The Walking Dead can help you engage the Bible (and you'll be glad you did!) - Kyle Hanawalt
First in series: Fall Film Club 2016
So, if you were with us in September you will remember that we did a 5 week series walking through the book of Exodus. And, I have to be honest, I loved doing that series. It’s was something that I had been looking forward to every since we first planned the series several months ago.
Perhaps it’s obvious because we’re a church, but we are pretty enthusiastic that people can get great stuff out of engaging the Bible. Sometimes we try to help people into that by looking at general themes or topics that show up throughout the Bible in our series of talks here on Sundays. But other times Vince and I try to plan series of talks where we just walk through a book of the Bible. Where we go through a book from beginning to end tracing the story or important themes. And the first step in planning these series is usually that Vince and I will each read through the book on our own, making notes, then the two of us come back together and begin the craft the series.
So when I began reading through exodus again, it had been a little while since I last read through it, but as I read it I just found myself super engaged, and enthralled with the story. It felt so relevant and present and helpful to me. It just seemed to connect with the realities of my own life so well. God showing up to liberate the Hebrews felt super powerful, the 10 commandments felt like relevant and helpful, I found myself really easily empathizing with the Hebrews as they struggled with their newfound freedom, Like even the episode of the Golden calf, which Vince spoke on a few weeks ago, where the Hebrews revert back to worshiping the Gods of their oppressors, the Egyptians. It just hit me that I do the same kind of thing when I feel afraid and insecure, I turn to empty things to help cope. And I was suddenly so aware of how God is trying to lead me into better ways of dealing with my fear and insecurity. Really just the whole book of Exodus seemed to grab me.
And upon reflection, I think there was a very specific reason that I had such a great experience reading Exodus
And you know what it was?...
(SLOW) I had just finished watching... The Walking Dead.
Yep, cause I’d been watching zombies
You see I had fallen behind on season 6 and so the week before I started reading through Exodus, I binge watched the last 4 episodes. And then with TWD fresh in my mind I began to read through exodus… totally unplanned but, man, it was great timing, because Exodus just came to life.
I’ll tell you why I think that was in a moment, but, first, just to say...
This was great because I don’t always experience the Bible this way. Sometimes when I go to read the Bible it can feel tough. Hard to translate, inaccessible, confusing, at times even triggering. Not sure if you resonate with that or not, but I don’t think I am alone in finding the Bible hard to access at times, hard to jump into or make sense of
This struggle makes sense! Because the Bible was written in a different time, in different culture, a different context. And when we jump into reading the Bible we bring with us our own culture, and our own context. And that can cause a gap, that can cause us to feel like the Bible isn’t speaking to us, or perhaps it seems to be addressing things that don’t seem that relevant to me, or worse it seems to be saying things that I find downright offensive.
And this is where considering modern Stories, movies, tv shows like the walking dead can be so helpful. Think about it: what’s the goal of the pilot of every TV show you’ve ever seen? Or the goal of the first 20 minutes of every movie you’ve ever seen? To bring you into the world of its story… to introduce you to the environment, the culture, the backstories and important references…
Friday Night Lights takes us to the world of high school football in small town Texas Game of Thrones introduces to us the various kingdoms Lost gives us a snippet of each character’s personality and backstory Lord of the Rings takes us to the Shire and Middle Earth and its mythology of the rings
And if a story or TV show or movie doesn’t do it’s introductions well -- doesn’t bridge the gap for us -- it feels inaccessible to us, and any relevancy it may have is lost on us.
Well in my experience the Bible is the most relevant thing I have ever read, I consistently find it to describe reality better than I could ever hope to, in such insightful and beautiful ways, It helps me think about what it means to be human, what it means to relate to other people, relate to God, It helps me think about and navigate this world, and perhaps most powerfully it helps me look for and find God’s presence in my life.
BUT it’s remarkable relevancy can be missed at times if we are not first being introduced to the worlds and environments and cultures we’re dropping into. (much like a TV show pilot or the first 20 mins of a movie)
And that’s the motivation for our Fall Film Club series of talks (which has now become a tradition because it’s our second year doing it)... One way we as a community can more readily engage the relevancy of the Bible (and have the kind of amazing experiences of God like I described having when I was reading Exodus) is by letting the modern TV and movie stories we already know and love help us read the Bible.
