10:4 Knock Knock

The Landlord in Knock Knock is holding onto false hope-this false hope tells him that if he just sacrifices six people every 20 or so years, then Eliza-the person he loves-will never die.  He transfers this false hope to her and he disguises the false hope in lies.  For 70 years he told Eliza that she was his daughter and that she had to trust him. He knew what was best-he stated that the lives lost-were necessary.  In one striking scene, the Landlord stops the record that had been playing on loop-the record that was keeping Bill’s housemate Pavel trapped- he not yet part of the house but also not fully human. He claims:

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But I would argue that hope itself isn’t a distraction or cruel-but false hope is the type of cruel hope that the Landlord describes. This is a hope based on lies and it leaves destruction in its wake. It can be difficult to separate false hope from true hope. Is it false hope to believe that, for example, you and your family might be spared in a war zone? It is false hope to believe that your friend, who is desperately sick may survive a life-threatening cancer? Does hope need to have a strong possibility of succeeding in order to be “real?” If so, then what is the point of hope? I don’t think there is a neat and tidy answer to that. Hope tends to verge on the impossible. But for me one of the key markers of false hope is the devastation it leaves in its wake and the belief that preserving this hope is all that matters-even at the cost of other lives.

DOCTOR: What do you remember of the past, Eliza? 
ELIZA: My father, he knows what’s best. 
DOCTOR: Yes, the lice preserve the appearance and the voice, but not so much the memories. He’s not your father, am I right? 
LANDLORD: No! Stop talking! 

If you are Christian, regardless of where you fall on the conservative-progressive spectrum, hope plays a central role in your theology. Especially important is the hope that God stands with you and others who are suffering and that all the pain and suffering in this world does not have the last say. God’s love is bigger than all the destruction and suffering in this world. How Christians express this hope can differ depending on whether one identifies as fundamentalist, conservative, progressive, Evangelical, Protestant, Catholic etc. But hope itself is a key part of Christianity. Unfortunately, the hope that Christianity presents-particularly to those who are marginalized has become warped over the centuries. This hope which pushes back against oppressive societal and religious structures, which attempts to destroy the inequalities between the haves or the have nots, has been co-opted by those in power to create anguish and distress. The hope of a God that cares for all and stands against injustice has instead become a hope where violence is king, where the “other” aka anyone who is different from you gets thrown into hellfire, and where the rich are seemingly much more important than the poor. Jesus-the one who eschewed most earthly forms of power and prestige is instead transformed into a modern-day Herod or  Tiberius Caesar. The heart of Christianity is transformed from a focus on a radical, redemptive God, to a power-hungry God, bent on protecting the status quo. Some Christians seek to hide the gospel in a bunch of bullshit lies and when someone dares to counter their lies-they become angry and desperate, like the landlord in Knock Knock they demand silence.

ELIZA: Father, what’s the matter? I don’t understand. 
DOCTOR: Your father would have had better things to do than playing with insects in the garden. But he isn’t your father. When you were ill, he was sent out of the house by the doctors who are failing to save his mother! 
ELIZA: His mother? 
DOCTOR: Eliza, he’s your son. Your loving son. 
ELIZA: My son? 
LANDLORD: (crying) Forgive me. Forgive me

The lies that the Landlord told Eliza came crumbling down within one night. The life that he had managed to build over 70 years disintegrated because Bill and the Doctor were able to recognize the truth and speak it. The Doctor tears apart the lies and false hope that the Landlord used to keep his mother, Eliza alive. The amazing thing is that even after the truth has been brought to light, the Landlord continues to pine for the lies and false hope. He rejects the possibility of a new life and instead wants to hold on desperately to the normal life that ended when he was a kid.

 

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Over the centuries Christianity has become the servant imperial power. Even with the end of “classical” colonialism Christianity is used to justify wars that kill hundreds of thousands of people, that force the poor to struggle to survive, and that okays horrific abuse-if done in the name of Christ. And the crazy thing is that so many Christians prefer this false and warped Christianity. This form of Christianity pretends to offer freedom but in reality, it traps people in their own selfishness and it punishes those unlucky enough to have dark skin or to be on the receiving end of western bombs. This form of Christianity says death-particularly the physical death of the “other” is a necessity. And while I think some Christians know that this Christianity is false and yet they choose to hold onto it anyway, many others genuinely believe the lies they have been told. So when others present a different version-one that calls out blind nationalism and militarism, one that claims that Christ is not synonymous with state power-they become angry.  

LANDLORD: Eliza, finish them now. Take them, or you’ll die! They’ll destroy you! 
DOCTOR: What’s the point in surviving if you never see anyone, if you hide yourself away from the world? When did you last open the shutters? 

The false hope this form of Christianity espouses is one that results in the division of humanity based on shallow differences and it breeds contempt, violence, and hatred. What is the point in believing in a God that is just as bad or worse, then some of humanity’s worse dictators? What is the point in believing in a God that has no qualms about “blessing” some individuals, while allowing others to die horrific deaths or experience intense suffering? But letting go of this god can be difficult. It can be scary to open up the window and see that there is something different out there. Likewise, it can be scary to let go of a hope we have held onto for so long that it becomes a core part of our identity. Even if we find out that this hope was nothing but a bunch of lies.  This form of Christianity-based on imperialism, power, greed, and violence will never completely vanish. Humans will always choose to hold onto lies that provide them short term benefit but that are harmful and that ultimately result in the destruction of themselves and others. But there is a different way of seeing the world. There is a different way of viewing God and faith.  The God I turn to is one who loves all-but stands with the marginalized. This God isn’t obsessed with nationalism or military might. There is no set script-some forms of Christianity say-if you believe this, pray this, or do this-then life will be good. But that’s not how life works.

