Stranger Things can help you engage the Bible (and you'll be glad you did!) - Kyle Hanawalt
Second in series: Fall Film Club 2016
Hmm interesting clip. Brings up more questions than answers I’m sure, especially for those who haven’t seen the show.
In a way that is kinda my whole reason for showing the clip, because it kinda leads me to think about certain experiences from my own life that in many ways brought up more questions than answers.
I mean in one way I’ve never experienced anything like that clip at all, I mean Stranger Things is a science fiction show, high priority on the word fiction.
But, I have had experiences that felt hard to explain, or at least explain on the terms that I usually think about the world.
Like when I was 8 years old, I was on a cross country trip with my family. And we would drive through the night, and me and my brothers would all sleep in back of the van as my parents took turns driving. We had one of those old van’s, IDK if you ever saw one like this, but the back seat would fold flat and make kinda like a bed. Well, I was sleeping on this back seat right up against the back window of the van. And just after 5am while my mom was driving, she had an issue trying to switch off the cruise control. And before she knew it. The car started fish tailing, and eventually the car flipped and rolled. Now, at this time I was sleeping, and I remember waking up thinking we had like gone off road and were driving on some kind of gravel. I just remember feeling kinda jostled arounds. And when I opened my eyes. I looked up and realized that I was laying the middle of the highway about 15-20ft away from the van. I remember my dad, saying “It’s all ok, we’re all alright.” And I then I just started screaming, Then he realizing that I wasn’t in the van, but in the middle of the highway, He ran over and scooped me up.
Now, the story we heard from witnesses who were in the cars behind us as this happened was that, as the van was rolling over, the window broke and I fell out, and just as it looked like van was about to roll over on top of me, the the back tire kinda hit me and launched me away the wreck. And as somehow I managed to land, on my hands and one knee, as I skidded across the highway. I had some roadburn, but that was it. No major injuries. Crazy stuff. Now the real interesting part of the story, maybe some of you are thinking, that wasn’t the interesting part? Well, the day before we had just visited with some family friends in IOWA, and at just past 5am, as I was flying through the air onto some highway in Nebraska. The two parents both suddenly woke up with alarm with the strange notion that they needed to pray for the Hanawalts my family right then. So, without really knowing what to pray for, and not knowing that at that moment we were in the middle the wreck, they prayed that God would be with and protect my family. Yeah one of those experience that feels hard to wrap my head around.
Or, I think about when I was child in the hospital with Meningitis, which is the same illness that a few years prior had left my brother deaf. And as I was laying in my hospital bed, with my mother by my side. I asked my mother to read me the story and then pray for me. And as she did, something just changed, something felt like it lifted off me, and I felt overwhelmed with peace, and fell asleep right there. And when I woke up, the fever had lifted and the Meningitis had gone away.
Or I think about a couple years ago, actually on the very first BLV retreat. And somehow, just how the numbers worked out, I ended up in a room by myself. And at the end of the night as I laid down to go to sleep. I just felt suddenly taken by fear. All of these awful things starting creeping into my head, from lies about who I was, Like the thoughts of, “your a failure Kyle” “Everything you put your hands to is going to fall apart” “You are a terrible husband, terrible pastor, terrible friend and family member” I suddenly felt terrified that somebody or some animal was going to break into my room and kill me. These are not the kind of thoughts that normally run through my head as I try to sleep, I am usually a great sleep I am not usually the kind of person that stays up and night thinking. But, I was just overwhelmed with fear. And so I prayed “God, I don’t know what’s going on but help me.” And in an instant the fear just lifted. I felt safe, and went to sleep.
Strange experience, not something I experienced before or since.
In one sense, modern Westerners like us (living in cities like Chicago) are skeptical of the supernatural. We have grown up in the legacy of the Scientific Revolution which taught us that if something is real, it can be observed, measured, and quantified through experimentation. What previous ages understood through superstition or by calling things miracles, we today understand through science...
And yet, at the same time, In my experience over the years talking with hundreds and hundreds of other modern city people like me coming from various different religious backgrounds... it’s interesting that most people tell me they still believe there is something mysterious or unquantifiable about our world. That not everything in life is readily observable and measurable my own stories have definitely brought me to such an understanding..
