Movies Are Prayers by Josh Larsen, Free for CAPC Members
In Movies Are Prayers, Josh Larsen exemplifies how critical engagement with a film can be an act of neighbor-love.
This article is part of Christ and Pop Culture’s STRANGER THINGS WEEK and contains spoilers for Stranger Things seasons one and two.
In a world of individualism, rising divorce rates, and rampant technological dependency, the desire to belong and be accepted has never been higher. This desire has the power to lure us, draw us, and compel us to go places where we ought not to go. Songs, movies, and television all hint at this deep-seated longing within. Stranger Things 2 shows us yet again that felt need to belong, as Eleven searches for her home and family only to realize her family was actually back where she came from.
Stranger Things is one of those shows that seems to be able to do no wrong. The smash hit from last year, which captivated television and laptop screens around the world after its first season aired, came back for a second attempt at perfection. In Stranger Things, the normal life that most residents of Hawkins, Indiana, came to know was quickly disturbed after a rash of high school students disappeared without a trace into a parallel dimension known as the Upside Down. Eleven, one of the main characters, accidentally accessed the Upside Down and, in the end, saved Hawkins from the terrors to come. Season two picks up the story, after the disappearance of Eleven, with her friends learning to cope after she was gone. Meanwhile, Hopper, the chief of police, moved into an old cabin in the woods in order to keep Eleven, who was found in the woods, safe.The belonging Eleven finds in Hawkins mirrors the belonging we should find in the community of faith.
Finding a home in the woods with Hopper, Eleven finally begins to feel like she belongs somewhere; they eat meals together, laugh together, watch TV together. It seems as if she has finally found acceptance—until she’s given no freedom and forced to stay locked away in the woods without any outside interaction, with a guardian who spends most of his time elsewhere. Soon Eleven and Hopper argue over it, and Hopper storms out of the cabin. Alone again, she finds a box with the records from Hawkins Lab, including the records of her mother. Eleven leaves the cabin and Hopper to embark on a journey to find her true home, family, and, hopefully, belonging for the first time.
After hitchhiking with a trucker to her mother’s last known address, Eleven quickly realizes that her mother cannot communicate with her by normal means. Utilizing some of her enhanced mental capacities, she discovers from her mother that she was raised at the Hawkins Lab with another girl—her lost sister—sending Eleven on another expedition to find her. When she finally finds her sister, Eleven ends up being used to locate “bad men” so that her sister and fellow gang-members can track them down and kill them. Eleven ran far away from Hawkins to find belonging only to be manipulated by the people she thought would love her, regardless of her powers.
It was on this journey that she began to realize that her true family, the people who accept her, challenge her, and claim her as one of their own, all lived back in the place she tried so hard to run away from. This was a place she belonged, a place where people loved her and wanted her to flourish, a place where she could lead a normal life. This was a place where she had a family. Adopted as one of their own. This was the place she ran back to, to save her family and to finally be loved as she longed to be.
The search for belonging and family is common to all people without exception. Communities all around offer grace, love, and authenticity, which draw us in and make us feel at home. These communities are ones we long for and desire; to belong is one of the deepest desires of the human heart. Perhaps this is why our search for belonging never seems to end. Someone in our community says something that hurts or we do something that upsets the fellowship—these things keep us searching for a newer, better community than the last. This is where the Church is supposed to fill the gap. For those who have no community or have trouble connecting, the Church should be a beacon; a community known for its loving embrace when there is nowhere else to turn. The Church, the Body of Christ, is to be the exemplary community drawing people by their embrace of each other and the sense of belonging accompanied therein.
Christian communities are meant to be welcoming and loving, yet often Christians simply miss that mark. By itemizing sin and forgetting grace, a community which is meant to be shaped by love for one another turns into a community filled with shame and guilt. Cold, inauthentic community pushes people away in search of something more fulfilling and comfortable. The unfortunate reality is that “something more” regularly ends up being something outside of the household of faith, something more enticing than what is found within the fellowship of faith.
Romans 8 tells us of our adoption into the family of God, as children of God and heirs with Christ. Ephesians 4 says that we are all part of one family and one body with one hope and one Spirit through one baptism in the body of Christ. Yet in our age, the Western world has seemingly never been more divided, especially amongst Christians. Liberal and Conservative, Republican and Democrat, Black and White, male and female. We live a life marked by divisiveness and tension from a difference in ideology and theology. Attacking and slandering and abusing one another for personal gain when we are in fact one Body, one Family pulling each other apart for minor differences in comparison to the ultimate reality. It’s no wonder some of us wander to find that “something more.”
In the age of Trump, division over politics, race, and gender seem natural; but under the reign of Christ, the unification of the body is essential. In John 13 Jesus tells the disciples that the world will know who is a Christian and who is not because the Christian’s love for one another will be clear. You are adopted siblings, united and bound by the death of Jesus. Cold, inauthentic community fostered in churches across the Western world are an aberration from true gospel fellowship founded upon Christ. Guilt and shame are not part of the Body of Christ because he took our guilt and shame upon himself on the cross. The Church should be marked by the warmth and openness of the one whom we proclaim. The same one who died for our salvation also died so that we may live as one in him. When pain and sorrow mount, the Church surrounds with love; when financial woes overwhelm, the Church supports. In love and in loss, the Church remains. And when life away from the Body ceases to fulfill—when “something more” turns out to be something much less—the Church waits eagerly and longingly to welcome those who wander back into the family once again.
Eleven went on a search for her biological family only to discover that her true family—those she really belonged to—was back in Hawkins. Every day we go on a search for family, a search for belonging, only to realize that our family is already in place. Every brother and sister who calls upon the name of the Lord Jesus Christ is united by blood and is family forever. When it comes to belonging, in Christ we find the something more our hearts have always wanted.
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