Knock Knock ends with all of Bill’s housemates surviving-but of course the ones who had become part of the house decades ago-were lost. That’s the danger of false hope-once you refuse to hold onto it, you can move forward, but it can be difficult to repair the damage that has already been done. But in letting go of the lies-you  just might help bring about a better future. At least, that’s my hope.

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The Girl Who Died

DOCTOR: Yes, I am a false Odin. That’s exactly right, I lied. The big fella in the sky, he lied too. You all know it. Because what’s the one thing that gods never do? Gods never actually show up! 

Life is unpredictable and scary. For those of us living with some degree of privilege we are able to contain that unpredictability by focusing on our jobs or work. Money can give us an illusion of control and stability. Yet we also seek control and protection in other ways. For many of us we look to our images of God to sustain us.  And one image that many of us hold onto is one of an all powerful God, who controls everything but who can sometimes be appeased if we pray or worship the right way.  This God can be manipulated to do what we want-though of course we don’t exactly use those terms, nor are we even aware that we have created a God that can be manipulated. We get the job that we prayed for, cancer goes into remission, and when things fall apart? Well if it happens to us or someone we care about we try to counsel ourselves and our loved ones with the thought that it was all in God’s plan, or that we are somehow being tested or that the devil is to blame for our pain and suffering. If suffering comes to those we don’t like then it is obviously their own fault. They disobeyed God and are being punished.

Many of us still view God as a cosmic figure living in the sky who decides, seemingly arbitrarily when to get involved. Yes, God answered your prayer for a job, but somehow the prayers of that family seeking to leave Syria and find safety in Europe, didn’t convince God to actively prevent their drowning. Or God saved you from a horrific crash, yet for some reason God decided that the others involved including a small child, needed to die.

We look for any proof of this God-even if this proof leads us to commit or endorse atrocities. Many members traveling to join the Islamic State, for instance, believe that the mere fact that the group has declared a caliphate and is gaining land is an answer to some prophetic revelation. There are some Christians, who believe that in order for the “end times” to occur and God’s reign to be manifested on earth, Israel needs to essentially wipe out the Palestinians and they use their money and political clout to endorse any action that furthers that goal, even if it means more dead Palestinian children.

In many ways the God imagined by many is not that much different from the ‘god’ the Doctor faces in this episode. The one he rightfully condemns as fake. He points out to the Vikings that this god tricked them in order to kill their best men. This ‘god’, who is in reality the leader of the Mire, is excited by war and destruction.

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If we were honest with ourselves, the God many of us claim to worship really is no better. We have crafted an image of God who is vengeful and all powerful. Yeah sure, we talk about God’s love for humanity but in many cases we do so by focusing on the threat of hellfire.  This is the type of God I vehemently reject: an angry, supernatural deity that randomly decides to show prayer to some while rejecting others.

But is there an alternative? Yes. But it would mean letting go of notions of control and power. Power and control are often equated. The more power someone has the more control this person has. Humans project that desire onto a deity figure who we can then lay the responsibility and blame for anything that goes wrong or right in our lives. But what if-instead of an all powerful, distant deity we  imagined a God that  can’t help being hopelessly entangled in the chaos that is humanity.For Christians the notion of an actively involved God isn’t that far of a stretch. Many Christians believe that in some way, Jesus represents God’s involvement in the world. Whether Jesus is God or an agent of God-he represents a God who is not afraid to become a part of humanity.  This means letting go of some of our projections of an all powerful deity who randomly chooses to engage. It means being open to a God that wants a relationship with humanity-and relationships are mutual. We are changed by the other person, but the other person also changes us. Why not the same for God?  What if we asserted that God worked through us instead of against us or through divine supernatural acts?

As I was watching this episode, allowing myself to suspend disbelief for a second, I remember thinking, “you know if this were a ‘real’ situation, I would believe that God was working through the Doctor.” The Doctor claims that gods don’t show up, but God does-it just often takes the form of imperfect humans trying their best to not make things worse.

DOCTOR: The earth is safe, humanity is not in danger. It’s just one village.
CLARA: Just one village?
DOCTOR: Suppose I saved it by some miracle. No Tardis, no sonic. Just one village defeats the Mire. What then? Word gets around. Earth becomes a target of strategic value, and the Mire come back. And God knows what else. Ripples into tidal waves until everybody dies.

If the world were ever invaded by the Mire, and the Doctor existed, I would see God in the way the Doctor is convinced by Clara to not give up. To not just dismiss this small “village.” I would see God in how he changes his mind and decides to stay in the village. I would see God in how the Doctor finds a different way to defeat the Mire, a way that does not involve bloodshed or death. And I would see God when the Doctor, for better or for worse remembers why he chose this particular incarnation.