And, in fact, when you get beyond the pop science of click-bait-headline articles on Facebook, the most rigorous and honest of 21st century scientists carry this same assumption. Stuart Firestein, the department chair in biological sciences at Columbia University, who has an extremely popular TED talk called “The Pursuit of Ignorance” argues that genuine science isn’t at all driven by what we DO know, it’s driven by what we DON’T know.
Not sure if you resonate with any of that, but I wonder if you have ever gone through something, felt something, had an experience that was hard to readily explain. Maybe felt like there was something going on beyond what immediately in front of you. Something happening on a Spiritual level, if you will.
More on this in a moment.
(PAUSE) Perhaps it’s obvious because I’m a pastor, but all of this makes me think about the Bible.
You may have noticed that we are a church, so unsurprisingly, we are pretty enthusiastic that people can get great stuff out of engaging the Bible.
And one great thing we have found is that the Bible seems to invite us to view our life and our world as “more mysterious and unquantifiable than we might think”
And maybe working into ourselves such a view of life and our world is extremely important because… that’s exactly what life and the world is: more mysterious and unquantifiable than we think
The Bible has done this so much for me. As I read the Bible It invites me to acknowledge that I so often don’t see the Big or full picture. It challenges my assumptions on what is possible in terms of how God can show up in my life. It invites me to stop and acknowledge that there is so much that I don’t understand. And in fact that is exactly why I need faith, need God, because there is so much mystery, so much I don’t know. And that is actually awesome, because it puts me in a position where it doesn’t all come down to me and my ability to figure everything out. Embracing the mystery is freeing.
However, I’ve got to be honest, this helpfulness of the Bible has not always been (and is not always) an obvious thing. Because, for me personally, even when I’m at my most open to mystery and most open to the supernatural and I go to the Bible it can feel tough. Hard to translate, inaccessible, confusing, at times even triggering. And I don’t think I am alone in this.
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.
The result being: we miss out on the great things that engaging the Bible might have for us.
Well that’s the motivation for our Fall Film Club series of talks here at BLV... Because maybe one surprisingly big help to bridging that gap can be letting the modern TV and movie stories we already know and love help set the stage for the Bible.
So, Specifically today, I want to look at how Stranger Things can help set the stage for us to enter into the Bible’s mysterious, bigger-than-us, and (as we’ll see) sometimes contentious spiritual view of life.
So, Stranger things - If you are not familiar with the show, It follows a group friends in the 80’s which is actually part of the charm of the show. It brings you back to all your favorite 80’s movies, there is certainly a Goonies-y feel to the show.
But, The show follows these Jr High Boys as they try to solve the mystery of the disappearance of one their friends. and as they go about trying to solve the mystery it becomes clear that there is more going on in the world, quite literally, more than meets their eye, as the clip alluded to. And one thing we discover is. Quick spoiler alert, you don't learn what I am about to say until like episode 5 so if you are concerned about this spoiler plug your ears for a second. Part of what we learn is that there one world that we see here, but there is another world that lays on top of this world, the upside down or shadow world that we can't immediately see, but very much affects us and might be dangerous.
(Wave hands) Ok spoiler over
So, ST helps me read the Bible, yes, this science fiction show helps me engage the Bible, because it invites me into a mindset that I don’t naturally sit in. One that considers there may be some unseen forces in the world at conflict, and that conflict really affects our lives!
And this is a mindset that would have been much closer to that of original writers and audiences of the Bible.
You see, the culture and context the Bible was written in was one that saw the world as innately spiritual. That not only was there a spiritual nature to the world, but what was going on in the spiritual realm was just as significant as what was going on in the physical.
To illustrate this I want to look at a passage from the Bible. Paul, who is one of the most influential early followers of Jesus, writes what we are about to read at the ends of his letter to to the church in Ephesus. If you want to read along with me Ephesians 6 NLT 10 A final word: Be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. 11 Put on all of God’s armor so that you will be able to stand firm against all strategies of the devil. 12 For we are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places. 13 Therefore, put on every piece of God’s armor so you will be able to resist the enemy in the time of evil. Then after the battle you will still be standing firm. 14 Stand your ground, putting on the belt of truth and the body armor of God’s righteousness. 15 For shoes, put on the peace that comes from the Good News so that you will be fully prepared. 16 In addition to all of these, hold up the shield of faith to stop the fiery arrows of the devil. 17 Put on salvation as your helmet, and take the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. 18 Pray in the Spirit at all times and on every occasion. Stay alert and be persistent in your prayers for all believers everywhere.
