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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Depression, suicide, and hope

Robin Williams was found dead on August 11th, 2014 and initial reports are speculating that it was a suicide.  No, I was not a hardcore Robin Williams fan though I have seen some of his movies. I also am not one to report on celebrity deaths beyond sharing an article or two on my personal facebook page. But when it comes to suicide, I always pause a bit. I’ve been honest with my struggles with depression and suicidal thoughts, even though there continues to be a stigma attached to mental illness. (Depression, touted as a treatable disease, is often dismissed as not serious or as a pity party. Treatable does not mean curable and many people, including me, battle depression on a daily basis with the help of medication, a therapist, and the support of friends, families, and colleagues.)

When I first started this blog, I was in the midst of a major depressive episode. I felt like I had hit rock bottom. I had been kicked out of an internship program in California and had to have treatment for my depression, I was back home in an the home of my emotionally abusive mother, and I was trying to help get my grandmother into a nursing home while my mother throw hissy fits like a toddler on a daily basis. And God-don’t get me started on God-I wasn’t sure what I believed and after being betrayed by a “progressive church” I was not a fan of Christianity at the moment.  Suicidal thoughts were a daily plague. It felt as if depression had infected the core of my physical and spiritual body. I was looking for something-any little thing to hold onto.  I was lucky that a friend introduced me to the daft old man traveling through space and time in a blue box. Of course, the show isn’t a cure for depression nor did it change my circumstances, but it provided me with relief from suicidal thoughts for just a few hours every day. And then of course, I saw the episode, “Vincent and the Doctor,” and was moved to tears. Here was an episode that viewed mental illness through a compassionate lens and didn’t end with the cheery note that everything will be ok. As we know, through personal experiences, and now through the death of Robin Williams, sometimes things do not turn out ok. Sometimes the darkness is just too overpowering, especially when mental illness is stigmatized and adequate treatment is not available.  But even when someone does have access to the best medical treatment available sometimes depression can become so debilitating that death is viewed as the only option.

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Even though I am in a much better place than I was a year ago, depression is still a daily battle.  Getting adequate medical treatment, having friends and professors that care and support me, and re-evaluating my theological notions about God (letting go of the manipulative, domineering God of my childhood) has helped, but I would be lying if I said depression still isn’t a struggle. I would be lying if I said that there aren’t days when I look out at this dark world filled with hatred, violence, genocide, and poverty and wonder if it is worth it. Is life in general worth it,  does my life in particular make a difference in a world filled with hurting people?  The answer I hold onto, especially during the days and nights I feel shattered is-yes. Somehow life, in the end does matter. Somehow my life, as a small insignificant individual does matter. It is that yes, which sometimes comes out as nothing more than a whisper that keeps me going. Depression means that I have to say yes to life on a daily basis. And I know the temptation to say no is strong.

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If you struggle with depression or any other mental illness, I pray that you are receiving help and are able to say yes to life on a daily basis or even on a minute by minute basis. For those, like Robin Williams who lost their battle yet fought so valiantly, their lives and their deaths matter. They aren’t selfish cowards who couldn’t hack life, but wounded people who fought with all their strengths, but some wars can’t be won.

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Short Film Review: Doctor Who: Celebrating 50 Years of Fandom

The 50th anniversary of Doctor Who was a celebratory event-fans throughout the world eagerly waited in anticipation for the 50th anniversary special, a slew of books, posters, and various other merchandise flooded the fanbase, and conventions throughout the world-both official and “unofficial” provided an avenue for fans to show their love for their favorite time lord. In all of the major celebrations and the deluge of official merchandise, it was easy to overlook some of the smaller yet still noteworthy celebrations of the show. One such gem is, the kickstarter funded project: Doctor Who: Celebrating 50 years of Fandom.

This short 42 minute film features numerous fans of the show including writer Robert Shearman who wrote the critically acclaimed and much loved episode, “Dalek” which reintroduced the Doctor’s old foe to the revived serious, and actress Louise Jameson who played Leela. And of course, “normal” fans were interviewed as well. John Paul Green, film lecturer at the University of Sunderland, (and extra in the episode, “Rise of the Cybermen”) explicates how the show influenced his career path. As a child/young teenager, he picked up the 1984 book, “Doctor Who: The Unfolding text” by John Tulloch and Manuel Alvarado, simply because the cover art featured a TARDIS. But he quickly realized that this was an in-depth, academic study on Doctor who and although he didn’t understand everything he read, he found the book fascinating. It was the first time he realized that he could go beyond just watching Doctor who and deeply examine the show. He describes the book as his entry point into, “the world of academia.” He goes on to explicate, “…Doctor who kind of put me on a particular path. And I think doctor who fans themselves are quite academic in their approach to the program because they want to learn so much about the program, they research…I honestly think if it wasn’t for Doctor Who, I wouldn’t have done a media degree, and I wouldn’t have lectured in media all those years later. “