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Now of course, this isn’t real life. But yet I still see God working in the world. In those who say no to another meaningless war. In those who say that “Black Lives Matter” and that state oppression and brutality needs to be stopped. I see God in those who stand up against those in power. Things don’t always end well for those who stand up against injustice. Our actions can have unattended consequences. The Doctor wanted to save Ashildr, but in doing so, he may have caused her great pain. A God that is perfectly in control can erase some of the chaos and messiness of life. But a God that works with and through humanity is working with a flawed creation that does the best it cans, but makes mistakes. Things don’t always neatly settled. Pain and suffering remains.  This image of God does not promise us stability and comfort, only the promise of working through us to make the world a better place.

“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.

Torchwood: Cyberwoman

We are made in the image of God. While I am not a literalist and do not believe that the creation stories in genesis detail the origin of life, I believe that the narratives serve to remind us that each individual person is cared for and loved by God. Being made in the image of God means that we are loved beyond our wildest imagination and that we also have a worth that goes beyond whatever arbitrary characteristics that society deems to be the epitome of human perfection. It doesn’t matter if you have blonde hair and blue eyes, or dark skin, hair, and eyes. It doesn’t matter if your face is symmetrical or if you think that your face should be hidden under a plastic bag. God loves you. And those who claim to follow God are called to advocate for the least of these and for the despised in society. We are called to help bring bout the kingdom of God-a kingdom defined by compassion and justice.

Most people, when reading over the above paragraph will nod their heads in agreement. “Of course we should advocate for love and justice. Of course every person is made in the image of God.” Such sentiments are nice when spoken out loud or written in a blog post that one can read and walk away from. But in the real world such sentiments are difficult. What does it mean to say that everyone is made in the image of God? It means that the cute, minute old newborn is made in God’s image, that she has value and that she is cherished. But it also means that those whom we consider to be monsters, who have discarded their humanity are also loved by God. Even though their horrendous actions and words make seeing them in the image of God difficult, that does not change the fact that despite their actions they are still loved by God. Imagine a person or a group of people who have committed horrible atrocities and yet pause to think that they too are loved by God. That seems-wrong. Can one hold onto the notion that yeah God loves them, but that doesn’t mean they don’t deserve to be stopped? It is tempting to say, “God loves them, but I don’t.” But even if one were to embrace whole heartedly that God’s love is for all-how does one live that out in the real world? Does it mean that those who are committing atrocious actions get a free pass and that they shouldn’t be stopped? Of course not. But talking about being made in the image of God and about God’s encompassing love can become clichéd when it is done without acknowledgement of what is going on around us.

In Cyberwoman we are introduced to Lisa, a young 25 year old woman who had worked at Torchwood London during the battle of Canary Wharf. During that battle, the cybermen began to convert the members of Torchwood London into cybermen. Towards the end of the battle, instead of simply transplanting brains they began to upgrade bodies. Lisa’s conversion was not finished, and she was left as a human-cyberman hybrid (though she looks more like an interesting cross between a BDSM mistress and a Doctor Who cosplayer). When we first meet her at the beginning of the episode, not only is it surprising that she still looks human, but she is able to express human emotion. It becomes clear very early on, that she and Ianto are in love. It also seems as if the process of turning her human will be fairly straight forward since she looks human, feels emotion, and is able to survive being disconnected from a cybermen conversion unit that Ianto had been using as her life support system.

LISA: Why aren’t I connected?
IANTO: You’re alive. He kept you alive.
LISA: Thank you.
TANIZAKI: This is only the start.
(A monitor beeps. Ianto calls up the image of the four walking across the Plass towards Torchwood.)
IANTO: We’ve got to move. Quickly!
LISA: I’ll walk.
IANTO: You’ve only just woken up. You can’t.
LISA: I want to walk. Please.
IANTO: Help her downstairs. I’ll clear up here.
LISA: I’m alive!

This being Torchwood, things start going badly fairly quickly. While Ianto is attempting to make things at the station look normal, as the other Torchwood members unexpectedly return to the station, Lisa kills Dr. Tanizaki, who was supposed aid in converting her back into full functioning human. Lisa had attempted to convert him and failed. Things go from bad to worse when Owen and Gwen start looking for the source that is draining the station’s power. Owen is knocked out and Lisa immediately attempts to upgrade Gwen. Luckily Captain Jack saves Gwen but he is unable to kill Lisa because Ianto prevents him from shooting her. It immediately becomes apparent that Jack and Ianto are at odds with how to deal with the situation. Jack has only seen Lisa as a cyberwoman, a dangerous creation that has lost her humanity. Ianto, however, having kept her hidden for months, has seen glimpses of her humanity and has fallen in love with her. Jack only sees the monster and Ianto only sees his lover.

IANTO: My loyalty’s to her. She worked for Torchwood. She was caught up in battle. I owe it to Lisa, we owe it to her, to find a cure.
JACK: Ianto, you have to believe me, there is no cure. There never will be. Those who are converted stay that way. Your girlfriend will not be the exception.
IANTO: You can’t know that for sure.
JACK: Look, you need to know what’s happening here. Because this is where these things start. Small decisions that become mass slaughter. These creatures regain a foothold by exploiting human weakness. Then they take a base, rebuild their forces, and before you know it, the Cyber race is spreading out across the universe, erasing worlds, assimilating populations, all because of the tiny beginnings here. We need to stop her together.

