Reflection: There’s no such thing as a solitary hero

On Sunday, June 30, the Third Annual Service of the Church of Latter Day Geeks was held at Williamstown Uniting Church – Electra St. These were the readings, and this was the ‘sermon’.

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After the service: two Uniting Church ministers and a queen of Narnia

A reading from the seventh book of Harry Potter, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, from the chapter ‘The Battle of Hogwarts’.

‘We have already placed protection around the castle,’ Professor McGonagall was saying, ‘but it is unlikely to hold for very long unless we reinforce it. I must ask you, therefor e, to move quickly and calmly, and do as your prefects – ‘

But her final words were drowned as a different voice echoed throughout the Hall. It was high, cold and clear: there was no telling from where it came; seemed to issue from the walls themselves. Like the monster it had once commanded, it might have lain dormant there for centuries.

‘I know that you are preparing to fight.’ There were screams amongst the students, some of whom clutched each other, looking around in terror for the source of the sound. ‘Your efforts are futile. You cannot fight me. I do not want to kill you. I have great respect for the teachers of Hogwarts. I do not want to spill magical blood.’

There was silence in the Hall now, the kind of silence that presses against the eardrums, that seems too huge to be contained by walls.

‘Give me Harry Potter,’ said Voldemort’s voice, and none shall be harmed. Give me Harry Potter, and I shall leave the school untouched. Give me Harry Potter, and you will be rewarded.

‘You have until midnight.’

The silence swallowed them all again. Every head turned, every eye in the place seemed to have found Harry, to hold him frozen in the glare of thousands of invisible beams.  Then a figure rose from the Slytherin table and he recognised Pansy Parkinson as she raised a shaking arm and screamed, ‘But he’s there! Potter’s there! Someone grab him! ‘

Before Harry could speak, there was a massive movement.  The Gryffindors in front of him had risen and stood facing, not Harry, but the Slytherins. Then the Hufflepuffs stood, and, almost at the same moment, the Ravenclaws, all of them with their backs to Harry, all of them looking towards Pansy instead, and Harry, awestruck and overwhelmed, saw wands emerging everywhere, pulled from beneath cloaks and from under sleeves.

‘Thank you, Miss Parkinson,’ said Professor McGonagall in a clipped voice. ‘You will leave the Hall first with Mr. Filch. If the rest of your house could follow.’

This is a story of community.
We will live as the community of Christ.

 

A reading from the second book of The Lord of the Rings, from the chapter ‘The Ring Goes South’.

Elrond summoned the hobbits to him. He looked gravely at Frodo. ‘The time has come,’ he said. ‘If the Ring is to set out, it must go soon. But those who go with it must not count on their errand being aided by war or force. They must pass into the domain of the Enemy far from aid. Do you still hold to your word, Frodo, that you will be the Ring-bearer?’

‘I do,’ said Frodo. ‘I will go with Sam.’

‘Then I cannot help you much, not even with counsel,’ said Elrond. ‘I can foresee very little of your road; and how your task is to be achieved I do not know. The Shadow has crept now to the feet of the Mountains, and draws nigh even to the borders of the Greyflood; and under the Shadow all is dark to me. You will meet many foes, some open, and some disguised; and you may find friends upon your way when you least look for it. I will send out messages, such as I can contrive, to those whom I know in the wide world; but so perilous are the lands now become that some may well miscarry, or come no quicker than you yourself .

‘And I will choose you companions to go with you, as far as they will or fortune allows. The number must be few, since your hope is in speed and secrecy. Had I a host of Elves in armour of the Elder Days, it would avail little, save to arouse the power of Mordor.

‘The Company of the Ring shall be Nine; and the Nine Walkers shall be set against the Nine Riders that are evil. With you and your faithful servant, Gandalf will go; for this shall be his great task, and maybe end of his labours.

‘For the rest, they shall represent the other Free Peoples of the World: Elves, Dwarves, and Men. Legolas shall be for the Elves; and Gimli son of Gloin for the Dwarves. They are willing to go at least to the passes of the Mountains, and maybe beyond. For men you shall have Aragorn son of Arathorn, for the Ring of Isildur concerns him closely.’

‘Strider!’ cried Frodo.

‘Yes,’ he said with a smile. ‘I ask leave once again to be your companion, Frodo.’

‘I would have begged you to come,’ said Frodo, ‘only I thought you were going to Minas Tirith with Boromir.’

‘I am,’ said Aragorn. ‘And the Sword-that-was-Broken shall be re-forged ere I set out to war. But your road and our road lie together for many hundreds of miles. Therefore Boromir will also be in the Company. He is a valiant man.’

‘There remain two more to be found,’ said Elrond. ‘These I will consider. Of my household I may find some that it seems good to me to send.’                ·

‘But that will leave no place for us!’ cried Pippin in dismay. ‘We don’t want to be left behind. We want to go with Frodo.’