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Lecturer John Green as an extra in, Rise of the Cybermen

Lecturer John Green wasn’t the only one whose future career path was influenced by Doctor Who. Animator/student Robert Ritchie attributes his love of working in media production, animation, and special effects to the show as does Michelle Osorio, youtuber/film maker. Writer Robert Shearman, who lived every fan’s dream and wrote for the series discusses his love of the show and of attending conventions and meeting others who were as passionate about the show. He details how his involvement in the fandom community impacted his future career: “I know full well that the reason I became a writer in part was because meeting with other people who had a similar appreciation encouraged me to want to write something. So I was the writer who bought back the Daleks.”

But what is it about Doctor Who that inspires such a passionate response from its fanbase? I know that many of my friends and some of my professors attribute my excitement for the show to my obsessive personality. I am the type of person that, for example, if I love a particular sandwich, will eat that sandwich once a day for weeks or months. When I like something, I really like something. But personal quirks aside, Doctor Who has managed to attract an ardent audience, in fact it was through its zealous fanbase that the show was kept alive through novels, audiobooks, and comicbooks after it went off the air in the late 80s, and it was that fanbase that led to the show’s revival.

For me, the show came into my life during a particularly rough time. I was struggling with a failed internship, severe episodes of depression, and being back in an abusive home environment. It was truly a low point in my life and then one day a friend introduced me to the Doctor and I was hooked. Sure some of the special effects during the ninth doctor’s era was a bit cheesy, but I found myself falling in love with a show that was a bit silly and yet managed to explore some serious themes about politics, religion, and depression. The show provided me with an outlet of escape from a reality that was all too painful, but yet the show still managed to keep my mind engaged. Doctor Who has enough depth to it that one can use the show to examine and tackle the major themes of theology, death, and sorrow, and guilt. Even now as I face a situation that I am absolutely dreading, I am making sure I have enough Doctor Who books or audiobooks to get me through what might be a tough two weeks.

To be fair, there are plenty of shows with a rabid following. Project Runway last year had an episode dedicated to their super fans. Yet for many shows, the impact of the show is only felt as long as the show is on the air. And as mind numbingly entertaining as reality tv shows may be- let’s be honest, they rarely make a meaningful impact on the lives of the audience. Yet Doctor Who has inspired a generation of writers and film makers; parents and grandparents are sitting down with their children to watch a show that first aired during their youth. There are numerous academic books studying the show from a variety of disciplines: racial studies, queer studies, feminist studies, film studies, theology, etc. The show has managed to strike a chord amongst its viewers, and this short film, Celebrating 50 years of Fandom is a fun exploratory glance into the lives of some fans who have been impacted by the story of a daft old man traveling the universe in his blue box. For those who don’t watch the show or who are casual viewers, this intense passion for the show is puzzling (though intense devotion to a sport is viewed as more socially acceptable). Fans often have to find a way to succinctly answer, “why do you like Doctor Who so much” to people who just see a silly show, with sometimes cheesy effects and story lines.

I think Louise Jameson sums up the Doctor Who fandom and it’s fascination with the show perfectly: “I think Doctor who fans are different because they’ve been attracted to something they can identify with and because…the Doctor is very much an outsider. He is outside of his community…He’s a rebel, he’s an adventurer. He’s the good old fashioned story of good winning over evil. These stories are as old as the world…The doctor comes down hard on bullies, comes down hard on people who think that simply because somebody is different, they’re not to be included. He’s completely inclusive in his morality. And I think sometimes Doctor who fans have suffered-we all have at some stages suffered-from feeling like an outsider. And I think what Doctor Who does is put a huge hug around that fandom-going, ‘nope, you’re not. You’re not different.”

Rating: 4 stars. Price: reasonable available: dvd and download (I’m not sure if the DVD comes in american region one format, but I bought it and downloaded it(.

In other news, I have created a public fb profile if anyone wants to add me there: https://www.facebook.com/whovian.theology

Day of the Doctor Part 2: We’ve Got Enough Warriors

The three Doctors are posed ready to detonate the moment and destroy both the Daleks and the Time Lords, including 2.47 billion children. Hands pressed on the weapon’s button, the Doctor gives a stirring speech:

DOCTOR 10: What we do today is not out of fear or hatred. It is done because there is no other way.
DOCTOR: And it is done in the name of the many live we are failing to save.