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Captain Jack, clearly has a point. She is dangerous and capable of killing vast amounts of people. And if she ever successfully manages to figure out how to complete her upgrade or convert others, the whole planet could be in danger. Yet, as Ianto points out, the conversion is not complete. As a result, there is a possibility that she could be redeemed. She could become fully human again.

Even when Ianto tries to talk to her and to make contact with what is left of her humanity and he is rebuffed, he refuses to give up on her.

LISA: The upgrade is incomplete.
IANTO: You’re still human.
LISA: I am disgusting. I have. I am wrong.
IANTO: We can help you.
LISA: I must start again. Upgrade properly.
IANTO: For God’s sake, have you heard yourself? Lisa, please. I brought you here to heal you, so we could be together.
LISA: Together. Yes. Transplant my brain into your body. The two of us together, fused. We’ll be one complete person. Isn’t that what love is?
IANTO: No.
LISA: Then we are not compatible.

After Captain Jack attempts to kill her, by having Torchwood’s pterodactyl attack her (only in the Torchwood and doctor who universe would that sentence make sense), Ianto accuses Jack of being heartless:

IANTO: You could have saved her. You’re worse than anything locked up down there. One day, I’ll have the chance to save you, and I’ll watch you suffer and die.
JACK: It was the only thing that would stop her!

Lisa survives the pterodactyl attack, though she has taken over the body of an innocent woman who had simply been stuck with the task of delivering pizza to the station. Bits of her humanity show through-even though it is mixed with the horror that she killed another person without a second thought.

ANNIE/LISA: You fought so hard for me, I had to hold on for you, so I took this body and transplanted the brain.
IANTO: You’re not Lisa.
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IANTO: I’m sorry. I’m sorry. Lisa.
ANNIE/LISA: We can be upgraded together.

Lisa is finally killed when the rest of the Torchwood gang opens fire on her. Captain Jack’s actions are understandable-hell, they were probably necessary to stop Lisa from wrecking more death and destruction. Yet, watching the episode, I couldn’t help but imagine God has reacting more like Ianto (without threatening to allow Jack to suffer and die) then Jack. As someone who rejects notions of hell and eternal punishment, I am left with a God who unabashedly loves everyone. That idea is fine when I think about all the people I love-but it comes difficult when I think about those I consider to be monsters. The Islamic State for instance. I don’t think I can describe the disgust I feel towards them as they continue to massacre men, women, and children in the name of God. They point out the atrocities of American foreign policy yet they continue to kill and enslave people. To me, they are monsters. And to be honest I have to admit I wouldn’t mind if every single adult member of the organization was killed. They need to be stopped. Yet at the same time-if I believe God loves everyone-it means everyone. Some of the recruits that have gotten the most media attention have been young men and women-teenagers who for whatever reason have decided that they want to back a group that regularly ad gleefully beheads people just to make a point. The Islamic State is comprised of people that have families and people who love them yet they regularly kill others, leaving their victims’ family members devastated and heart broken.

The Islamic State needs to be stopped. But the annoying thing about God is that for God redemption is always possible and God’s love is limitless. While I want the Islamic State and all who comprise it to be destroyed, God frequently reminds me that they are God’s children too. Made in God’s image. I don’t have any solutions-I don’t know how they should be stopped. I don’t have any answers so I can’t dictate what those in authority should do. But what I do know is that as horrific as their actions are, God loves them. And that makes me uncomfortable and it also challenges me. It is easy to talk about God’s love as a theoretical idea, it’s much harder to make it concrete.

In need of Redemption: Into the Dalek

What is redemption? And can the most evil, vile creatures be redeemed? In the episode, Into the Dalek  the Doctor meets a Dalek (that he later nicknames Rusty) who seems to be repentant and in agony over the actions of his species. “Daleks must be destroyed!” He insists. Of course the Doctor’s interest is piqued. Daleks are ruthless creatures, unable to experience empathy or compassion. They are callous and never waiver in their quest to dominant the universe and destroy all inferior life forms (ie every other life form). So to be confronted by a Dalek who seems to have developed a conscious activates the Doctor’s curiosity.

Of course the Doctor does not believe that Rusty has actually had a conversion experience. The Dalek is damaged and he seeks to understand how and why this damage resulted in a complete personality change. As he explicates to Clara and the soldiers:

DOCTOR: Now, this is the cortex vault, a supplementary electronic brain. Memory banks, but more than that. This is what keeps the Dalek pure.
GRETCHEN: How are Daleks pure?
DOCTOR: Dalek mutants are born hating. This is what stokes the fire, extinguishes even the tiniest glimmer of kindness or compassion. Imagine the worst possible thing in the universe, then don’t bother, because you’re looking at it right now. This is evil refined as engineering.

The Daleks are intrinsically evil-their whole purpose is to kill and annihilate. How can you redeem a being that has evil encoded into its DNA?

When the Doctor discovers a breach in Rusty that is poisoning him with radiation, the Doctor fixes him and Rusty goes back to his “normal” self. He becomes what he always was-destructive and consumed with hate.

