her insistence that she cannot continue to live life the way the Doctor does-recklessly and with little consequence for how others are effected and despite her promise to Danny to finally walk out of the TARDIS for good, she finds that she is unable to do so. So she lies to both the Doctor and Danny. Of course the Doctor and Danny eventually find out she has been lying. In this episode, In the Forest of the Night Danny knows that she has not completely cut ties with the Doctor. He knows that she immediately called the Doctor after seeing London taken over by a forest that sprung up overnight, even though he sensibly thought about calling all of the parents to reassure them. And when Danny tells her towards the end of the episode that he saw the stacks of homework that she needs to grade and that the date on them said Friday, she still tries to lie to Danny. Moreover in this episode, we see how she is more concerned about figuring out the puzzle of the forest, than she is about ensuring that the kids are safe. She cares about the kids, but they are an afterthought.

The thing about addictions is that they quickly begin to consume one’s life. Think about the other companions that have traveled with the Doctor. Sarah Jane in, High School Reunion admits how she had a difficult time going back to normal life.  Donna, when she first left the Doctor at the end of the Runway Bride apparently struggled with going back to her boring life. It is only when the Doctor forces her to forget about their adventures does she integrate successfully into the “real” world. Martha, who although chose to leave the Doctor joins Unit. And Rose, after being left on Bad Wolf Bay works with Unit in the parallel universe-not to mention she finds a way to travel between universes to get back to the Doctor. For many of the companions, especially in NuWho traveling with the Doctor means placing one’s life on hold. While Amy and Rory did navigate back and forth between their real life and their time with the Doctor-the Doctor was the one who originally made that decision for them, deciding when and where to pop back into their lives. Clara, right from the beginning of her time with the Doctor, makes it perfectly clear that she will not be giving up her whole life to travel with him. Yet this season balancing her two lives has become increasingly difficult, especially since she has fallen in love with Danny.

The one moment she seems content to give up traveling is when she thinks that she and everyone else is going to be killed.

DOCTOR: I can save you.
CLARA: I don’t want you to.
DOCTOR: What, you don’t want to live?
CLARA: Of course I want to live. I just
DOCTOR: What?
CLARA: Don’t make me say it.
DOCTOR: Say what?
CLARA: I don’t want to be the last of my kind.

it is only when she faces the following decision: would she rather travel with the Doctor or stay behind with Danny and the rest of the human race and face extinction, that at that moment she is able to leave the Doctor behind. It takes a potentially drastic and devastating event to temporally break her “addiction.” However, once it turns out that the world is not going to be destroyed, she immediately forgets about her previous decision. She is unable to stay away from the lure of traveling throughout space and time. When she tries to convince the children and Danny to watch the solar flare, she is disappointed when they refuse. The children want to be with their parents, understandably, they almost died and they want to be with the people that matter the most to them. And Danny, while he encourages Clara to go reminds her about life on earth:

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Well what’s wrong with wanting to travel through space and time? Most of us if given the opportunity would react no differently than Clara. However, while most of will never get the opportunity to travel through space, and I am pretty sure that in our lifetime none of us will travel through time, as humans we always seem to be grasping for something more. When it comes to striving for more equality and justice, we can make great progress towards ending oppression. Yet most of us, individually and as a society get caught up in grasping for things that will make us happy. Seeking happiness or buying things are not necessarily wrong, but they become dangerous when we seek to prove our self-worth or provide meaning to our lives by what we buy and/or consume. We spend so much of our lives wishing for an alternative reality-we wish we weren’t sick, we wish we didn’t have debt, we wish the economy didn’t suck and we tell ourselves that if we only everything were ok then we could be happy. But unfortunately, most of us will rarely have moments where everything goes well. But if we keep focusing on what we don’t have or pining for what we never had, life will pass us by.

