So Paul took his stand in the open space at the Areopagus and laid it out for them: "I'm here to introduce you to this God.... He doesn't play hide-and-seek with us. He's not remote; he's near. We live and move in him, can't get away from him!" ~Acts 17
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Sometimes, images echoing the kingdom show up in unexpected places.
Take Furious 7,
for example. The latest installment in the Fast
& Furious franchise took in $1 billion in 17 days. That’s faster than Avatar, The Avengers and Harry Potter
and the Deathly Hallows Part 2.
Interestingly, the muscle car and high-octane action
franchise has a wide appeal. Forty-nine percent of the Fast & Furious 6 audience was women. The films attracts across ethnic lines
In a Washington Post article, Stephanie Merry notes that the film’s success is due to a combination
of factors, including appealing characters, charismatic and multi-ethnic stars,
and car race and chase scenes “whose James Bond-caliber inventiveness and sheer
grace let you ignore their absurdity.”
Then Merry notes the film’s surprising emotional core: “the
loyalty of these engine-revving, brawling, backyard-barbequing street
racers-turned-heist artists who consider themselves ‘family’.”
The Fast & Furious
family centers around Dom Toretto (Vin Diesel), a tough but good-hearted ex-con
and elite street racer. He’s protective of his sister Mia, whom he raised after
their father was killed. Mia falls in love with and eventually marries Brian
O’Connell (the late Paul Walker), who becomes like a brother to Torretto.
Over the years, others—most of whom live on society’s
margins and have little if any connection with their biological families—graft
into this diverse, unified, forgiving family. Each brings gifts and talents
which make them stronger together. They bond deeply and share their resources. Individual
members often sacrifice their own best interest for the best interest of each
other and the group.
“I don’t have friends,” says Tortetto in Furious 7. “I have family.”
This surrogate family is their primary group. “The most
important thing in life will always be the people right here, right now. That’s
what’s real,” says Toretto.
One of the most iconic images of the franchise is the crew
gathered around a large backyard table sharing a prayed-over meal. In a culture
fraught with individualism, it’s no wonder Fast
and Furious family speaks to our craving not only for connection but deep
bonds like theirs.
There’s plenty in the Fast
& Furious world that conflicts with the Jesus Way of life, but I find this
grafted-together, table-gathering family a thought-provoking image echoing the
kind of family Jesus calls us to.
“Who do you think
my mother and brothers are?” Jesus asks. He stretches out his hand toward his
disciples, a grafted-together eclectic group that occupies the margins of
society. “Look closely. These are my mother and brothers” (Matthew 12:48 Message).
This family was their primary group, not only nurturing
spiritual growth and formation but also serving as economic safety nets for
each other. Noting Jesus’ conversation with his disciples after his encounter
with the rich young ruler, Hellerman points out that Jesus expects this surrogate
family group to reflect the practical benefits of biological families, including
access to the material resources.
literature is full of stories of the ancient church living this out. And let’s
not forget all that table-gathering, the most basic of family activities and a
simple yet profound act of resource sharing.
While Torretto’s crew probably isn’t what Jesus had in mind
when he put all that in motion, perhaps it should give us pause. In some ways,
the Fast & Furious family
reflects Jesus’ kingdom family better than many of us live out today.
“The group, not
the individual, took priority in a believer's life in the early church,” says
Hellerman says in a Christianity Today article. “If we are really serious about spiritual formation, we must become
really serious about creating churches that act like real families.”
This post originally appeared as a column for MWR.