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It seems as if the Doctor was right. There are no such thing as “good” Daleks. Rusty’s brief flash of humanity is the result of an injury. Clara, however, as a teacher, is intent on getting the Doctor to look beyond surface evidence that confirm his biases. What did they learn? She asks. He insists that they learned that there are no good Daleks, She rejects his answer. What did they learn?

The Doctor’s numerous experiences with the Daleks as well as his knowledge of their anatomy assures him that the Daleks are unwaveringly wicked.   As a result, he can’t see any other way of dealing with them. He will forever be locked into a never ending battle with the Daleks as they continue with their attempts to annihilate the universe, and he attempts to stop them by killing as many as possible. Yet Clara’s insistence that he look past his own prejudices enables the Doctor to have a shift in perspective. Maybe things can be different.

DOCTOR: The Dalek isn’t just some angry blob in a Dalekanium tank. If it was, the radiation would have turned it into a raging lunatic.
JOURNEY: It is a raging lunatic, it’s a Dalek.
DOCTOR: But for a moment, it wasn’t. The radiation allowed it to expand its consciousness, to consider things beyond its natural terms of reference. It became good. That means a good Dalek is possible.

Clara restores Rusty’s memories of death and new life: universes being destroyed and new stars being born, and the Doctor links Rusty to his own mind, and exposes Rusty to the universe. At first it seems to be working, perhaps a new way of interacting with the Daleks is possible-one that does not rely on death and destruction. However, the link with the Doctor exposes Rusty to the Doctor’s deep and justified hatred of the Daleks and Rusty goes on a rampage to destroy his peers.

RUSTY: The Daleks are exterminated

DOCTOR: Of course they are. That’s what you do, isn’t it?

RUSTY: I must go with them.
DOCTOR: Of course you must. You’ve unfinished work, haven’t you?

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The Doctor is disappointed. He wanted to save Rusty’s “soul.” He wanted to believe that redemption for the Dalek species was possible, putting an end to needless fighting and destruction. In addition, the Doctor is unsure of who he is. “Am I good man?” He asks Clara earlier in the episode. Perhaps in redeeming Rusty, he would be redeeming himself.

It is easy to look at this episode and extrapolate that the ultimate meaning is that redemption is impossible-at least for some. Pure evil exists and is embodied by some groups and there is no reasoning with them. They will default, eventually, to their intrinsic nature. We see this type of thinking in the way that countries describe their enemies. To be sure, there are terrorist groups, such as ISIS that would make the Daleks cower in fear. And the temptation is to dehumanize them. Their blind hatred and their blasé attitude toward killing innocent people-not just journalists, but also scores of their own people, justifiably causes us to recoil in horror. Groups that will massacre untold number of people just to make a point, are extremely dangerous. The temptation is to dismiss them as intrinsically evil and as unreasonable. And as a result, government leaders rehash the same old strategy to get rid of those who they claim embody evil: death and destruction. Any other response is immediately off the tables. You can’t redeem evil doers. Even though, the very people we dehumanize, often serve as a reflection of the evil that lurks within us and they often serve as a condemnation for our (or our government’s) failures and atrocities. When we reject the humanity of our enemies, we diminish our own.

The Doctor has moments of ruthlessness in this episode. He doesn’t care that Journey lost her brother, and he cracks jokes about Ross’ death. Not to mention that throughout the show’s history, he has had moments where his hatred and thirst for vengeance leads him to act callously. When we view others as irredeemable, we begin to justify taking them out, using whatever means possible and the line between those who are “good” and those who are “evil” begins to blur. Yet in a world marred by violence and brokenness, and sin, what other options do we have?

To be honest, I struggle to find an adequate answer. I can’t tie this post up in a neat little bow, (believe me, I’ve tried. I’ve re-written this final paragraph a number of times). The reality is that in a world filled with war and destruction easy answers are inadequate. For instance, Christians often talk about loving our enemies, but what does that mean? Sometimes the phrase “loving our enemies” sounds like nothing more than a pat answer that one says to avoid doing the hard and difficult work of trying to transform the world. That phrase often becomes an excuse to not take any action. And for those of us in relatively privileged conditions, we can simply tout the phrase love our enemies and walk away without engaging in the difficult work of deciphering what that looks like in a hurting world. How do we love our enemies and espouse justice? In addition, Christians often hold up Christ as the ultimate figure of redemption, but what does redemption mean? Is it simply about avoiding hell? Can redemption occur in this world? And how do we work towards said redemption? How do we join with God in the work of transforming the world?

In this episode, the Doctor ultimately fails. Yet the adventure continues. In the real world, such failure is devastating. How many people have died struggling to advocate for justice and equality? How many people have been crushed by the prevailing forces that endorse the status quo? How many times can one “enemy” be defeated, only for more to rise up or even worse, for us to find ourselves as the perpetrators of violence, inequality, and injustice? Why not just give up on this world and turn our back on the idea of redemption? Yet, God seems to be infinitely more annoying than Clara in asking us to rethink what we think we know. What have we learned? That life is hopeless, that violence and death will always win? Is that all we have learned? Or do we have to look a little bit harder to find hope and courage to do things differently, even in the midst of failure? At the end of the episode Clara states:

You asked me if you’re a good man and the answer is, I don’t know. But I think you try to be and I think that’s probably the point.