And as I promised, Today I want to look at how TWD helps me read the Bible, particularly the Old Testament. next week we will look at how the Netflix Original TV show Stranger Things helps me read the Bible. And the after we have some alternative services on Oct 23, Oct 30, and Nov 6. I will finish this series by considering how Disney’s recent movie Zootopia helps me read the Bible. And hopefully that helps you all too!
So, If you are not familiar with it. TWD... on the surface is a show about zombies.
It follows Rick Grimes and his companions as they try to navigate the american South East after a zombie apocalypse. So, for those I have already lost with the words zombie apocalypse, I ask you to bear with me, this is going somewhere. And if you are inclined to laugh at me for loving a show about zombies, just know that this is the more viewed cable tv show ever. So, there are a lot of other people you’d have to be judging along with me.
But, on a deeper level this show actually has nothing to do with zombies, in fact very quickly the zombies become a secondary concern in many ways. At it’s heart, the show is about humanity.
What does it mean to be human when all the structures and safety of the world is stripped away. Who are the people that really matter to you? How do you relate to the other people groups in the world? What kind of person are you when the world you live in is full of violence and brutality?
In the end, TWD is a story about the human condition, and it just uses a zombie apocalypse as the context to do that.
Which brings me to why TWD has helped me read the Bible, and why it helped me have such a wonderful experience reading Exodus.
You see, the dystopian world of TWD is closer to the life of the Hebrews of the Old Testament, than my current comfort driven modern American world is.
Yes, there were a lot less zombies in the ancient Near Eastern world, but as I mentioned the zombies aren’t really the real threat in TWD, after the the first couple seasons it becomes clear that it’s not zombies but other people, the other groups and “tribes”. That pose the real threat.
You see, the Hebrews in Exodus, like Rick Grimes and his group are a people without a home, people struggling to find hope in the face of brutal and oppressive world, in the face of very real violence and danger.
Now, I would love to take a look at a passage from Exodus which I think works as an example of the kind world the Hebrews were living in.
This passage we are about to read is interesting one, when you are reading through exodus this passage seemingly comes out of nowhere. It’s tucked in between the Hebrews finally escaping the Egyptians via the divided red sea, but right before they reach Mt Sinai where they receive among other things the 10 commandments. It’s like this strange aside, like Oh yeah this happened. I also think it is the kinda thing that can be a little disturbing to our ears, but I think it gives us insight into the kind of world and context the Hebrews lived in, the kinda story that would seem to fit right into an episode of the Walking Dead.
Exodus 17 8 The Amalekites came and attacked the Israelites at Rephidim. So, they have just escaped the evil empire of the Egyptians, just steadied their feet and are attacked by the Amalekites who are another wandering nomadic people group, who survive by primarily attacking and pillaging other groups. I don’t know, sounds a lot like a plot from the TWD. 9 Moses said to Joshua, “Choose some of our men and go out to fight the Amalekites. Tomorrow I will stand on top of the hill with the staff of God in my hands.” 10 So Joshua fought the Amalekites as Moses had ordered, and Moses, Aaron and Hur went to the top of the hill. 11 As long as Moses held up his hands, the Israelites were winning, but whenever he lowered his hands, the Amalekites were winning. 12 When Moses’ hands grew tired, they took a stone and put it under him and he sat on it. Aaron and Hur held his hands up—one on one side, one on the other—so that his hands remained steady till sunset. 13 So Joshua overcame the Amalekite army with the sword. 14 Then the Lord said to Moses, “Write this on a scroll as something to be remembered and make sure that Joshua hears it, because I will completely blot out the name of Amalek from under heaven.” 15 Moses built an altar and called it The Lord is my Banner. 16 He said, “Because hands were lifted up against the throne of the Lord, the Lord will be at war against the Amalekites from generation to generation.” So, the israelites are outnumbered, out trained, the Hebrews are escaped slaves, not exactly trained soldiers. And God miraculous defeats the Amalekites.
But, there is also some troubling language here, “I will completely blot out the name of Amalek from under heaven.”
And this is where for me, TWD, helped me read the Bible.