Christianity on the surface, is supposed to provide an alternative way of living that serves as a counterpoint to the shallow consumerism that plagues our society. But popular American Christianity tends to be based on shallow theology. Christianity is reduced to getting into heaven and avoiding hell. In some congregations/denominations, each sermon preached is a variation on the whole, “accept Christ as your savior or you will end up in hell” spiel. Rapture theology, despite having weak biblical and historical roots, continues to fascinate an untold number of Christians who seem to almost relish the thought of having most of humanity suffer and be condemned to hell. And while the notion of heaven-whether as a literal place or understood in a more metaphorical sense with the primary focus being on God’s reign of love, justice, and compassion rather than on a physical afterlife, can provide comfort for those who are grieving and suffering and can inspire others to fight for social justice, it can also serve the same purpose as secular materialism. We become so focused on heaven-yearning for our pain to end, for justice and compassion to reign in the future, that we lose sight of what we have now. What if heaven does not exist as a literal place? What if there is no single moment where everything will magically be ok, where hunger will cease to exist and wars will be eradicated? What if progress will continue like it always has, in fits and starts? Does that render our lives in the here and now meaningless?

Of course there is nothing wrong with seeking progress. And I understand the comfort that notions of heaven, whether literal or metaphorical can have, and I am no way suggesting that heaven does not exist. I can’t say for sure whether an afterlife definitively exists or whether there will be a time period where justice and peace will reign (though I continue to strive for that day). But what I’ve been learning is to embrace a theology that finds meaning in everyday life. I want, when pain and depression are threatening to overwhelm me, to be able to find a flicker of hope-not in some future that may never happen, but in what I see around me. I want to be able find God’s presence around me now.

Clara couldn’t muster up the will to give up traveling until she thought that humanity faced death and once the threat was gone she went back to her lust after adventure. In a similar way, how many of us have faced a life changing situation? How many of us have faced the death of a loved one, or come close to dying and vow that we shall learn to appreciate each day only to seem to forget about that promise within a few days, months, or years?

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Forgetting can be beneficial. Forgetting helps us move forward individually and as a society. But forgetting can also cause us to continue to make the same mistakes over and over again, to believe that violence is redemptive, or that we can be happy if only everything went the way we want/need. We constantly need to remind ourselves that there are wonders in front of us. That there is beauty surrounding us even in the midst of all the pain and suffering. Our moments with friends and loved ones, wrapping ourselves up in our TARDIS blanket on a cold night sipping hot chocolate, studying what we love, playing with our animals-all those little things that seem inconsequential in the grand scheme of things matter. It’s those little things that hurt the most when for whatever reason we forget them. Like when a loved one dies-it hurts to forget the sound of their voice, or the feel of their hands. For me this episode is a call to remember what we have. Not necessarily a discouragement against seeking-but a reminder that sometimes we don’t have to go very far to find what we long for and need.

Kill The Moon: A Theological Reflection on God’s Intervention and on Free Will

DOCTOR: I knew that eggs are not bombs. I know they don’t usually destroy their nests. Essentially, what I knew was that you would always make the best choice. I had faith that you would always make the right choice.
CLARA: Honestly, do you have music playing in your head when you say rubbish like that?
DOCTOR: It wasn’t my decision to make. I told you.

CLARA: Do you know what? Shut up! I am so sick of listening to you!
DOCTOR: Well, I didn’t do it for Courtney. I didn’t know what was going to happen. Do you think I’m lying?