We live in a world where despair and hopelessness reign. Systematic change and long standing peace seems impossible to accomplish and attempts to bring about radical change-sometimes, if not often fail. Maybe the point of life and of saying we have faith is that we continually try to aid in God’s transforming work in the world. Maybe the point is that we continue to work as co-redeemers with Christ, in the midst of a hurting world.

Just See Me-Deep Breath

Doctor: What is the question?

Vastra: Who or what could have done this?

Doctor: No. That is not the question, that is not where we start.

Strax: The question is how? The flesh itself has been combusted…

The Doctor angrily dismisses Strax’s questions and begins ranting before Clara calms him down and asks

Clara: What is the question?

Doctor: A dinosaur is burning in the heart of London. Nothing left but smoke and flames. The question is, have there been any similar murders?

Vastra: Yes, yes by the goddess there have.

Doctor: Look at them all gawking. Question two: If all the pudding brains are gawking, then what is he?

The Doctor understands that the questions we ask and choose to pursue directly impacts the path(s) that we take. Our questions can lead us to answers that are illuminating or they can lead us to a dead end. Vastra and Strax ask the obvious questions that immediately pop into one’s mind when one comes across something strange or unexpected: “who and how?” The Doctor however, rejects such shallow, off the cuff questions. If they start with the “who” question and attempt to determine the person responsible they would have all of Victorian London to consider as suspects. They would not even begin to know what to look for or how to narrow down the search. Strax was already on his way to answering the how question, but Strax only has a one track mind-his focus shifts to military tactics and weaponry and that limits the type of questions he can ask. Instead the Doctor challenges them to look deeper, to pay attention to their surroundings and make connections. He notices that there is a connection between the murder of the dinosaur and other deaths throughout the city. He recognizes when someone or something is acting differently. Everyone else is naturally gawking at the dead dinosaur, who wouldn’t? But one person, is ignoring the action. Questions can lead us on a wild goose chase or point us to some deeper truths, but we have to be willing to pay attention and ask those tough questions, especially of ourselves.

I cried when Matt Smith’s Doctor made a cameo in this episode. I was not surprised by his appearance, a few months ago tabloids and the internet were already stating that the Eleventh Doctor would make a surprise appearance, plus earlier on Saturday, I saw a picture that the BBC one facebook page had posted of the Eleventh Doctor. So I was not caught by surprise. Yet I cried. I didn’t just shed a few tears but I cried hysterically for hours, and then while watching the episode again, I started crying again. Now I could dismiss my tears as evidence of me being over dramatic and berate myself for being so emotional. Or I could simply say that I cried because Matt Smith is my favorite Doctor and so seeing him again, saying goodbye to Clara (and the audience) and reassuring her and us that the new Doctor is still him, simply overwhelmed me. While neither answer is not necessarily false, I know myself. In my case, there is almost never a simple answer for why I am acting a certain way. Tears, when they are shed, mean something especially since I hate crying. While I have no qualms about other people crying, I hate when I cry. When something bad happens in my life, in order to prevent myself from crying I tell myself, “get over it.” When I witness injustice after injustice play out in our world, I tell myself, “Crying is useless. Crying does not solve anything.” I am much more comfortable with anger. I can and often do express my anger. Anger can be channeled into positive action, anger feels like a sign of strength.

Yet for some reason, I freely cried during this episode as well as during Matt Smith’s regeneration scene in the previous episode. Of course, I don’t cry in front of other people, but in the privacy of my own home. Yet I have such a disdain for crying that my strong reaction to this episode led me to ask myself, “why am I crying and why do I hate crying so much?”

11th Doctor: It’s me Clara, the Doctor.

Clara: what do you mean the Doctor?

11-I’m phoning you from Trenzalore. From before I changed. I mean, it’s all still to happen to me, it’s coming. Oh it’s a coming. Not long now. I can feel it.

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Clara has been repeatedly described as a control freak. Control freaks require a certain degree of stability and for someone traveling to different centuries and time periods-not many things in her life can be described as stable-except for the Doctor. Her Doctor, the Eleventh Doctor. She knew him. She knew that he would always be there for her and that if she were in trouble that he would do anything possible to help her. If she were scared, she could turn to the Doctor for strength. In The Rings of Akhaten, she describes a story about how as a young girl one of her biggest fears was getting lost. When she was about six, her biggest fear was realized and she got lost at black pool beach surrounded by strangers. But when her mom found her, her mom stated: “It doesn’t matter where you are, in the jungle or the desert or on the moon. However lost you may feel, you’ll never really be lost. Not really. Because I will always be here, and I will always come and find you. Every single time.” “But then her mom died. Her life was turned upset down and she had to adjust to a new reality. Then years later the Doctor pops into her life. He takes her across the universe, they travel through time, yet no matter what happens he is always there for her. She never feels lost, because the Doctor-her Doctor will always find her. And the best thing is, that the Doctor could live for centuries not just through regeneration but in the same body. He would outlive her, which meant that she wouldn’t have to worry about being abandoned again.