Yet before they could press the button, the Eleventh Doctor looks back at Clara, who shakes her head while lightly crying.

DOCTOR: What? What is it? What?

CLARA: Nothing.

DOCTOR: No, it’s something. Tell me.

CLARA: You told me you wiped out your own people. I just. I never pictured you doing it, that’s all

The Doctor’s companions are often described as the audience member’s physical representation in the Doctor’s world. The companion sometimes becomes our voice, inquiring about weird creatures or planets that have us baffled and on occasion the companion takes our place as the Doctor’s moral compass, reminding him of who he is and of how we view him.

Just like Clara, we as audience members knew about the Time War. Ever since the show came back the Doctor has made numerous references to his actions in the Time War, yet because the war was described has happening in the distant past, it did not seem to be a productive use of our time to obsessing about what occurred and the details of the Doctor’s actions. What mattered was journeying with the Doctor to new planets and repeatedly rescuing earth from different alien threats. It was hard to picture our Doctor fighting in the Time War and committing a double genocide. Even with the introduction of the War Doctor, we were still left wondering, “who is this guy? He is definitely not the Doctor we have grown to love throughout his various incarnations.” In fact, at least in the beginning the introduction of the War Doctor made the events in the Time War seem even more alien and distant. This Warrior Doctor is not our Doctor and in many ways it seems easier to imagine this stranger destroying Gallery rather than the incarnations we journeyed with throughout the past few years. We know intellectually that they are of course, the same person, yet many audience members become enamored with a certain incarnation and it becomes a bit hard to picture our Doctor killing 2.47 billion children and countless of adults.

Yet in this episode, the Time War isn’t a past event, at least not for the audience or the War Doctor. As audience member we know that this is an event to happen in the future and as a result it the war could end on a different note-at least we hope But at that moment when all three Doctors stand posed ready to press the button the audience is seeing two of their Doctors getting ready to kill billions of people. It is not a strange incarnation of the Doctor we see getting ready to end the time war, but also two of our Doctors and like Clara we are left confused. Not our Doctor. To be fair, in the Fires of Pompeii we see the Tenth Doctor and Donna  forced to destroy Pompeii and kill thousands of people including children-yet even then we see Donna convince the Doctor to save the life of one family. That might not mean much when thousands died, yet it still was a flicker of hope in an otherwise dark event. Yet in that episode our characters mainly come into contact with one family and while we see the panic of the people and we get glimpses of children, much of the action’s focus is on the events surrounding the alien creatures and this one family. But as I mentioned in part one, in The Day of the Doctor-Moffat repeatedly reminds us of the high stakes involved in the Time War.

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The Doctor points out that there is no other option. Either the Doctor destroys Gallifrey and saves the rest of the universe or he sits passively by and watch as the universe gets destroyed. Instinctively, we understand the Doctor’s dilemma. In fact, outside of this specific context, doesn’t that line of thinking sound familiar? Isn’t war (and violence in general) often posited as the last and only resort- if we don’t engage in this specific war then something even worse will happen. In some cases that has a basis in fact-while I personally lean towards nonviolence, I am not a pacifist and I believe that sometimes war is necessary. Yet In a world that has been saturated in violence and warfare for centuries it becomes difficult to imagine any alternative. Anything less than engaging in war and violence is viewed as ineffective and as an example of passivity and such a mindset means that war and violence has almost become the default reaction to complicated situations. How can war be the last resort when it is often considered the only valid option? Those who advocate for a more measured understanding of violence are often derided as naive optimists. If violence is encoded into our DNA, how can we expect anything other than violence to bring about change?

Yet, watching the Doctor-especially two of our beloved incarnations posed and ready to kill billions does not sit well with many audience members. We understand the circumstances yet we yearn for a different ending, we wait expectedly knowing that the Doctor will figure something out. Nevertheless, the Doctor seems to have forgotten who he is. There is no other options all three incarnations believe, yet Clara, instinctively rejects that assertion.

CLARA: Look at you. The three of you. The warrior, the hero, and you.
DOCTOR: And what am I?
CLARA: Have you really forgotten?
DOCTOR: Yes. Maybe, yes.
CLARA: We’ve got enough warriors. Any old idiot can be a hero.
DOCTOR: Then what do I do?

In order for the Doctor to even imagine an alternative he needs to be reminded of who he is-of how his companions and by extensions the audience sees him. We don’t merely see him as a warrior or a hero, we see him as something more. For most of Nuwho, the Doctor has often derided himself as a mass murder. He has told himself that narrative over and over again to the point that when he is given an opportunity to change history and to provide an alternative to destroying Gallifrey, he narrowly misses taking advantage of said opportunity.