You see, this passage comes in midst of some super concrete instructions. Paul has just told the Ephesians his thoughts on how to relate to family, jobs, the relationships in their life. Really concrete day-to-day stuff. And then this comes.
I don’t know about you, but at least when I read this it doesn’t jump off the page as super concrete or practical. It feels maybe abstract, or out there in some way. Spirits and unseen powers.
However, to the Ephesians, this would have felt just as concrete and practical as it was when Paul had just offered strategies to parents how to discipline their kids.
You see, this was all about addressing the everyday challenges and issues of life.
How the Ephesians saw the world was that, yes, there are circumstances and injustices that make life difficult.
Being occupied by the Roman Empire, meant that these followers of Jesus were often persecuted.
For those coming from a Jewish background, in Following Jesus they had broken off from institutional Judaism, so they were treated as heretics, and often shunned from their old communities. The lack of resources and understanding meant that if you were sick, you may not recover.
The Patriarchal culture which saw women as property, meant that life was hard and often would feel powerless for women.
On one level, that is just circumstance and social structure.
However, they also saw these things having a spiritual element to it.
Like, there is just something evil at play in these things. And it goes beyond the way other people are mistreating us, It’s not just them, there is something kinda evil driving this. Yes, getting persecuted on the surface is terrible, but the way that causes me to feel doubt, feel shame, to question myself. That feels different, feels like there is something spiritual happening.
That there is a spiritual foe working to actively tear me down. This is the Devil, the unseen advisory.
Now, I’ll just be honest I don’t normally think in this way.
I am a product of the Scientific revolution, I tend to look for some sort of logical and observable answer.
This is my current context and culture.
And I actually think this great.
I mean there is a ton of benefit in thinking this way.
I think there is some real danger in calling everything spiritual.
You know, when I get sick I go to the doctor. Thumbs up great idea. If I get laid off at work, maybe it was just a series of layoff.
If I am feeling discouraged or afraid, maybe I just had a hard day.
However, I wonder if my current culture, that assumes nothing is spiritual, may mean that I am missing out on a whole nother level of help that God is trying to give me.
I wonder if I would actually be more helped to at least consider that there is something going on with me spiritually as much as there is physically.
To use Paul’s words -cause to pray “In all times in every occasion”
And this where stanger things helps me.
A quick caveat about the show, it’s not for everyone. There are some kinda freaky parts. And I am not saying that the show works as a perfect parallel here. This is a flawed analogy in many ways.
But, I do find it helpful because watching ST just makes me stop and think about the world around me differently. It causes me to consider - what if there is something beyond what is right in front of us. Powers that go beyond what we can immediately understand.
Maybe sometimes when I see Addiction, What if there is something spiritual going on Or when I feel a weight emotionally, like I feel more discouraged than my circumstances would reasonably lead me to be. What if there is something spiritual going on Or when I find lies or fears racing through my head, things that I know to be untrue, but still cause me to doubt myself, think less of myself. What if there is something spiritual going on Or maybe it just feels like Life is slapping me in the face. Circumstances seem to be stacking up against me in an alarming way. These are the kinds of things that the Hebrews would have immediately called out as spiritual. And I think it can be really helpful to consider that. Not that it will always be true, not that everything is spiritual.
But, I think it can be helpful to consider it because, It empowers us to take action on things in life that often leave us feeling powerless, like there is nothing we can do.
Which leads me to my take away for today Try praying for God to protect and fight for you… On a spiritual level… That he would protect you from the way hurtful things others have said to you in the past can turn into lies that we believe about ourselves That he would fight for you when a circumstance at work or in a relationship or with your health seem to be turning against you That he would protect you spiritually. From our unseen advisory. So that you could find a life that is full and deep, rich and joyful Pray that he would protect you against anything that would steal from that.
I think, Paul’s words here are really helpful. I think he points to the power of being able to pray against the unseen.
The first benefit being that you actually have an effect.
That we feel less discouraged, we are less bombarded with lies, or we are able to overcome thing that we previously weren’t able to But even if nothing actually “happens.” I still think there is benefit, because I think there is real power in being able to take some sort of action on things that feel actionless.
The things in life that feel out of our control, feels like we don’t know what to do. We can ask God to protect and fight for us. And that ability to pray, that ability to take that action That is deeply consoling. And better yet, it can give us a sense of companionship That I am not alone, God is in this with me, fighting for me Fighting for me in unseen ways, all the time in every occasion.
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