God’s omniscience (God as all knowing) and omnipotence (God as all powerful), are some of the key pillars of popular Christian understandings of God. Yet despite God’s unlimited power and knowledge, most Christians affirm some notion of free will. In fact, when asked about suffering and why God does not stop it, the answer frequently given is, “well God does not want to impede on our free will.” On the one hand, that sounds like a sufficient answer. God does not want to turn us into robots forced to do God’s will. On the other hand, when one is in the midst of suffering such an answer seems unfair and pathetic. So a deity, who could avoid suffering, chooses not to in order to give us free will? If another person were to say, refuse to stop a rape or a murder, they would at the very least be disparaged for their lack of action and in some cases face criminal charges. Why does the same disdain not directed towards God. God, who is supposedly the gold standard of morality is given a free pass to simply walk away from devastating situations. God is given such leeway because God’s “ways are bigger than our ways” or “because God values our free will so much.” Quite frankly, I would take an active God who would intervene in say horrible atrocities like the Holocaust then a silent one who claims to respect humanity’s decisions. Some argue, “well if God got involved in those events we would be like automatic robots.” Really? An all knowing, all powerful deity has less common sense than the average parent to recognize that while they need to give their children choices and responsibilities to grow, they have a responsibility to protect their children from harm or at least from hurting others. It’s one thing for a parent to see a child self-destruct and then say, “I can’t control this kid, I need to let him/her make her own choices” but if a parent were to say, “well my kid is planning to rape or murder another person, which is wrong, but hey my child needs to be responsible for his/her decision” they would understandably be condemned for their attitude. But God, who is supposedly the loving parent of seven billion people-gets to sit back while massive amounts of innocent people are being slaughtered, raped, kidnapped, tortured, or are suffering from poverty, infectious diseases, cancer, etc?

In Kill The Moon, the Doctor forces Clara, Courtney, and Lundvik to decide the course of human history. He pops into the TARDIS and pushes them to make a decision-which regardless of what they choose could spell disaster. If they didn’t kill the egg, the creature inside could destroy all humanity, if they kill the egg, they face the very real possibility of killing an innocent life. Now in all fairness, the Doctor claims he does not know what would happen, yet he seems to understand that the egg did not in fact pose any threat to humanity. Of course, the parallels between the Doctor and the Christian God is not perfect. And unlike the God of Christian theology, the Doctor does not in fact know everything. However, in many ways that makes this understanding of God seem even more appalling. God knows that thousands of people will die an agonizing death by Ebola in West Africa, this after experiencing horrific decades of civil war but God chooses not to do anything. When thinking of all the pain and suffering in the world, it seems to be a cop out to absolve God of any responsibility.

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DOCTOR: No, that was me allowing you to make a choice about your own future. That was me respecting you.
CLARA: Oh, my God, really? Was it? Yeah, well, respected is not how I feel.

Nonetheless, even though many hold onto the theology that God let’s bad things happen in order to respect our free will, when painful and horrible things happen in their lives, they will more often than not continue to pray for God’s intervention. It’s as if when it comes to worldwide disasters God will not intervene in order to respect humanity’s free will (or when it comes to disasters that effect other people God will not intervene) yet the hope and prayer is that God will still personally intervene in their specific situation. God might allow thousands to die of Ebola, but save one person from a horrific car accident, God might allow one kid to be beaten to death, yet save another. This presents a picture of a fickle God, choosing to intervene and “respect” humanity’s free will in some cases, but in others deciding to intervene. Why does God decide to intervene in some situations and stand back in others? Why do people praise God for saving their lives but seem indifferent about the deaths of other people?

The Doctor decides to step out of this situation, placing the responsibility for deciding what happens to the egg, on the shoulders of others. When Clara confronts the Doctor, she is understandably angry. Here is someone who has intervened in countless of situations, who initially refused to get back on the TARDIS when Clara asks him to earlier in the episode. He even states that whatever happens in the future is up to us. Meaning he would be involved in the decision making as well. Yet the Doctor chooses this moment to not intervene, and Clara rightly points out he was being condescending. He was essentially saying, “oh well, time for humanity to grow up and make a choice for their future.”

CLARA: I nearly didn’t press that button. I nearly got it wrong. That was you, my friend, making me scared. Making me feel like a bloody idiot.
DOCTOR: Language.
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For Christians, one of the biggest examples of God’s “intervention” or active participation in the events of human history is the incarnation. Now, like the resurrection, there are various ways to understand the incarnation, either literally, metaphorically etc but in its various understandings, God somehow becomes intimately involved in human affairs through Jesus Christ. That story is used as the prime example of God’s love for humanity, yet what happens after the incarnation? God gets involved in the affairs of humanity and then backs away, until deciding to randomly intervene again? God becomes one of us, suffers, dies, resurrects, and then what? Goes back to the heavenly realm beyond the fluffy clouds?