In our world, it is easy to simply discard humanity as hopelessly violent. History certainly backs up that assertion, yet is that really all we are? Is humanity doomed to simply keep repeating the mantra of violence and warfare? Even if one does not believe that violence and warfare will ever be eradicated, is it possible for humanity to work towards minimizing their use? I’m not sure, but if there is any possibility of making changes-even small ones, people individually and collectively need to work towards embodying a different narrative.

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When Clara reminds the Doctor of who he is, he is suddenly re-animated. No longer is the narrative one of inevitability but instead it is one of hope. The idea is completely crazy and might not work, yet it is so much better than the alternative. But in order for the Doctor to have the courage to even try out that idea he needs to be reminded of who he was and he needs to change the narrative he has been telling himself for centuries.

Likewise, we as individuals and as a species have difficult decisions to make. Who are we? Who do we want to be? Of course we can’t ignore reality: humanity can be extremely violent and occasionally violence is necessary for survival, but do we want that to be our defining characteristic? Clara gave the Doctor a new narrative to embrace and we need to do the same. As a Christian, my narrative will of course evoke God and Jesus, but I personally acknowledge the validity of other life-affirming narratives from atheists and those from differing religious traditions.

But for me, I find the notion of viewing ourselves individually and collectively as childhood of God to be helpful. Yes we are violent, yes we do horrible and vicious things, but yet at the same time we are so much more than that. Jesus demonstrated an alternative way of living that sees the value of each and every individual and he strove to live a life that was in stark contrast to the status quo. Jesus rejected the notion of certain people being somehow less than others-an idea that is prevalent in all societies in some form. He even issues a challenge to theological constructs that often divides people into two groups: worthy and unworthy. When he healed the sick, he did not reduce them to their illness but he treated them as human beings. He showed compassion for others and encouraged others to do the same. When the Pharisees asked him what they should do with an adulterous woman they had brought before him, he forced them to change their narrative: instead of focusing on her sin, he encouraged them to think about their own and if anyone could claim that he was sinless then they could stone her. To the adulteress woman he pointedly says he does not condemn her and he tells her not to sin anymore. But in order for her to do that, she would need to tell herself a new narrative, one that broke with the narrative of the culture which portrayed her as a horrible woman deserving of death.

What if we had the courage to remind ourselves and others how valuable and precious we are? What if, while acknowledging that violence is a part of life, we insist that it does not need to have the last word? What if we allow ourselves the opportunity to imagine a different world? What if we had the audacity to hope that perhaps our crazy visions of a better world are worth investing in, even if they don’t succeed?

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At one point will we as a species say enough is enough? Unlike in The Day of the Doctor, we don’t get any do-overs. Let’s re-frame our understanding of ourselves (both as individuals and as a larger species) and imagine a better way of living.

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

3. The Rings of Akhaten

2. The Name of the Doctor

1A.  The Day of the Doctor Prt. 1

1. The Day of the Doctor: These are the people you’re going to burn?

I’m sure it doesn’t come as a surprise to anyone that The Day of the Doctor is my favorite episode from the Matt Smith era. Frankly, this episode is my favorite episode of Nuwho thus far. For me, The Day of the Doctor typifies the very best of Doctor: it has genuinely funny bits, it has a weird looking alien that I’m sure children will try to imitate and because it is the 50th anniversary special it has a bunch of little Easter eggs that hark back to the earlier era of Doctor Who. It is no wonder that this episode has been described as “a love letter to fans.” However, the episode also deals with a pretty dark chapter in the Doctor’s life, the day he committed double genocide and killed not only the Daleks but also annihilated his own planet.

Since the show came back the Doctor’s role in ending the Time War has always been in the background. As viewers we knew that he performed such an action, and in some episodes we can see how his role in the war has shaped him, noticeably through his anger and self-hatred, but at the same time, it has never been the central aspect of his character or the focal point of an episode. As a result, as audience members we consciously and intellectually knew that the Doctor killed the Daleks and destroyed Gallifrey but we didn’t need to fully imagine what it meant for our hero and beloved character to kill billions of people. But in this episode Moffat has no qualms about forcing us to confront the full gravity of the situation as well as the impossible choice the Doctor had to make: kill billions of his own people, including children, or allow the whole universe to be destroyed.

