Shepherd Book: Pretty Much the Opposite of Ned Flanders

Now that I'm a pastor, can I look bad-ass like that? Is that allowed?

Take my love, take my land
Take me where I cannot stand
I don’t care, I’m still free
You can’t take the sky from me

And from the moment you hear the theme song and see the amazing combination of Old West style script and scifi style fonts announcing the actors, you know that Firefly is going to be a different kind of show.

And it was. It was a modern science fiction television program that had a certain amount of heart. The actors loved their characters and the setting. Often enough actors will talk about how they treat each other like family, but there was something about the interaction on screen and off that made it at least appear as if everyone involved really loved being there.

When the artists involved revel in their parts, you know that the end product will shine just a little brighter.

And burn out all the faster.

There’s a lot of unique things about Firefly I love: the gritty setting, the imperfect but still lovable characters, the tightly-plotted episodes. In the end, you could almost say that Firefly is a show about a crew of Han Solo-type characters without the heroic introduction of a Skywalker. And, personally, I love it.

Shepherd Book stands as the most mysterious member of the crew. He’s a minister who takes up with a band of thieves. Unlike Friar Tuck in Robin Hood, he’s not interested in fighting to right wrongs or brew a new titillating concoction (depending your version of Tuck). Book joins up with the ship because… well, just because. In the pilot episode he appears lost and searching, and Kaylee (my favorite character!) tells him that Serenity is the boat he’s looking for. He accepts the ride, and his adventures begin.

I have to give credit for Joss Whedon, an admitted atheist, for keeping Book at least somewhat Christian in what he says and does. Of course, he never speaks explicit Gospel, but he’s not the stereotyped Christian:

He’s not a wimpy pacifist.

He’s not a fake.

He’s not a naïve doop.

He’s pretty much the opposite of Ned Flanders.

All right, they have similar mustaches. I'll give you that.

And it is for this reason I can appreciate Book. He’s a nuanced character who won’t kill but is fine shooting out kneecaps to save a friend in mortal danger. He’s someone who’s willing to teach but even more willing to learn. He smiles and laughs and takes things seriously. In other words… he’s a character who lives and isn’t cardboard. How often do you get a Christian character like that, even within Christian media?

Of course, Book doesn’t get an A+ for Christian theology. He tells River that the Bible isn’t necessarily meant to be taken literally when she presents a very creative solution to the “problem” of Noah’s Ark. To be fair, there are plenty of Christian denominations that teach that, but it’s one of the few parts of the show that truly gets on my nerves.

Alas, Book’s parting words show us that he really doesn’t have the Holy Spirit. As he lies dying in the movie Serenity, he pleads, “I don’t care what you believe in, just believe in it. ”

Sigh.

Christianity isn’t about faith, it’s about the object of faith. Do you really mean to say you don’t care what Mal believes in, Shepherd Book? It’s a good thing Mal didn’t choose to believe in a magic feather. Faith is only as good as what the faith is in! And what could be better than faith in Christ? What could be better than the God who loved worthless humans so much that he chose to save us? What could be better than the God who said we were worth his going through hell?

But didn’t I just say that I love Firefly? How can I, a conservative Christian, enjoy a show that presents the Christian message as, “Believe something, and I don’t care what”?

…it’s a good question, and one I don’t know that I can answer.

I’ve mentioned a few things I love about the show. I’ve already mentioned that Book isn’t your Christian as typically portrayed. These are redeeming qualities, yes. But what’s the main message of the show? What is the spiritual message?

“I don’t care what you believe in, just believe in it. ”

And can a Christian enjoy this? Well, all right, a Christian can. After all, Brandon, Annabeth, and I all love the show.

But should a Christian love and even advocate a show like this? I’ve recommended it to any number of people – in fact, I think I’m one of the ones who battered Brandon into trying it (correct me if I’m wrong here, Brandon). Am I wrong to do so?

What do you think?

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6 thoughts on “Shepherd Book: Pretty Much the Opposite of Ned Flanders

  1. Firefly to me was about normal people put into tough situations who simply do their best–people loyal to their friends and with beliefs that they center their lives in. Let’s call these tales morality stories. Whether it’s Andre Norton’s Witch World series or Modessitt’s Recluse series, each in its own way looks for what is right and the story shows the results of that process. Sometimes ‘good’ has an advantage, other times it is doomed. The search for truth, or understanding, or vanqueshing (sp?) of evil holds our interest. Star Trek, Star Wars, Blade Runner, Logan’s Run, etc. all have the same basis. Even the original Battlestar Galactica had that as a storyline. As Christians, even non-Christian pursuit of truth is a draw, especially when it hints at what we believe. Haven (on Syfy) works because we know there is something really wrong, but as long as we can’t solve the problems, we need to protect those cursed by them. Hmmmmm

  2. Luke in many ways this sparks up an argument I have with myself.
    For the most part:
    I listen to secular music.
    I read secular books.
    And when I watch television it’s secular.

    Is it wrong?

    No.

    But why do I do it?

    Is there really anything spiritually I gain from this. Do I increase my knowledge of God’s Word, does it truly help me share His Word with others? No, when you get down to the nitty gritty of it. Then why do I take my eyes off of God for one second? Because I enjoy the stories or I enjoy the melody or the characters are really engaging. But, in the back of my head I hear myself saying I should always keep my eyes on God, and I wonder if it is my sinful nature that pulls me into watching or listening or reading things that in many ways are the worlds way of putting light on itself and dimming our eyes and ears from wanting to hear or read more about God. I feel the answer is yes, at least partially.

    I could find Christ centered things that are not cookie cutter, uninspired or insipid…it would be a lot of work but I could. But I don’t and I doubt I ever will.

    And as far as Science Fiction (which I grew up loving) the worst offender of wanting to minimize God at it’s best or laying Him to rest as a mere primitive superstition at it’s worst, I find myself these days finding less and less enjoyable about it. Maybe it has become to much work for me to have to either ignore it’s message or try to find some hidden message that is acceptable for me.

    Let me make it clear here that I’m not saying that it is wrong to watch or listen to these things…I’m just saying in my own heart I am finding less and less reasons to to do so.

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