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'Fast' family

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 as well.

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.

“Jesus radically challenged His disciples…to join the new surrogate family of siblings He was establishing—the family of God,” says Joseph Hellerman in When the Church was a Family.

“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.

Early Christian 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.