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I know that while watching this scene, my chest tightened up a bit at the mention of children. In every other episode, when the Time War was discussed, it was talked about in such an abstract way that it was easy to forget that the Doctor killed people. Yet in this episode, Moffat bluntly points out that the people the Doctor killed aren’t just faceless beings, but they are actually living beings. They are children. Even if you are like me and you don’t have children, I’m sure we can all think of kids who have touched our hearts. Kids whose lives have brought us so much joy, happiness, and silliness. Kids whose presence we couldn’t imagine not being around. Then imagine them cruelly snatched away, even if for a “good” reason. Even if the action that took them away was necessary for the greater good of humanity the pain would be unbearable.

The thing about war is that it is almost always presented as necessary and actions, even those that decimate the environment and kill thousands, millions, (or in the Doctor’s case, billions) are always justified as stating that such action needed to be taken in order to prevent an even greater loss of life. But even so, rarely do citizens, (especially those not having to directly fight in or experience war) think about what such actions truly mean. What does it mean to bomb a city or a town? What does it mean to say that hundreds of thousands of people are dead? Who are these people? Not all of them are enemies, in fact most are probably just citizens who are caught in the cross-hairs of a battle they never asked for. In war, many of those who die are in fact children.

Yet it’s easier to not think about that, especially if we can pretend that war is an unpleasant reality that happens somewhere else. It is easy to view war in real life, the same way we view the fictional Time War when the Doctor would discusses it during the earlier seasons: as an abstract concept that was necessary and should be quickly forgotten.

But despite all the funny gags between the three doctors, Moffat brings us back again and again to the children:

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As most of the readers of my blog know I am in seminary. But what I haven’t discussed is the subject matter that I have spent years researching:  the consequences of war, especially on those called to wage war. War leaves a devastating impact on those whom a nation calls to perform acts that the average citizenry would never in a million years imagine doing. War not only impacts one physically or mentally but spiritually. In regards to the consequences of war, most people have heard of PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) but not as many people have heard of moral injury. Moral injury is defined as, “Perpetrating, failing to prevent, bearing witness to, or learning about acts that deeply transgress deeply held moral beliefs and expectations.”  In their book, Soul Repair Dr. Gabriella Lettini and Dr. Rita Nakashima Brock Brock explain, “Moral Injury is the result of reflection on memories of war or other extreme traumatic conditions. It comes from having transgressed one’s basic moral identity and violated core moral beliefs.”

It is important to note that moral injury does not just occur when someone witnesses or actively does something that society would consider to be “wrong” (a term that is relatively useless in a war zone) but it can result from actions that are necessary in order to save lives. Moral injury impacts one’s view of the world and also one’s understanding of who they are. Those experiencing moral injury often wonder: “Who am I, in light of what I have witnessed/done? Can I reconcile the person I was before experiencing moral injury, with the person I am now?”

We can see how the Doctor’s action to end the Time War has impacted him to the core. He hates himself, he repeatedly defines himself in terms of what he did and didn’t do during the  war and multiple times he has wondered if the universe would be better off without him. In the midst of the light-hearted series, we are given glimpses into the Doctor’s troubled soul. And the fact that the Doctor did what needed to be done, does not ease his pain or guilt. Every relationship is impacted by his actions in the time war-he finds it hard to confide in people, to let them know who he really is and what he has done, he views himself as a danger to others and therefore tries to prevent himself from getting close to people. It is clear that the Time War is an event he would like to forget.

Yet no matter how hard the Doctor has tried to forget, he can’t. The Time War lingers on in his mind and heart. The Doctor knew he didn’t have any other choice. It was Gallifrey or the universe. He chose the universe. Yet he still needs to deal with the consequences of his action:

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I’ve mentioned this before but what I love about Doctor Who is that if you just want to watch a fun, silly romp around the universe as a form of entertainment, this show is for you. If you want to think more deeply about difficult notions such as love, loss, death, and war, this show is also for you. In The Day of the Doctor, both the audience and the Doctor are forced to confront head on what it means to have the lives of billions of people in one’s hands. What must it feel like to have to make a decision to kill some people in order to save an untold number of others? Especially when it seems as if there is no other way. “No other way.” Isn’t that how war is often described? I’m not asking to get into a debate about the ethics of war nor am I interested in arguing about pacifism or just war theory, what I am interested in is pointing out how we as a society and a species often limit our imagination and are unable to envision new possibilities. At one point the Doctor believed that he had no other choice. He had to kill billions of people or the entire universe would be annihilated. And the Doctor’s action in destroying Gallifrey was not “wrong” or “evil,” The Doctor needed to do what was best to prevent the time war from enveloping the universe. It was the lives of a certain number of time lords in exchange for the lives of all those across the universe… and so often in the real world, the options are just as stark. But what happens when we can imagine new possibilities?