Clara finds the doctor’s answer that it was humanity’s decision to make the right choice inadequate. The Doctor is not a dispassionate observer, he gets involved with humans on a regular basis. Gallifrey, his planet of origin, was never home in the way earth was. He ran away from Gallifrey. And while he travels through time and space, he keeps coming back to earth. A majority of his companions come from earth. She is effectively saying, earth is your responsibility as well.

Doesn’t God have an even bigger responsibility towards earth?

DOCTOR: I was helping.
CLARA: What, by clearing off?
DOCTOR: Yes.
CLARA: Yeah, well, clear off! Go on. You can clear off. Get back in your lonely, your lonely bloody Tardis and you don’t come back.
DOCTOR: Clara. Clara.
CLARA: You go away. Okay? You go a long way away.

For the longest time I held onto this notion of God. An all powerful all knowing God, who sometimes intervenes but more often than not wants to “respect” humanity’s free will. Yet after a while, I could no longer adhere to such an understanding of God. I couldn’t read about children being slaughtered in a senseless war, or dying from starvation or abuse, and nonchalantly say, “well that’s just humanity’s fault not God. We choose to do that to one another. If God intervened God would be turning us into unthinking robots.” But why is it when another human intervenes to stop someone from committing murder, they aren’t accused of impeding on someone else’s free will? If another person has the power to stop someone else from harming others, they are expected to do so. And yet questioning such an understanding of God often results in the argument, “well God is all powerful and all knowing, who are we to question God. We don’t understand God’s ways.” I don’t want to believe in a God, who for whatever reason, can justify not intervening in the suffering of millions of people. I don’t care what noble purposes this God has, for me this God is nothing more than a monster arbitrarily deciding if and when to intervene. Deciding which lives are more valuable than others.

I understood Clara’s anger towards the Doctor. If the Doctor had the knowledge of what was going to happen or at least theories that could have swayed their decision, why would he keep it to himself? Humanity had chosen to kill the egg, Clara had to decide against it. Humanity often makes the wrong choice and it results in massive amounts of death and destruction. Shouldn’t one who has the ability and knowledge to prevent it, do something? Yet unlike, more Orthodox notions of God, the Doctor at least could not be 100% sure of what could happen. In more orthodox understandings of God, God does know everything-God knows what actions human will choose, God knows what the consequences will be, and to be this makes God’s non-intervention or sporadic intervention to be a much more grievous offense than the Doctor’s.

Now if we get rid of this understanding of God what other options are there? Well thankfully smarter people than I have wrestled with this issue for years, and there are a variety of responses. And in another blog post I will briefly examine said alternatives.

Everything Ends-The Time of The Doctor

CLARA: It’s beautiful. Why did you send me away?
DOCTOR: Because if I hadn’t, I’d have buried you a long time ago.
CLARA: No, you wouldn’t. I would never have let you get stuck here.
DOCTOR: Ha! Everyone gets stuck somewhere eventually, Clara. Everything ends.

The sun rises over the bell tower, Clara takes a moment to admire the sunrise and then immediately begins to question the Doctor why he left her. (Though who could blame her). He explains that if he hadn’t he would have had to bury her-another death that he would have to have witnessed in his thousand + years.. Clara, brushes aside his response. Of course he wouldn’t have. He never would have gotten stuck here, they would have had the TARDIS and they would have been able to get away from Trenzalore. The Doctor reminds her that we all gets stuck, and we all die.