But he does abandon her, multiple times during The Time of the Doctor. The Doctor understands what Clara does not want to admit-everything ends. And he knows that the battle of Trenzalore is one he needs to face on his own. And when he leaves her the second time, the Doctor knows that his time is running out. But all Clara can feel is the sting of abandonment. But a few minutes later when she hears the TARDIS she happily runs towards it, knowing the Doctor had not abandoned her after all. But at the control panels is Tasha Lem, who tells her to go to the Doctor because no one deserves to die alone. It is Clara, who convinces the Time Lords to  help the Doctor. And they do. They give him a new regeneration cycle ensuring that he is be able to regenerate and survive long past the original limit. And Clara, who jumped into the Doctor’s time stream and saved him and his various incarnations knows better than anyone else what regeneration means. And while some fans insist she should not have reacted so poorly,  knowledge does not change the fact that the version of the Doctor she knew is gone. Yes some core characteristics of the Doctor remain the same throughout each regeneration but new aspects of his personality come to the forefront. It is as if a whole new person has taken the place of the person she cared about and trusted. She is abandoned yet again. Regeneration does not exactly equate death, but it marks an ending. And Clara just isn’t ready to let go.

Clara has to begin again with a new Doctor and she is scared. Who is this person? Her sense of stability and safety is gone. Once again she is that lost little girl. And when the Twelfth Doctor seemingly abandons her to die she is left reeling. Who is this person that would so cruelly abandon her? Yet she holds onto hope, that somewhere deep inside this stranger, was the Doctor she always knew and loved.

Cyborg: Where is the other one?

Clara: I don’t know. But I know where he will be. Where he will always be. If the Doctor is still the Doctor he will have my back. I’m right aren’t I? God, please, please God say I’m right.

And he does have her back. And when he seemingly disappears once again after defeating the cyborg, Vastra has to remind Clara that not only is the Doctor still the same person, but that subconsciously she understands that.

Vastra: You would be very welcome to join our little household. But I have it on the highest authority that the Doctor will be returning for you very soon.

Clara: Whose authority?

Vastra: The person who knows him best in all the universe.

Clara: And who’s that?

Vastra: Miss Clara Oswald. Who, perhaps has, by instinct already dressed to leave?

Clara: I just wanted a change of clothes. I don’t think I know who the Doctor is anymore.

Vastra: It would seem, my dear, you are very wrong about that.

The Doctor still has her back. Yet she remains unsure. At first she refuses to travel with him. She can’t let go of her version of the Doctor. And it takes the reassurance of her specific incarnation of the Doctor to let her know that the person in front of her, is still him. That he hasn’t abandoned her or forgotten about her.  This is the scene that had me in tears. I cried because I could relate to Clara’s fears and uncertainty-when you’ve been abandoned before-it’s hard to believe that it won’t happen again. Her mother died and negated her promise to always find her, and now the Doctor-the version of the Doctor she traveled with had seemingly disappeared leaving her with a stranger.

As a child I grew up with a particular notion of God. God was at the same time-all loving yet also controlling and demanding. Yet this God had clear expectations and after growing up in an abusive household I finally found the stability I craved. But as I grew older, the God I thought I knew began to seem more and more like a monster that I had to distance myself from. I knew I had to let go of this understanding of God, but I didn’t want too. Finally after years of battling depression, I felt as if someone finally had my back and loved me, yet the more I learned about this God the more I realized I had to move on. Yet letting go of what I thought I knew about God, left me feeling lost and alone. If there is a God, what is this God like? Can I trust this God to love me and support me during my darkest days? Like Clara, I felt like I was dealing with a stranger. Perhaps it would be better to abandon this whole notion of God I thought. Yet such a time period lasted only a short time. Deep in my soul I felt a tugging at my heart, as if God were begging for me to see God for what God is-the embodiment of love and compassion.

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I spend a good portion of my time trying to avoid crying because I don’t want to be viewed as weak. As a control freak, I need to present a certain facade-and in my case, it is often one of anger and/or distance. Crying involves a vulnerability that I fear. Yet this episode, stuck a nerve. I cried because I understood Clara’s fear of being abandoned by the Eleventh Doctor and having to deal with what she perceived to be a stranger. And I cried because I know what’s it’s like to have to finally say goodbye to the past, yet still needing reassurances that things will be ok. I had to finally let go of the God of my childhood which meant getting rid of some toxic ideas but I also thought, the assurance of a caring deity. But time has shown me that only when I let go of the past and of what I think I know-can I be open to new experiences of God. There were many changes I had to make when moving from a childish understanding of God to a more adult understanding of God-an understanding of God that says no matter how much I think I know-there is still a sense of mystery and a sense of strangeness and otherness with God. But there is one thing deep down that I know: that if there is a God, this God loves me completely and unabashedly, and that God will always have my back.

3. The Rings of Akhaten: The Divine Sanctioning of Violence and Bad Theology

The first impulse for some when watching this episode is to view it as a wholesale condemnation of religious belief. I can’t speak for the writer of this episode, Neil Cross, however, for me the episode does not condemn all religious faith or beliefs. Considering how varied and complicated Christian theology alone is, it would be difficult to make an informed yet generalized critique of religious belief. Instead, I think the episode touches upon a strain of religious belief that rightly should be critiqued and viewed with suspicion: the impulse of scapegoating, and the divine sanctioning of violence, which to me is representative of bad and dangerous theology.