Part two next week!

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

3. The Rings of Akhaten

2. The Name of the Doctor

Running Away

I promise, next week I will eventually finish my countdown of my favorite episodes from Matt Smith’s era.

On the surface, running away seems to be a sure fire way to protect oneself from getting hurt, and occasionally it can be fun. Amy Pond ran away with her raggedy man the night before her wedding and even after she got married, in many ways she was very much the young little girl that the Doctor originally left behind. Rose ran away with the Doctor to get away from her boring repetitive life, even though it meant leaving behind her then boyfriend Mickey and her mother. Martha put her life on hold, not just for the chance to travel through time and space but also in hopes of getting the Doctor would notice her and care about her. Donna, quickly realizes she made a mistake when she turned down the Doctor’s offer of traveling with him. And of course the Doctor is known for running away-from his past in the Time War and from his past relationships. In Journey’s End, Davros characterizes the Doctor as “The man who keeps running, never looking back because he dare not, out of shame.” And of course we see his shame-over the Time War, over the many deaths throughout his travels that he could not stop or that because directly or indirectly. Shame can be a powerful impetus for running away.

Yet mixed in with the Doctor’s sense of shame is also a large measure of fear, especially in relation to his companions: he knows that eventually they will die or they will leave, and as a result he fears getting close to them. In fact once they leave, or he leaves them, he rarely mentions them again:
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In a tv show, it is vital that the main character retain a sense of mystery. When the title of the finale of season 7 part two was released, The Name of the Doctor, fans were freaking out because they felt as if knowing the Doctor’s true name would essentially ruin the show. As an audience we want to get to know our beloved characters-but we do not want to know everything about them. A character that remains a bit closed off and that tends to run away from close relationships-at least initially, is a fascinating character watch develop. Yet even in the fictional world, running away never lasts forever. Even the Doctor needs to stop running even briefly. For example, every time he says goodbye to a companion he is forced to stop running.

However, while on a TV show it is  entertaining to watch a character run away from his past or his fears only to be confronted by them later on-in real life the results are much more painful and the obstacles that force us to stop running are not the type that can be solved within an hour or within a season. They often leave scars. Today I realized that an acquaintance I knew died from cancer. I didn’t really think I would be impacted by this person’s death. Why? Because I made sure that this person was just an acquaintance. In fact, like a coward I ran away. I avoided any discussion about this person and I avoided going to the place where I knew he might show up or at the very least where his name would be mentioned. I avoided getting to know him and his family even because I didn’t want to get involved. To be quite frank I was incredibly selfish-I didn’t want to get to know someone only to be forced to say goodbye to him in a few months. I didn’t want to be privy to the anguish that his family would be experiencing as they attempted to make sense of a tragedy that should not befall anyone-but especially a family as kind and caring as this one. I was only thinking about myself and I realized I didn’t’ want to get hurt so I ran away and graduate school became the perfect excuse to hide away.

During the past few days I read the emails about his deteriorating situation and the pain of his family and friends but I managed to compartmentalize said emails into a little corner in my mind and keep on running. However, no matter how much you try to outdistance death it always catches up. He died yesterday and I am left feeling incredible sadness for his friends and family, and also an overwhelming amount of guilt over a missed opportunity. I thought that keeping him and his family at arm’s length would protect me but instead I robbed myself of the chance to be of some use to those who were hurting and to get to know a wonderful person. I didn’t want to say goodbye so instead I shut myself off and continued on my own selfish little path. And the fact is, that this is not an isolated case. Distancing myself from others has become a way of life. In fact it’s the only way I know how to live. Am I really protecting myself by running away or am I wasting my life reacting out of fear? Running away is supposed to offer protection against loss but instead it causes it.

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5 Doctor Who Quotes To Live By

I haven’t forgotten that I still need to write about my top two favorite episodes from Matt Smith’s era. I will finish the countdown sometime after I finish my last final on May 8. For this week’s entry I will be discussing five of my favorite Doctor Who quotes.

5. The way I see it, every life is a pile of good things and bad things. The good things don’t always soften the bad things, but vice versa, the bad things don’t always spoil the good things and make them unimportant. And we definitely added to his pile of good things. And, if you look carefully, maybe we did indeed make a couple of little changes.  

— The Doctor,  Vincent and the Doctor.