‘That is because you do not understand and cannot imagine what lies ahead,’ said Elrond.

‘Neither does Frodo,’ said Gandalf, unexpectedly   supporting Pippin. ‘Nor do any of us see clearly. It is true that if these hobbits understood the danger, they would not dare to go. But they would still wish to go, or wish that they dared, and be shamed and unhappy.  I think, Elrond, that this matter it would be well to trust rather to their friendship than to great wisdom.  Even if you chose for us an elf-lord, such as Glorfindel, he could not storm the Dark Tower, nor open the road to the Fire by the power that is in him.’

‘You speak gravely,’ said Elrond, ‘but I am in doubt.  The Shire, I forebode, is not free now from peril; and these two I had thought to send back there as messengers, to do what they could, according to the fashion of their country, to warn the people of their danger. In any case, I judge that the younger of these two, Peregrin Took, should remain. My heart is against his going.’

‘Then, Master Elrond, you will have to lock me in prison, or send e home tied in a sack,’ said Pippin. ‘For otherwise I shall follow the company.’

‘Let it be so then. You shall go,’ said Elrond, and he sighed. ‘Now the tale of Nine is filled. In seven days the Company must depart.’

This is a story of friendship.
We will live as the friends of Jesus.

 

Ruth 1:16-17

Ruth said,
‘Do not press me to leave you
or to turn back from following you!
Where you go, I will go;
where you lodge, I will lodge;
your people shall be my people,
and your God my God.
Where you die, I will die—
there will I be buried.
May the Lord do thus and so to me,
and more as well,
if even death parts me from you!’

John 15:12-17

‘This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you. I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father. You did not choose me but I chose you. And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last, so that the Father will give you whatever you ask him in my name. I am giving you these commands so that you may love one another.

Your Word, Oh God, is a lamp to our feet
        A light to our path.

 

Reflection: “There’s no such thing as a solitary hero”

Into every generation a slayer is born: one girl in all the world, a chosen one. She alone will wield the strength and skill to fight the vampires, demons, and the forces of darkness; to stop the spread of their evil and the swell of their number. She is the Slayer.

I love the story of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. When I was having a hard time working on my PhD thesis I would come home and curl up on the couch and watch her stake vampires and slay demons and everything would seem to be okay. I’m not sure I would have survived the horror that is a PhD without her.

But that opening monologue never rang true to me. Buffy might have been meant to be ‘one girl in all the world, a chosen one’ and she might have been meant to fight alone – but she was actually surrounded by family and friends. She had a bit of trouble coming out to her mother: ‘Honey, are you sure you’re a Vampire Slayer? I mean, have you tried not being a Slayer?’ but her family and friends were what kept her alive and connected to life. As her one-time arch-nemesis, the Vampire Spike, put it: ‘A slayer with family and friends. That sure as hell wasn’t in the brochure.’

In the very last episode of the TV series Buffy decides that she’s not going to be the only Chosen One around, and with magic wielded by the very awesome witch Willow, calls every single potential Vampire Slayer at once. The creator of Buffy, Joss Whedon, is proudly feminist, and that comes through in Buffy’s speech to her troops: ‘From now on, every girl in the world who might be a Slayer, will be a Slayer. Every girl who could have the power, will have the power. Can stand up, will stand up. Slayers, every one of us. Make your choice. Are you ready to be strong?’ And they are.

Buffy isn’t the only supposedly solitary superhero to be part of a community, a circle of friends. Superman’s sent to earth as a solitary saviour; Batman is a solo vigilante lurking in the shadows – except they’re really not. Where would Superman be without Lois Lane, Jimmy Olsen and Perry White? Where would Batman be without Alfred, Robin and Commissioner Gordon? Harry Potter is the Boy Who Lived, but he would have died long before his final confrontation with Voldemort without Hermione and Ron. Frodo alone is given the task of getting the One Ring to Mount Doom, but he needs Sam to carry him there at the end, and Gollum to take it into the fire. The Doctor is the last of the Time Lords, and has been referred to as a ‘lonely god’ but as the wonderful Sarah Jane Smith told him: ‘You know, you act like such a lonely man. But look at you! You’ve got the biggest family on Earth.’

The crew of the Starship Enterprise; the crew of the Firefly-class transport ship Serenity; SG-1; all work it out much more quickly. If you’re going to save the world, or the universe, or just keep flying, you need a team. That’s why Nick Fury assembled the Avengers.

I’ve argued that Sci Fi and Fantasy show us the importance of community and friendship; since we’re here in a church worshipping God it won’t surprise you that I’m also going to argue that as a community of friends is the particular way that Christians are called to live out our lives.