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No, not you she points out. You just return with a whole new face. Not this time, the Doctor insists. Even he has a time limit. Clara tells him to change the future, when he responds that he cannot, she then reminds him that he has his TARDIS back, he does not have to die here. When the Doctor recoils at abandoning the town, she points out that perhaps it’s someone else’s turn to protect the town. He has earned the right to think about himself-to value his life, to cherish his life. He doesn’t have to stay. Yet he does. For some viewers this seems like a cop out-how can he just give up on life? How can he just nonchalantly accept death. That’s not the Doctor we know. The Doctor we know continues fighting, he’s faced death before and he’s outwitted it many times, the Doctor we know also dosen’t stay put. His restless spirit, his penchant for going on random adventures is what makes him an interesting and fascinating character.

In addition, humans in general have a penchant to react a bit like Clara to death. At first we tend to exercise a bit of denial-of course I/my loved ones aren’t going to die…at least not yet. We have years and years ahead of us. Death can’t happen to us-especially if we are young. When we finally get the notion that death will eventually come for us-we can turn our focus in ward-“we are all going to die anyway, why not just try to squeeze our as much pleasure as we can?” Often that attitude, comes across as running away from death-we are frantically trying to outsmart and outpace death before our time finally comes to an end. In our society, death is something to be avoided at all costs. Those with the money, spend thousands of dollars to erase the effects of aging, as if that will enable them to have more time on earth. We spend time ignoring death until it smacks us right in the face and even then we want to continue running. What can we do to change the future? What could we have done to avoid this fate? While particular instances of death might be available, death itself will come to all of us. How do we come to terms with that? How will we act if find ourselves fully aware that our time on earth is coming to a close?

The Doctor, was of course forced to stay on Trenzalore, at least for 300 years since the TARDIS’ journey back to him was slowed down by Clara’’s clinging to the outside of it. Yet during those 300 years the Doctor was forced to confront his own mortality. And how does he spend his time? He protects the villages, but not as some distant super hero. He grows to love them, and he allows himself to be loved in turn.

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While he might long for his past lives and his younger days-he becomes content with his life-which frantically was not exactly a snooze feast. He spent centuries fighting in a war yet he still found the time to love and be loved. And while he sent Clara back because he didn’t want to lose her, he stayed in a town where he saw generation upon generations of children grow up, get married, possibly have kids, and die. And there was no place for him to run to once a child he grew to love died. He couldn’t hop onto his TARDIS and go on a different adventure, perhaps not forgetting those who died, but being able to push it to the back of his mind and run away from his grief. While he stayed in a town called Christmas he couldn’t run away from his grief. We often associate courage and bravery with action and adventure, but sometimes bravery means staying still in one place and coming to terms to with our losses and pain.

Now of course, the Doctor does regenerate. Clara manages to convince the time lords to give him a new regeneration cycle at the last minute. He gets the opportunity to continue traveling and seeing the universe, and maybe finding a way back to Galifrey. But in a tv show that’s to be expected. We all knew from the beginning of the episode that even though Matt Smith’s era on the show was ending, a new one was going to begin. That hope of a new beginning can mitigate any sadness we feel. But in the real world, sometimes that hope can be a detriment.

As a theology student the topic of the afterlife comes up. What happens when we die? Are we reincarnated? Do we go to heaven, hell? Or are we just dead? On the one hand the belief in an afterlife or the belief we get another shot at life can be comforting, especially for those having to come to terms with a death that happened unexpectedly. How do we make sense of a death of a small child? How do we make sense of a caring person being murdered, or some fluke accident taking the life of a healthy, promising person? How can we comprehend the vast injustices in this world that results in the death of innocent people? The idea of an afterlife can provide comfort and hope for peace and for justice to be served. But in the same way, that hope can prevent us from truly living. For some people the sole purpose of Christianity is to act as fire insurance. We become a Christian in order to go to heaven and avoid burning in hell. Heaven becomes some sort of last minute regeneration prize. If we die, it does not matter too much because if we accepted Christ as our savior (and accept a bunch of doctrinal beliefs, this part often goes unsaid, but leave a fundamentalist Christian church and see what the reaction is. Often your very soul is perceived to be in danger). The Doctor “earned” his new regeneration cycle because of his heroic actions, we “earn” (though it’s not often described in those terms and the notion of earning salvation is rejected) our salvation by believing certain theological “truths” and by being correct.