At the end of Vincent and the Doctor Amy is devastated. She had been so sure that by showing Vincent how valued his art is to future generations that he wouldn’t comment suicide. But Vincent’s illness is much more powerful and a trip in the TARDIS cannot heal his mind. Amy believes that because they couldn’t prevent Vincent from ending his life that they didn’t really accomplish much. But the Doctor points out that’s not necessarily true, they couldn’t stop Vincent from killing himself but that does not mean that their time with him was in vain.

Life is messy and extremely painful. There are issues that as individuals are beyond our capability to understand let alone solve. As a result it is easy to feel a sense of despair. I know that I do. How am I supposed to react to the news that over 200 girls in Nigeria have been kidnapped and chances are they are being raped and tortured? How am I supposed to respond to the widespread poverty throughout the world and the United States? Yes there are things we can do-we can be socially and politically engaged, we can work to try and change the way governments view the poor and the oppressed, but at times oppression seems so widespread that I think, “well if we eradicate or minimize one form of injustice another form will quickly rise up and take its place. And if that’s the case what’s the use in trying to make the world a better place?”

In seminary we keep coming back to the problem of pain and suffering. How are we supposed to react in the face of unbearable pain and suffering? Is there any hope of things getting better? It’s hard not to resort to theological platitudes such as, “God is in control” or “everything happens for a reason.” Excuse me if I find those responses to be inadequate in the face of large scale atrocities. It becomes so easy to focus on large scale issues that we miss the little things that we and other people are doing to try and change things. Things that might be small, but which are significant. I can’t always focus on large scale issues-not unless I want to be paralyzed by depression. But I can try to find a few issues that I resonate with and try to make some changes there. I am passionate about encouraging Christians to focus on social justice issues, I am passionate about shedding light on dangerous theologies that exclude and oppress and providing alternative theological ideas that encourage inclusivity and compassion, I am passionate about studying moral injury and how war effects veterans. I can’t change the world and I won’t end war, but I can try and make small changes. I can try to add to someone else’s pile of good things.

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4. DOCTOR:  You okay?

RORY: No. I watched her die. I shouldn’t let it get to me, but it still does. I’m a nurse.

DOCTOR: Letting it get to you. You know what that’s called? Being alive. Best thing there is. Being alive right now is all that counts.” The Doctor, The Doctor’s Wife

We live in a culture where strength and independence is highly valued. We don’t want to hear stories of poverty, oppression, or injustice we want to hear stories of people who through their own merits were able to overcome tragedy. We might even view ourselves as an example of someone who single handedly overcame a life of pain and suffering. So when we hear the stories of other people who are struggling, we often say, “oh they are just complaining.” Or “they just need to work harder.” In fact, dismissing the stories of other people is often easier than feeling a sense of compassion. Why? Because if we acknowledge that perhaps there are some situations where individual strength is not good enough, if we take the time to listen to the stories of individuals without judging them or dismissing them we might start to care too much. Caring is scary and painful, especially when we realize how many people are suffering and in pain. Instead it is easier to shut ourselves down emotionally. It is easier to dismiss others as inadequate instead of contemplating the idea that perhaps there are some unjust situations in the world. And to be fair, as I’ve mentioned before, the sheer weight of all the pain and suffering in the world can be overwhelming and paralyzing, yet what does it mean if we shut ourselves off from trying to understand the pain of others? Or if we try to maintain a stoic façade and pretend that nothing gets to us? What kind of life is that? In The Doctor’s Wife, Rory is surprised that he took Idris death so hard, after all he is a nurse and has seen people die before and as a companion of the Doctor he has definitely been exposed to the death more times than he cares to think about, why should he care about another death? But does he ever really want to get to a place where the death of another becomes so common place that he becomes desensitized? What type of person would that make him? What type of life would that be? Of course we don’t want to let every little thing wound us or cause us pain, but sometimes we need to take a risk and care. Caring is frightening and risky. But what’s the alternative?

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3.When you’re a kid, they tell you it’s all… Grow up, get a job, get married, get a house, have a kid, and that’s it. But the truth is, the world is so much stranger than that. It’s so much darker. And so much madder. And so much better.

— Elton Pope,  Love and Monsters

Obviously this quote shouldn’t be taken as a wide scale condemnation on marriage and having kids. But often times our vision of what makes life meaningful is extremely small. Often success is defined in narrow terms and anyone who does not fit into society’s definition of success is rejected or classified as a failure. But what if there is more to life than just material wealth? What if there is more to life than upholding the status quo? What makes a life meaningful? For every person the answer to that question will differ-some find meaning in their families, others in their work. There are people whose life revolves around a variety of political or social causes and others view faith as paramount, and of course there are those who balance a variety of tasks and roles that are all extremely important to them. But how many of us just settle for what is expected of us? How many of us reduce our life’s meaning to the tangible material things that are easy to quantify (how much money do we make and how does it compare to our peers? How prestigious is this school over the other one?

