Monday, October 15, 2012

Who We Are Instead: Revolution and Redemption

by Ben Howard

A few weeks ago NBC premiered a new show called Revolution. You may have seen the previews during the Olympics. If you're trying to jog your memory, it's the one with the sword-fight scene, not the one with Matthew Perry or a monkey doctor. It's one of those shows that trying to catch the zeitgeist with elements reminiscent of The Hunger Games and Lost.

The show is set fifteen years into the future in the aftermath of a cataclysmic event that renders electronic devices unusable and electricity itself unattainable. No cars, no lights, no communication other than letters and word of mouth.

In the fifteen years since this blackout, the national government has fallen and bands of militias have taken over different sections of the country. Revolution is set in the post-event Midwest, near Chicago, an area under the jurisdiction of General Sebastian Monroe. Monroe has outlawed guns and the United States flag, now considered a sign of the underground rebellion.

Like any serialized show, the problems confronting the characters change on a week to week basis, but the central questions stay the same. The tension at the center of the show concerns the difference between who these characters were in the pre-event world and who they are now in an entirely different environment for which they were not trained.

Essentially, the characters are forced to deal with a disjointed narrative concerning who they were and who they are. If, like one character, you worked for Google, who are you now when the internet no longer exists? How does your past shape you when it no longer feels like its relevant to the essential qualities that make you who you are?

This problem of identity finds itself deeply embedded in both the American and the Christian narrative. Both communities are forced to struggle with a past, full of both highs and lows, that read more like myth than actual history. It is a past that exists, but for many in the community no longer bears a relation to present-day reality. How does this past affect us and how does it shape who we are?

The American narrative finds itself with two conflicting meta-narratives. The first is that of America as upstart, innovator and champion. This is the story we like to tell ourselves. The story of the United States winning independence over the British and establishing herself as the “Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave.” In this story, the United States grows and evolves emerging as the hero of World War I and World War II and the world's only superpower. This is the story of greatness, but it is not the only story.

There is also the story of oppression. A story that includes the genocide and repression of an indigenous people as well as the oppression, importation and slavery of a race different from that of the nations founders. It includes institutional racism and sexism that have existed long after the legal abolition of such things. It includes the blood of numerous wars and “military actions”.

Both are stories. Both are true. Both define part of what our nation is today and how we have been shaped as citizens of that nation.

It is unlikely that anyone reading this participated in either the good or the bad parts of this story. We did not write this story, but is still the story of us. In the same way that the characters from Revolution must deal with both who they were before the blackout because it has essentially shaped who they are now, so we must deal with the story that shaped us even if we are no longer active participants in that story.

A more acute example of this comes from one of the main characters in the show, Miles Matheson. Miles is the uncle of the ostensible protagonist, a teenage girl named Charlie Matheson, who seeks him out when her father is murdered and her brother is kidnapped. Since the show has only aired four episodes as of this writing, Miles back story is understandably vague, however we do know that he is a former Marine and was one of the founders of the now dominant and dangerous militia headed by Sebastian Monroe, his former friend and colleague.

Much like the American story, Miles' story is one of good and bad. He is a good Marine and tries to restore some semblance of order after the blackout, but in trying to assert his power his good intentions become warped and he creates a violent machine of destruction and oppression. This is often the story of power.

Now Miles, without the authority of his previous life, but with the knowledge and wisdom of what that power can do, can begin a journey to redeem his identity and find salvation for his past acts by helping his young niece.

This is the place where I feel the American story diverges from the Christian story.

The Christian story has a lot of commonalities with the American story. An underground, revolutionary movement with new ideas about how to organize society breaks free of its oppressive chains and rises to power and prominence. In this new position of prominence it has been able to wield nearly unmatched political authority, but this authority has also led to darker moments which taint the narrative.

In the Christian story we must deal with a past that includes the violence of the Crusades, the violent oppression of dissent during the Reformation, and the bloody conflicts between Catholics and Protestants all over Europe, but especially the British Isles. In addition, the church has stood idly by while numerous other atrocities occurred including the genocide of indigenous people on multiple continents, the oppression of minorities around the globe, and corruption within its own community.

With this in mind, the Christian story must sound alarmingly like the American story. However, the Christian story promises the hope that Miles searches for in Revolution, it promises the hope of redemption. A redeemed story embraces both the positive and the negative, the story we want to tell and the story we want to hide. In order to be redeemed, Miles must embrace both the person he was and the person he is in order to become the person he will be.

This is the Christian hope. It is not a story of abandonment and starting over, it is a story about recovering and embracing the old story and all its flaws in order to help write a new, redeemed story. This is the revolutionary message of the Gospel, not that the old will be rejected in favor of the new, but that the old will be redeemed as part of the new creation.

It is a hope that looks forward instead of back because much like the characters in the show, we will never be able to re-create the world that was. Like them, we must work alongside God and his Spirit to create something new out of something old and we must embrace the freedom and redemption that this brings.


You can follow Ben on Twitter @BenHoward87 or email him at benjamin.howard87 [at]

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