The Doctor was able to confront his mortality without running because he believed he had no choice-he didn’t know he would get a regeneration cycle. Many people are so convinced that heaven or hell are what awaits them that the only thing that matters is getting into one and avoiding the other. Life is nothing more than a dress rehearsal for the main event. Who cares about fighting injustice? Nothing will truly be solved until the afterlife anyway, what matters is getting into heaven and making sure as many people as possible get there as well. All these other issues-poverty, war, racism, are secondary concerns. The hope of an afterlife becomes another form of running away.

In the tv show, of course, we only saw the end of an era. We saw the end of a version of the Doctor, but not the end of the Doctor. We felt sad while fully understanding that a new Doctor would be on his way. In the real world, we don’t have such a guarantee. We may hope for another chance, but the reality is we don’t know what happens when we die. We might simply cease to exist. Because we don’t know, maybe we should take a lesson from the Doctor in this episode, and stop running away from our mortality.

The Silent Stars Go By and Biblical Literalism.

Contains some spoilers for the book: The Silent Stars Go By Dan Abnett

Rory, Amy, and the Doctor find themselves on an earth-like planet. Of course the Doctor had originally promised to take Amy and Rory back to Leadworth for Christmas, but as we all know, the TARDIS rarely takes the Doctor and his companions where they want to go, but instead takes them where they are needed. And the inhabitants of this planet, known as the Morphans, desperately need the Doctor. The Morphans have spent generation after generation trying to make the planet hospitable for human life by trying to trying to turn this planet into a replica of earth. And for years everything was proceeding as scheduled, until the temperature inexplicably gets colder and colder. The complicated machines used to equalize and stabilize the planet’s atmosphere have been tampered with, bringing the planet to the brink of an ice age. Without going into too much detail, suffice to say that aliens are responsible for tampering with earth’s conditions and the Doctor tries to set things right with a minimal amount of death and destruction.

For generations the Morphans have based their way of life on what they call, “The Guide.” The Guide has provided the people with detailed instructions on how to maintain the world and keep it running and as a result when an issue arises, leaders turn to the Guide for advice. When life is proceeding as expected turning to the Guide for advice has served the group well. But when things begin to fall apart in unexpected ways, the people struggle with how to apply the Guide is to their current situation. In one scene, Bill, the leader of the community and Winnowner Copper, a well-respected elder go back and forth about their next course of action. Bill wonders if the giants members of the community have claimed to have seen might actually exist and are responsible for the changing weather, while Winnowner argues that the Guide mentions nothing about giants and therefore they do not exist.

Bill: There was nothing about strangers either, but today strangers came.

Winnowner: They were unguidely, and they brought conjury with them.

Bill: I understand that…I do. But just because something is unguidely, just because it is not part of Guide’s law, it doesn’t mean we can ignore it. It could be killing us Winnower, do we let it?

Winnowner: Of course not. Survival is the greatest doctrine of all. What is happening to us may be exceptional, and therefore not covered in specifics in Guide’s words, but Guide will not fail us. We must look again. Study the passages. Guide will instruct us in ways we have not yet imagine. (133)

In addition, the community is very protective of the Guide. When the Doctor figures out that the Guide is most likely some sort of manual that can enable them to control the various complicated machines on the planet, the community is reluctant to allow the Doctor to have access to the Guide  until they finally realize that they are up against creatures and situations that they cannot defeat on their own. They are so intent on protecting their interpretation of the Guide that their refusal to allow an outsider to access and interpret it almost destroys them.