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2. MOMENT: You know the sound the TARDIS makes? That wheezing, groaning. That sound brings hope wherever it goes.

WARRIOR: Yes. Yes, I like to think it does.

MOMENT: To anyone who hears it, Doctor. Anyone, however lost. Even you.

The Day of the Doctor

Some people confuse hope with naïve optimism which often dismisses pain and anguish as unimportant. Blind optimism refuses to engage in the messiness of life and instead wants to wrap everything up in a nice neat little bow. Hope is much more difficult because it requires getting involved in difficult situations. Blind optimism sits back and says, things will get better. Hope says, “I am going to try and make a change and even though my efforts seem small, even though it seems as if history keeps on repeating itself, I am going to keep moving forward.” Hope says just because violence and war have been the norm since life began does not mean I am going to stop seeking alternatives. Hope says that just because poverty and hunger are worldwide issues I cannot solve by myself that does not mean I am just going to give up.  Hope says I will seek a new way even when it seems that there is only one option.

In The Day of the Doctor we see the various incarnations of the Doctor struggle with the magnitude of ending the Time War. Everything else had been tried to end the war and it seemed as if the only option left is to destroy Gallifrey and kill everyone on it-including 2.47 billion children. It seemed as if in order to prevent the collapse of the universe the Doctor would need to end violence with the ultimate act of violence. Hope seeks another way when it seems as if there is only one terrible option. In the Time War hope is in short supply. But in the Day of the Doctor, hope wins out.

But in the real world things are not so neatly resolve in two hours. In the real world, difficult decisions are made and there is no opportunity to go back in time and change history. In the real world, difficult decisions have painful consequences and there is no going back. In the real world you don’t always have time to seek a better way. In those situations where is hope? Hope acknowledges the devastation. Hope embraces the truth no matter how awful, but hope says, I will never stop seeking a better way. Things did not work out in this situation, but I will continue searching for an alternative to violence. I will continue trying to ensure that no one else has to go through what I did-or what this nation went through. Hope says that even if this happens again and again, I will stand with the victims and keep working towards healing.

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1. We all change, when you think about it. We’re all different people all through our lives. And that’s okay, that’s good, you’ve got to keep moving, so long as you remember all the people that you used to be. I will not forget one line of this. Not one day. I swear. I will always remember when the Doctor was me.

-The Time of the Doctor

There are major life changes that can cause anxiety, sadness, happiness or a mixture of a variety of feelings. But change isn’t just confined to major events such as marriage, graduation, moving, etc. Individuals change, for better or for worse. If we didn’t change, if we stayed static we wouldn’t truly be living, we would merely be existing. But when we change or someone we love changes-even if it’s for the better, it still involves a measure of loss and sadness. A child becomes an adult. Parents love their adult children and are hopefully proud of the person that he or she has become, but the relationship has changed. Their child has changed.

My biggest personal transformation occurred when I left my Pentecostal upbringing. It wasn’t an easy or instantaneous change-when I realized that my fundamental beliefs did not align with the church I spent my teens in-I was devastated and I felt loss. Pentecostalism has a specific worldview and when I gave that up, I gave up a part of myself. But I couldn’t deny the fact that I had changed. I was no longer the 12 year old girl that found the theology of the Pentecostal church to be comforting. I was becoming a different person and that meant that I had to say goodbye to a congregation that meant so much to me. Of course when I left at 17 I didn’t leave in the best possible way-I simply stopped going. No chance for a goodbye or closure. But nonetheless, my years in that church were extremely formative. I often find myself missing certain aspects and seminary is reinforcing how much I miss the culture of Pentecostalism (though not it’s theology). But change sometimes mean saying goodbye.

The Doctor always changes. In fact regeneration has enabled the show to continue on and off since 1963. Regeneration enables an actor to pursue other opportunities with the knowledge that the show will most likely continue even though he has left. But despite change being in the shows DNA, it still hurts to say goodbye to an incarnation of the Doctor.  One can look forward to brand new adventures while still mourning the fact that a chapter has ended. In The Time of the Doctor Matt Smith’s Doctor admits that change is extremely important-as individuals we all change though not as dramatically as the Doctor. Our 25 year old self is not the same as our 13 year old self, but we hopefully remember snapshots of who we were when we were younger-we hopefully hold onto the relationships we formed, the lessons we learned. Goodbye does not mean forgetting it just means letting go and embracing something new.

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