The Doctor is fairly knowledgeable about the beliefs of this society  and while he does not hold said views, referring to them to their beliefs, as “a nice story” neither is he vocally dismissive. In fact, when he and Clara go to hear Merry sing, the Doctor awkwardly tries to join in. He acknowledges the beauty of Akhaten, and that includes in large part their religious beliefs. He may not agree with them, yet he still finds a sense of beauty in them. While for literalists, calling one’s sacred text a “nice story” sounds dismissive, I think it represents an acknowledgement on the part of another person who does not share said beliefs that there is something meaning and beautiful in said stories.  For example, I do not view the creation stories in genesis as literally true, but I believe that the stories serve an important function in explicating how Judaism and Christianity understand the relationship between humanity and divine. And the fact that in the creation stories, God calls creation good can have some great practical implications for how Christians are to view and treat the natural world.

Stories, don’t need to be taken literally in order to be viewed as meaningful. So I appreciate the Doctor’s willingness to understand the beliefs of Akhaten and to acknowledge how important said beliefs are to the population of Akhaten.

However, that changes radically when it becomes apparent that some of the core stories in their belief system endorse violence and the innocent sacrifice of a child. When a beam lifts Merry off her pedestal and Merry calls for help, Clara asks accusingly of those around her, “Is somebody going to do something? Excuse me, is somebody going to help her?”

Shortly, thereafter, Clara expresses her shock to the Doctor at the crowd’s apathetic reaction:

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The Doctor’s point is that the crowd couldn’t help save Merry because their beliefs provided divine sanction for the harm of a small child. It’s viewed as normal and a fundamental part of their beliefs and because their beliefs are a core identify of who they are, as individuals and as a society, they see no need to question them or actively do something to challenge said beliefs. (who knows how many people know something Is intrinsically wrong about a cherished belief but are too afraid to voice their doubts and questions?) It is up to two outsiders to point out the injustice inherent in their belief system.

Merry, believes it is her fault that the “god” has awoken and that she made a mistake that led to its awakening. Bad theology has a way of blaming the victim in order to protect itself against critical examination. The theology isn’t the problem, the person is. By socializing Merry to believe that it would be her fault if the god awakens, it distracts from thinking critically about what type of god demands the sacrifice of a child or if no sacrifice is made, would destroy everyone else. However, the Doctor is quick to point out the flaws in said theology:

DOCTOR: No, we didn’t wake him. And you didn’t wake him, either. He’s waking because it’s his time to wake, and feed. On you, apparently. On your stories.

CLARA: She didn’t say stories. She said souls.

DOCTOR: Same thing. The soul’s made of stories, not atoms. Everything that ever happened to us. People we love, people we lost. People we found again against all the odds. He threatens to wake, they offer him a pure soul. The soul of the Queen of Years.

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Merry, and countless children before her, (imagine that, for however long the Akhaten has existed, however long said beliefs circulated, children were being sacrificed to appease said gods. I wonder how many children were killed before two outsiders had to come in and say, “No, this is wrong…”) have been told to sacrifice themselves without fully understanding why. The theological language, the pretty singing, the festival masquerades the gruesome reality that lives are being lost in order to perpetrate bad theology.

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MERRY: So, if I don’t, then everyone else

DOCTOR: Will be fine.

MERRY: How?

DOCTOR: There’s always a way.

As someone in seminary, struggling to figure out what I believe, this episode resonates with me. I may struggle with what I do believe, but discovering what I DON’T believe has been a relatively easier task. When I am examining various theological ideas, I ask: “how many lives have been sacrificed or brutally snuffed out as a result this understanding of God? Does this theology create any victims? Which lives are we asking to be sacrificed for the sake of holding onto bad theology?” I believe that each individual has the right to believe or not believe whatever they want. But I think it is important to emphasize that theology, especially bad theology comes at a price.

In this episode, not only are children being sacrificed to appease a god, but a whole society is held in bondage by the threat of destruction. This god says, “give me what I want or I will destroy you.”  And since such a threat is imposed by what the people view as a god, the people feel helpless to question and speak out.  In this theological understanding, violence and scapegoating is divinized and the people are held bondage to terror and fear.  The Doctor however, fulfills in many ways the role of a prophet (no not in the terms of predicting the future, but in the sense of calling into question unjust theological or social structures). He questions society’s understanding of their god and the theological constructs shaping their society. He even criticizes the god.

DOCTOR: Can you hear them? All these people who’ve lived in terror of you and your judgment? All these people whose ancestors devoted themselves, sacrificed themselves, to you. Can you hear them singing? Oh, you like to think you’re a god. But you’re not a god. You’re just a parasite eaten out with jealousy and envy and longing for the lives of others. You feed on them. On the memory of love and loss and birth and death and joy and sorrow.

In seminary, no idea is too sacred to remain unquestioned and while that may smack of sacrilege for some, I think it’s vitally important to continually to question what we believe, especially if we are going to attribute said beliefs to a deity figure. We need to continually think not just about how this theological idea affects us as individuals, but we must inquire about the practical consequences of said theology. Does our theology create scapegoats and who are they? Does our theology justify violence and if it does, who against whom?

Perhaps it’s time we woke up and listened to the cries of those being crushed by bad theology.

11. The Beast Below

10. Amy’s Choice

9. Vincent and the Doctor

8. The Girl Who Waited

7. The God Complex

6. A Town Called Mercy

5. Angels Take Manhattan 

4. The Snowmen