|I will remember you *da da da dada*|
Will you remember me?
by Ben Howard
I loved the show Community. Yes, that sentence is in the past tense.
For the duration of its first three seasons, Community was one of my favorite shows on TV. Not only was it a absurdist meta-comedy which commented continuously on the very sitcom conceits it was enacting, but it also showcased a level of heart and depth that very few shows attempt to achieve. A lot of people focus on the jokes, or the concept episodes, but I loved Community because of the way it explored neuroses, and loneliness, and, well, community.
It mined dark areas of life and found comedy, camaraderie and warmth in the midst of real pain.
The show has never had good ratings and has always been on the verge of cancellation, but it was still a surprise when the creator, show runner and creative force behind Community, Dan Harmon, was fired after the third season. Harmon was notoriously irascible and difficult to deal with. His borderline dysfunctional personality made him a headache for the network, but it also fed the creative energy that made the show what it was.
Harmon was replaced by two veteran TV writers, but when the show came back for a fourth season a few weeks ago, it was evident that they had not been able to recapture the magic of Harmon’s Community.
I will continue to watch Zombie Community, but it will be with a tinge of sadness. That’s the way these lightning in a bottle moments go. When you’re in the midst of it, it feels like it will never end.
I don’t want to bemoan the shift from Harmon Community to Zombie Community too much. I mean, it is only a sitcom after all, but I think it highlights something important in the realm of Christian memory.
The happy feelings I have about Harmon’s version of community exist in as memories, while the frustrated feelings I have about Zombie Community are fostered by a sense of nostalgia. I’m frustrated by Zombie Community because it not only reminds me of something I miss, but it makes me want to return to a past that I can no longer access.
Christians face this problem all the time. We remember the greatness of our past and in our hunger for a better present we try to imitate the greatness that has come before us, but that imitation of the past leaves us empty because it calls us to create a world that no longer exists.
I grew up in a faith tradition that constantly referenced the first century church as a model for life. When questions of church practice were asked, one of the first places they’d look would be the practice of the first century church. The problem with this should be self-evident: the tradition in question exists in the 21st century which is, quite clearly, not the same as the first century.
The resulting community looks like a Zombie First Century Church, which leaves most people frustrated and nostalgic.
|Boldly going we're no church has gone before|
I understand the appeal of the past. When we look to the past we look to things that we know worked, we remember things we know we enjoyed, we see things that we know were beautiful, but it is impossible to remake the past. It is impossible to recapture the lightning we once had.
Christians are not called to remake the past and tilt at nostalgic windmills of a bygone era; we are called to live into the future. Living into the future requires imagination and creativity. It requires us to wrestle with things we do not understand. It requires us to be vulnerable to questions we have not yet asked.
It requires us to learn to love the past and remember it fondly, to be inspired by the things that came before, but to make something new. It requires us to be more than zombies.
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