Wednesday, July 31, 2013

The Church of Sharknado

sharknado, syfy, ian ziering, tara reid, movie, b film, ridiculous
by Ben Howard

Let me be clear up front, Sharknado is arguably the greatest achievement in cinematic history. In fact, there's a good chance it ranks in the Top 100 in the annals of human existence, right up there with The Great Wall of China and videos of panda bears sneezing. Certainly, Sharknado's creators did not aspire to such lofty heights, but they attained them nonetheless through grit, guile and ravenous sharks hurtling through the air.

Since you're on the internet reading this, I can safely assume that you've at least heard of Sharknado, but to be safe I'll let IMDB give you a quick synopsis: "When a freak hurricane swamps Los Angeles, nature's deadliest killer rules sea, land, and air as thousands of sharks terrorize the waterlogged populace." Exactly. Of course, this summary forgets to mention that our star is none other than Ian Ziering (aka Steve Sanders from 90210) and that he's flanked by the great Tara Reid.

Over the course of 86 minutes we follow Ian and Tara on their adventures through the greater Los Angeles area. We mourn for them at the loss of their friend George (aka The Dad from Home Alone), we rejoice with them when they finally utter the word Sharknado (it's a tornado with sharks, get it?), and we stare at them quizzically when they somehow extinguish a tornado with a bomb (I...I don't even...).

However, the most enjoyable part of watching the movie had nothing to do with the movie itself. My friend Lauren recorded the movie and organized a watch party for about 15 of us. We had snacks and told jokes and drank sangria. I was able to catch up with people I hadn't seen in months and connect with entirely new friends. It was an amazing night. And all of this happened around a poorly acted, bizarrely written made-for-TV movie about sharks that get sucked into tornadoes.

And this is church. This is church, sort of.

sharknado, sharks, tornado, syfy, ridiculousWe did all the things you do at church. We ate the food (crackers included), drank the wine (muddled with fruit and sugar) and enjoyed spending time together. We even heard a bloody tale of redemption (with 100% more sharks). We had conversation and community and laughter.

And this was, in some sense, holy. It wasn't time-honored traditions and incense, nor were there prayers and benedictions, but it was holy in the sense that people who cared for one another gathered together to celebrate their friendship and this kind of act is holy.

But even so, this is not church. Not quite.

Though there was community (and as any first year Greek student will tell you the word for church means community), this gathering lacked the necessary components of a church. A church requires a center and regrettably that center is not Sharknado.

Not to be trite, but the center of the church is Christ. I don't mean that in the sense that would make you imagine fake smiles and metaphorical bunnies, but in the deeper, more rooted incarnational meaning of the term. Church is rooted in the physical reality of a God who walked among us, who chose to come to us, and who remains with us still. This is the God we commune around, commune with, and worship.

Yet it is restrictive to say that this communion can only take place within a building or within the bounds of an institution expressly designed for the purpose. Many have realized the limitations of this conception of holiness and sought to deconstruct the boundaries of what it means to be a church, of what it means to commune together.

In many ways this deconstructed vision of church and communal life is a beautiful one. It recognizes that Christ, who is with us during a worship service, does not abandon us as we go about the rest of our lives. It allows holiness to seep into the mundane.

However, it often allows for a subtle replacement wherein the ideal of community focused on Christ is subsumed by the idea of community period. This is holy, but this is not church.

sharknado, ian ziering, chainsaw, sharks, tornado, great whiteThis move is understandable when church has too often been relegated to that which happens within four walls on a Sunday morning, when it has forgotten its roots as a community focused on Christ. As a response many of us have grasped for community wherever it can be found and we have named this community "church" for this is what we desire church to be. But giving something a name does not make it so.

And this is why watching Sharknado is not church. Though I still hold that the night was holy, Ian Ziering is not Christ and chainsawing your way out a shark is not resurrection (technically). There was laughter, there was love, there was community. Community is essential to a church, but it is not a substitute for all that church is.


Ben Howard is an accidental iconoclast and generally curious individual living in Nashville, Tennessee. He is also the editor-in-chief of On Pop Theology and an avid fan of waving at strangers for no reason. You can follow him on Twitter @BenHoward87. 
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