Just, to be clear for a second. I am not actually saying that you should all go out and watch TWD. It is actually quite a violent and gory show. And there is like full seasons in there that is borderline terrible,season 3 is just the worst. It is not something that I would recommend everyone to see. Particularly those more sensitive to this kind of thing. I also don’t endorse everything the show does and says. But, the dystopian world of wandering from place to place, fearing their safety from other groups, fearing the brutality of the world around them. That is what I find helpful. You could likely find the same helpfulness in any number of dystopian stories, Hunger Games, Mad Max, and even some war movies have this similar quality. But in the end, I find it helpful because, on my own I have a hard time stepping out of my own context, where the most frequent stresses of my week revolve around emails, or setting up retirement, or dealing with a challenging coworker, or working through conflict in my relationships. Not that those things don’t matter, I think God very much cares about our daily stresses, but they are just different. The stakes are just different. So, watching TWD helps me step out of my modern context and put myself in a context more similar to that of the ancient Hebrews.
And if we're not reading a passage like what we just read with our mind in proper context, it could sound bloodthirsty, ancient, disconnected from anything in our modern life (because, I guess, it is)
BUT if we consider this in context… then we're wrapped up in the story of these humans, the Hebrews, in a post-slavery, dystopian-like desert-wandering, and we see a God who miraculously comes to their aid…
Now we are not in a dystopian-like, desert-wandering experience as modern americans, BUT we are people who (like all people ever) wonder "is God there?", "is God fighting for good?" "is God fighting for me?"… and we don't just wonder that "in general"… we wonder that tomorrow morning when we wake up feeling depressed or lonely... we wonder that later this week when we get a triggering email… we wonder that when we get a phone call about that family member who is sick or in trouble.
THIS is what reading the Bible in context can do for us - little doses, little experiences of God communicating intimately to us: I see you and I am fighting for good in your life! And this was my experience reading through exodus this last summer, as I read through the stories of Hebrews I felt lifted up, that God was with me too, fighting for me, leading me in midst my own uncertain life. That I too could rely on him.
And, when I actually feel like I can rely on God, when I actually feel like he is in my corner. That is mightily empowering. That ebbs the fears I have about life, the fears I have about being alone, it brings hope in all times, even when things look bleak.
And so my takeaway for today is try reading the Bible this week, particularly something from the Old Testament. Perhaps try reading Exodus.
If you don’t have a hard copy of a bible we’d be happy to help you get one or you could read it on biblegateway.com or the youversion bible app. But, before you start reading. I want you bring to mind whatever dystopian story you are most familiar with. Maybe it’s TWD, or Hunger games, or Divergent, or Mad Max.
Whatever it is, I encourage you to take a moment to place yourself in that world, not because it is exactly the same as the Ancient Near Eastern world of the Bible, but because it’s a lot closer than our current context is.
And then pay attention to how it feels to read the Bible from that context. See if troubling things feel less troubling. If disconnected things feel less disconnected. If irrelevant things feel more relevant.
And I believe that as we engage the Bible like this, learning about who God is, learning about the way people have tried connected with him even centuries before us, I believe that we actually can find ourselves connecting with god in that moment. That God can use the Bible to speak to us. Not just in a learning new information way. But interacting with our heart right now, right here kind of way.
So, perhaps most significantly I encourage you to pay attention to your heart, to your emotions, as you read the Bible, that perhaps God may be trying to connect with you in that moment. If you happen to be someone who has spent a lot of time with the Bible, there may actually be an extra hurdle for you... can I pass on a little nugget that I’ve found helpful that I heard from another pastor once? . The Bible is the menu, not the meal. The meal is relationship with God, the value in a menu lies in its ability to help you “order” the meal. Because in the end, that is what it is all about. The Bible is no end in itself. It is just a tool that can help us connect with God. That’s the goal. For that is what we need most, a living God that actually walks through life with us. As he walked through life with the Hebrews of the Old Testament.
Well, in moment I will pray, and we will enter into a time of singing and prayer. Something that spiritual communities have done for centuries. And I invite you to engage in that time in whatever way feels best to you. Maybe it is singing along and dancing. Maybe it is just sitting back and letting the music hit you. And, as we are doing that we will have a team of people in the back who would love to pray with you, It can be a really meaningful thing to have somebody else pray along with you. And I have found that God tends to show up in surprising and powerful ways when I have asked someone else to pray for me. It’s a safe and good group of people, no one is going to make you feel uncomfortable or give you unasked for advice. So if you will stand with me