Category: DVD

A story of discipleship in The Office

“The Christening” (season 7, episode 7) is the most explicitly religious episode of The Office yet, and interestingly, it contains a subplot which illustrates Jesus’ teachings about discipleship.

The setup: the entire office turns up at the christening of Jim and Pam’s baby, Celeste, and the episode revolves around the misadventures during the service and then at the reception in the hall next door. The church is not identified; it seemed to me the writers were striving to make it generically Protestant. But it’s obviously not Baptist and there is a woman minister; furthermore, several seasons ago Pam mentioned she was a Presbyterian.

In one of the subplots, the christening service is also the send-off for the youth group, who are heading off to Mexico to build a school for the poor. Michael Scott, the office’s selfish and immature boss, is enchanted with the level of community and meaning which the youth group enjoys, wishing he could be a part of it. He tries to convince the others from the office:

Look at that, look at that – that’s fun! We need to do stuff together, outside of work. Let’s go help Africa… Let’s go build an airport. We’ll start small, we’ll have a carwash, we’ll send some cheerleaders to regionals.

When the others object, Michael says:

Okay, we don’t have to volunteer, but I think we should hang out together more… Look at these people – these are churchgoing people and they know how to party… What is wrong with you guys? What is so horrible about trying to get together and do something nice?

Michael (and then Andy) decide to get on the bus and join the youth, who embrace them. The idealistic youth leader says:

If the whole world were like you guys we wouldn’t have so many problems! … Nobody I know would leave their jobs and friends and families to do manual labour for three months.

A little while into the trip all the youth are trying to sleep and Michael is bored:

Michael: How long till we get to Mexico?

Andy: Well, two days minus, how long we been on the road… forty-five minutes… so like two days, basically.

Michael: What are we building over there again? Like a hospital? School for Mexicans?

Andy: I don’t know – I thought it was like a gymnasium…

Michael: Why aren’t they building it?

Andy: They don’t know how.

Michael: Do we know how. I don’t know how – do you know how?

Michael and Andy’s conversation might suggest some of the pitfalls of short-term mission trips – how much better do we rich white people know? But more than that, it is the falling apart of Michael and Andy’s resolve to do good and be a part of this community which seemed so attractive forty-five minutes ago:

Michael: I didn’t sign up for this. You guys are young! You want to give back to society! I’ve done that – I need to take!

Michael and Andy get off the bus. They hadn’t counted the cost, and they didn’t want to pay it.

It is a flattering portrait of Christianity – it shows Christian community as attractive but difficult, and the Christians themselves as welcoming and genuine.

*

‘Why have you always got to be so mean to me?’ – the only clip I could find from this episode isn’t from Michael Scott’s counting-the-cost story. Instead, Toby was once training to be a priest, and it’s his first return to church, presumably since his divorce. He hides outside (in the extras, even in a tree) before coming in alone to ask God the big question.

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For The Bible Tells Me So: A Review

I watched the documentary For The Bible Tells Me So a couple of weeks ago. It had me crying in one point, as a woman describes how her lesbian daughter committed suicide. The woman had followed the advice of Dr James Dobson and wrote to her daughter telling her that she would never accept her homosexuality. (This approach presumably reassures one’s gay child that they are making it up, or at least making a choice that their parents are never going to endorse, lest they think they can ‘get away with it’.)

The documentary intersperses three very different approaches to the topic of homosexuality and Christianity – interviews with gay Christians and their parents, interviews with scholars (and non-scholars) about the interpretation of biblical passages about homosexuality and the history of homosexual oppression by the church in America. It is helpful and unhelpful to combine these three things.

The fault of the documentary in my opinion is its failure to adequately represent the middle position – what might be called ‘welcoming but not affirming’ (from the book by Stanley Grenz). Most of the people interviewed are either Christians who think homosexual practice is fully compatible with their faith, or fundamentalists who think homosexuals should be hated, or if not quite hated then at least aggressively resisted. The middle ground is only represented by a few brief comments from Richard Mouw – a good choice, but not enough of him, and none of the many other moderate voices from within evangelicalism (Tom Wright, Richard Hays et al). The documentary only deals with the Bible in a verse by verse fashion – the same as fundamentalists use – without attempting to understand the issue in broader terms of discipleship or the kingdom. It unfairly paints the issue as a choice between James Dobson and Gene Robinson.

I think all evangelical, fundamentalist and pentecostal Christians should see the documentary before they go on in their unthinking reactions to the ‘gay question’. If nothing else, it will startle them out of their easy answers. But in terms of the discussion of the biblical theology of homosexuality, this documentary is inadequate. Alas, it’s much more complicated than the documentary makes out.