The parallels between the community’s treatment of the Guide and fundamentalist Christianity’s understanding of the Bible is clear. Fundamentalists tend to interpret the Bible as the literal word of God. The Bible’s historical context is often ignored and the Bible is deemed the ultimate authority not just religiously but scientifically and politically. For instance, the Bible does not mention evolution. As a result, many fundamentalists are quick to try and discredit evolution and any scientific data that supports it. Yet many fundamentalists are not just content with disbelieving evolution, but they seek to ensure that at the bare minimum their religious interpretation about the origins of the earth are treated as a valid scientific alternative. In addition, the Bible is used to decide complex political issues. For instance same-sex marriage is often condemned based on a handful of Scripture verses. Yet the argument isn’t that same sex marriage is against their own personal religious beliefs, but that because the Bible supposedly states that same sex relationships are wrong, then it should be banned on a societal wide basis, so that even those who do not adhere to a fundamentalist world view are expected to legally conform to it.

When data does not support biblical literalism, theological and scientific gymnastics occur. For instance, some creationists argue that dinosaurs were on Noah’s ark. However, in order to believe this it requires that one disregard both scientific research and Biblical scholarship from the past two hundred years. Yet if dinosaurs and humans did not co-exist, then a literal interpretation of the creation story and the flood stories are called into question. Their whole worldview will begin to fall apart.

The Morphans are more willing to question their current reality then their interpretation of the Guide. Their interpretation not only says that the Guide has all the answers, but that only a select group of people are privy to said answers.

Bill-if our world is under attack, and our way of life also, and this is the only way to save it, then who are you to say that it cannot be?

Winnowner- Who are you trusting, Elect? Guide have mercy on us all, you’re trusting the world of these strangers! We have only their say that there are any of these menacing (creature) things! None of us have seen them! (215)

Winnowner then goes on to state that perhaps Amy, Rory and the Doctor are in fact the real creatures attacking their town and that they are simply seeking to gain access to the Guide.

Even though Amy, Rory, and the Doctor have done nothing but try to help them, Winnowner is so adamant that the Guide is something to be protected and followed uncritically, that she is willing to distort current reality to protect her interpretation of the Guide.

In fundamentalist Christianity the Bible isn’t a book that is to be sequestered away and studied by a few people. In fact, the belief is that the Bible should be freely read and available to everyone. The catch, however, is that any interpretation that differs from a literal reading is to be rejected. Those who do not agree to a certain set of theological ideas are to be distrusted. They aren’t real Christians. The Morphans reacted by panic and attempted to keep the Guide away from the strangers for fear that it would be used to destroy their way of living, while in fundamentalist Christianity it is ideas that are deemed “strange” or not in line with the status quo that are to be feared and distrusted. Ideas that contradict their narrow view of the Bible stand as a threat to their whole faith system and as a result, they are to be ridiculed, mocked, ignored and rebutted.

The Morphans’ blind allegiance to the Guide and their refusal to listen to those not part of their inner groups threatens to eradicate what is left of humanity. In the “real world,” especially when religious interpretation is elevated to divine status, the consequences might be less drastic but still troubling. The Bible has become a tool of the privileged; only certain types of people can make claim to the Bible and what it says-if others dare to reach a different conclusion-if the poor, if members of the LGBTQ community, if women, seek to make a claim to the Bible, their voices tend to at best be ignored and at worst trivialized and mocked. Yet in a western world that is increasingly becoming secularized, Christians cannot afford to close ranks and state that there is only one correct interpretation-an interpretation that seems to correlate with the political wishes of the powerful. It is only when the Morphans let go of their rigid insistence that they have all the answers did they gain the information they needed to survive. Likewise, a Christianity that insists on a singular interpretation that is catered to the whims of a specific privileged demographic will not last long. The center of Christianity is shifting from the west and the world is fast becoming more globalized and interconnected. In order for Christianity to survive, diverse voices need to be welcomed and heard. A Christianity that fails to take into account the diversity of human experience is aiding in its own destruction.