Among his many other roles and identities, Jesus is an example of the ideal friend. Jesus’ ministry was about befriending others. He related to those around him as an equal. His relationships were relationships of mutuality: he accepted food from those he helped (Mark 1:31); he allowed himself to be ministered to by women (Mark 14:3-9); and he was willing to have his mind changed by others (Mark 7:24-30). We see in his relationship with Peter a friendship in which mutual love overcomes mutual exasperation and Peter’s misunderstandings. And in the Gospel According to John, we see a friendship in which there was no exasperation and misunderstanding to be overcome; the relationship between Jesus and the Beloved Disciple.

Jesus acted as an ideal friend as his world understood it. In a world full of hierarchies, and people with power over others, friendship stood out as the only relationship based upon equality, a relationship of reciprocity and mutuality. Socrates saw friendship as subversive, because it existed regardless of rank. Marriages at the time were definitely not relationships of equality; society was stratified along class lines, with patrons and clients, and masters and slaves. Friendship was the only model of equality that the ancient world knew, and it’s friendship that Jesus offered his disciples. In the reading we heard today, Jesus tells them: ‘I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends’.

And so the Christian community is made up of the friends of Christ, who are also called to be friends of each other. It might be hard for us to be friends with every other member of the church, we’re all so very different – but if Ruth and Naomi can manage friendship, we can. The love between Naomi and Ruth was profoundly counter-intuitive, they were Jewish mother-in-law and Moabite daughter-in-law; and it demanded great sacrifice from Ruth, who left her own country and her own people to accompany Naomi to Judah. We might not be able to be as good a friend to others as Jesus was and is, but we can definitely follow the examples of Ruth and Naomi.

I’m going to quote an author to whom I don’t usually turn. In his encyclical on Christian love, Pope Benedict the 16th argued that the reason we can love our neighbours, even when they’re people we don’t know or people we don’t like, is because we see them from the perspective of Jesus Christ and ‘His friend is my friend’ (Deus Caritas Est, 18). I frequently disagree with Pope Benedict, but here I think he is absolutely right. We are Jesus’ friends, and through him friends with each other.

Jesus gives us an example of what friendship looks like; and so do the vast majority of superheroes, as we’re about to see. Because just in case you weren’t convinced by all my eloquence on the importance of having a community around you if you want to save the world, you’re going to see the argument made again in video form. Sit back and enjoy.

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12 Responses to Reflection: There’s no such thing as a solitary hero

  1. Avril – I’ve been following your Church (the geek one!) since I saw you on Adam Hills in Gordon St (wow a couple of years ago now). I’m not even slightly religious in the traditional sense, but you’ve beautifully summed up why I love science fiction. I’ve seen everything you talked about in your sermon, and those themes of friendship and community that spring up in all forms of sci fi and fantasy are so wonderfully articulated in your examples. I’m going to reblog this – beautiful work.

    • avrilhj says:

      Jenna, thank you so much for the lovely comment. These services do seem to appeal to the ‘not even slightly religious’; I have a few atheist and agnostic ex-college student friends (I was their tutor) who come along every year for their one visit to a church.

      But, yes, absolutely! Sci fi and fantasy have fabulous themes and messages. I’m going to be a guest on a Doctor Who podcast in July and I’ll make a smiliar point there – there’s so much that’s good and encouraging and worthwhile in the genre. And the minister in me appreciates that as much as the fan does.

      • Yes! Like that speech of Rose’s at the end of ‘The Parting of the Ways’, where she goes on about it not all being cool, and dashing about and saving the world, its just hard, and making a stand and doing whats right even when there’s no reward, and you’re likely to get hurt. Such an inspirational sentiment and so widely applicable (especially for believers or non-beleivers in some parts of the world).

        I can’t wait to hear your Who podcast!

  2. Reblogged this on MyMissingFactor and commented:
    I’ve mentioned previously that I’m a sci fi geek, so after seeing this post/sermon transcript I just had to reblog it. Avril is a Christian minister, and a sci fi/fantasy fan, and established the Church of the Latter Day Geek a few years ago with the support of Australian comedian Adam Hills. Both of these lovely people are worth a look (and head to one of Adam’s shows if he’s ever in your area!). Enjoy!

  3. Julie Clutterbuck says:

    Dear Avril,
    This is great. Can you post the video?

  4. Moira Rayner says:

    What a wonderful new perspective. Thank you.

  5. Heather says:

    Thanks for a fantastic service, Avril (even the reluctant-to-go-to-church 14 year old loved it). Oh, and the chocolate. 🙂

    • avrilhj says:

      Well, you earned the chocolate! And I’m so glad the reluctant-to-go-to-church teenager enjoyed it. I’ve decided my particular ministry is providing church-avoiders with one service a year that they enjoy. 😉

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