July 29, 2010
(Even though it’s been 7 years since the original Broken Saints flash series was completed – and 4 since the DVD set came out in North America – I’m still blessed to receive some incredible messages from old and new fans on a semi-regular basis. Below, you’ll find what amounts to the first ‘theologically hardcore’ analysis of BS from a…ummm…’professional’ point of view!
I was always hoping to stir up some spiritual discussion with the series, so this mail made me extremely happy. Respect and appreciation to Wes Kelley for taking the time to write…and for reminding me that it pays to put in the obligatory research hours 8) )
“I’m a young Christian pastor, age 26, in the United Methodist Church, a mainline Christian denomination in the US, analogous to the United Church of Canada up north. A friend just let me borrow the Broken Saints DVDs to watch, and I became engrossed. Broken Saints touched off with me in so many ways! At the end of it all I was just like, “Yes!” The Saints narrative touched on so many intersections, political, spiritual, technological, more, all in a sci-fi universe. It really is my cup of tea.
First though, I thought your christological portrayal of Shandala was absolutely compelling. It almost brought tears to my eyes! Shandala’s christological significance was not just a cheap-easy, one-to-one symbol, like some films do by making just anybody who makes a self-sacrifice or has a tragic death into a Christ-figure. No, you built that thing up from early on, weaving it in a nice point/counter-point kind of way with the visceral, perverted effigies of Bula the cat and Shandala’s adopted mother. The cross, the ancient instrument of torture, execution, and Roman power, you re-appropriated as the symbol of technological, military, and commercial violence. Damn! Perfect that Lear crucifies Shandala on the technological instrument. And then that same instrument of death, the technological cross, she actually uses to overthrow Lear, and send blessing to everyone in the world. That is Christus Victor like nothing I’ve ever seen. Although in my theological circles, we discuss this progression as the most sacred mystery of Jesus’s atonement, never before have I seen it presented narrativally in our times, and in the sci-fi world no less!
I cannot tell you how spot-on you are with that element of your story, and I certainly hope discerning Christians can see that in your work. Many of them will just be distracted by the pantheist “God is all of us” pronouncement at Shandala’s end, but even that can be taken within the bounds of orthodoxy. Not that you need to adhere to orthodoxy in your story-telling, but anyway the early Fathers definitely taught a narrative of divinization necessary to the life of faith, where the image of God is restored in each human being, so that humankind becomes not God per se, but godly, in that the blessedness of the divine nature is shared with us. While we don’t share the same substantia with God, we nonetheless enjoy our rightful stake in the divine life. Athanasius of Alexandria even said it this way, “The Son of God became man so that we might become God.” So even within a traditional Christian doctrinal framework, one might truly say that “God is all of us.” These are the meditations I had as I finished Broken Saints, and truly, watching the DVD has been a spiritual experience for me. I could go on about how early Christians used advances in ancient technology to grow spiritually and to advance the gospel, but maybe another time.
Don’t know if you get a lot of response from die-hard Christians. If you do, I hope they haven’t been too nasty. Your Christian and ecclesial imagery merged with the technological conspiracy unsettled me in a really awesome way, and I think it is due criticism that American Christians need to hear. the Church generally has played into the part of Evil Empire, or at least been portrayed as playing the Empire. Thinking Christians all over the world regret this deeply. We could discuss case by case instances, but I think you catch my main point–that it really is a shame, since so much of early Christian existence was defined by its struggle for identity vis-a-vis the Roman empire. At the same time, right-wing Christians have been tragicly complicit in the Pax Americana the US is always calculating toward. A good close reading of the New Testament and the early Church Fathers will bear out this anti-imperialist strain, as long as you keep the reading free from fundamentalist hermeneutics, the Roman Catholic vs. Reformation dialectic, and other later historical theologies beyond the original historical situation of early churches.
With all that being said, I believe there exists an unbroken line of broken saints within the bounds of orthodox Christianity, people who lived to the last ounce of their strength to question and deconstruct with their very own lives the systems of injustice, evil, oppression, and other nasties. These were imperfect people who could give a darn if they made any sense to the world, their parents, even their friends, even if they failed in the trying, as long as they could know, be, and act on the truth of the gospel as they had received it by Word and by the Spirit.
And by my reckoning, one must be broken to be a saint, or you’re not a saint at all. At least that is my reading of Christian theology, which has as its very heart the broken, crucified Son of God.”