Sunday, July 10, 2011

TV Snapshot: Community, meals and transformation under "Falling Skies"

TNT


At the end of the “Grace” episode of TNT’s apocalyptic alien invasion series Falling Skies, a group of the survivors meet together to eat in the cafeteria of the high school in which they are taking refuge. Tom Mason, his son Hal and friend Dai have just gotten back from a harrowing and disconcerting mission during which they encountered children, captured and controlled by the aliens, who fired upon them—but a mission that nonetheless netted them some much needed motorcycles which will help them in rescuing another of Tom’s sons from the aliens. Captain Weaver, who is in command of this band of survivors, has just gotten the news of how the aliens are using their own children against them—and that prisoner John Pope escaped. Anne, a pediatrician turned battlefield doctor, sits beside Lourdes, a young woman who was in her first year of med school when the invasion started and now helps Anne with the wounded. Before she eats, Lourdes starts to pray.  
Lourdes: Dear God, we thank you for this meal and the safe place we live in. Not everyone is as lucky as we are tonight. 
Captain Weaver walks by and stops, skeptical. 
 Weaver: You really think we’re lucky?  
Lourdes: Yeah, I think we can still appreciate what we have in our life. Even now.  
Weaver, Hal and Anne exchange glances. Hal sits down next to them.  
Hal: I’m thankful for the motorcycles. And the chance we have of bringing back the people we love.  
Lourdes looks gratefully at him.  
Anne: And I’m grateful that we found each other so we don’t have to go through these times alone.  
Hal reaches for the bread. His father, Tom, sits down with them.  
Tom: I’m grateful for this bread—even if it did come from Pope.  
Tom looks at Dai, who just left the infirmary after being treated for the gun shot wound he received on their mission earlier. 
Tom: How bout it Dai? Worth the trip to the chow line?  
Dai: Yeah, it was. Dai is high as a freaking kite. And he is loving this bread. 
Everyone laughs.  
Weaver, sitting at a table nearby, watches them.  
Weaver: Dai speaks about himself in the third person now?  
Dai: Yes, Dai does.  
Anne: Did you get some of that bread, Captain?  
Weaver: I will.  
Tom pulls a slice off the roll and hands it to Weaver. 
He looks it over and takes a bite.  
Weaver: Not bad. 
Anne looks at Lourdes and covers her hand with her own.  
Anne: You should say something again.  
Lourdes clears her throat and bows her head. Tom and the rest of the people at the table stop eating and join hands.  
Lourdes: Heavenly Father, for everything you’ve given us…  
She raises her head and looks around her, smiling.  
Lourdes: … and especially for our connection to each other may we be truly thankful. In the name of the Father…  
Captain Weaver softly joins her.  
Lourdes and Weaver: ... of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen. 
Tom:  Amen.

As I’ve mentioned before, I am intrigued by stories about a group of strangers who band together to survive an apocalypse or life-threatening peril. Stories like that bring abstract concepts of ethics, faith and morality to the practical and nitty gritty level, raising excellent questions and debate—and God-talk. One of the things that intrigues me most in stories like this is how genuine communities form among such a diverse group of people. Thrown together from a wide variety of backgrounds and beliefs, they somehow form a group of growing, interdependent and authentic relationships where they appreciate and challenge each other for who and what they are, grow to trust and depend on each other, and make decisions in the best of interest of each other and the community as a whole. And this scene gets at one way that fosters that growth.

While there is plenty of good God-talk in this scene—from the prayer itself to how gratefulness moves us from fear and discouragement to peace and hope—I am most intrigued by how all that occurs during a common meal. In Living the Resurrection, Eugene Peterson writes that “ordinary meals are formational:"
The common meal is probably the primary way by which we take care of our physical need for food and our social need for conversation and intimacy and our cultural need to carry on traditions and covey values. The meal—preparation, serving, eating, cleaning up—has always been a microcosm of the intricate realities that combine to make up even the simplest life of men, women and children. Because it is so inclusive (anyone and everyone can be included in the meal) and because it is so comprehensive (taking in the entire range of our existence—physical, social, cultural), the meal provides an endless supply of metaphors for virtually everything we do as human beings. These metaphors nearly always suggest something deeply personal and communal—giving, receiving, knowing and being known (“taste and see that the Lord is good”), accepting and being accepted, bounty and generosity (“land flowing with milk and honey”).
And, says Peterson, “For the Christian, every meal derives from and extends the Eucharistic meal into our daily eating and drinking, tables at which the risen Lord is present as host:”
All the elements of formation-by resurrection are present every time we sit down to a meal and invoke Jesus as host. It’s a wonderful thing, really, that one of the most common actions of our lives is also the setting in which the most profound transactions take place. The fusion of natural and supernatural that we witness and engage in the shape of the liturgy continues—or can continue—at your kitchen table.
 The common meal is a rich and mystical landscape in which we can experience transformation—and that is so well illustrated in this scene book-ended with prayer. While not all the participants may be on the same page when it comes to God, Lourdes “invokes Jesus as host." And within this common setting of a meal of shared food and bread, we witness that mysterious transformation from discouragement to hope—not the least of which comes by being reminded that we are not alone but together.

While some may find this scene heavy-handed (and you have a point), it does serve to remind me that the science fiction genre seems to be, for whatever reason, the current story-telling genre that is embracing the exploration and relevance—for better or worse—of faith and the question of God in human experience. While Falling Skies hasn’t yet got the chops and levity of series like Battlestar Galactica when it comes to this theme, I am intrigued by its inclusion in this story. And that is one of the things that keeps me watching (for now).

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