Thursday, April 07, 2011

Fact or fiction- are they really mutually exclusive?

A good friend and colleague of mine has been receiving a lot of media attention this week. The Rev Avril Hannah-Jones, the minister of Romsey Uniting Church, is holding a special worship service this Sunday afternoon, promoted as being “Sci-fi and Fantasy Friendly”.

Avril has long been a fan of various science fiction and fantasy books, movies and TV (and in fact, I can blame her for introducing me to the Supernatural TV series. Those Winchester boys really are just too cute for their own good... but I digress... :-). So when she scored an audience ticket to the first episode of the ABC talk show Adam Hills in Gordon St Tonight, she described herself in her audience profile questionnaire as ‘a Sci-fi and fantasy addicted Uniting Church Minister’.

Adam Hills built on this with a humorous film-clip advertising a fictitious ‘Church of Latter Day Geeks’, and it all kind of snowballed from there, and Avril found herself, some weeks later, designing a service of worship that would appeal to those ‘geeks’.

Avril wrote in promoting the service:

“Impressed with the way the Doctor, Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Harry Potter live out Jesus’ teaching, ‘No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends’? Intrigued by the themes of mercy, forgiveness and redemption in Lord of the Rings, Star Wars and the television series Angel? Inspired to do good and resist evil by the example of Peter Parker, the crew of Serenity and the Winchester brothers? Then come to a sci-fi and fantasy-friendly church. You’re welcome to come in a costume of your choice, but blasters, stakes and other weapons will have to be left at the church door.”

I will be attending this service on Sunday afternoon, both because I want to support Avril (as this whole thing has gotten bigger than she ever imagined) and because at a time when media stories about Christians are almost universally bad, here is the chance for a good-news story. A story of a faith community engaging a whole group of people in our society who are often portrayed as weirdos and outcasts.

Of course, not all of the media attention has been positive (see this article in Wednesday's Herald Sun). One accusation, made particularly of fantasy stories, is that they’re escapist. In responding to this, Avril refers to JRR Tolkien, and to Easter:

Writing about fairy tales, Tolkien described them as including a ‘eucatastrophe’, a good catastrophe, the sudden joy that comes in the midst of despair, the moment of unexpected deliverance. The reason, Tolkien argued, that fantasy writers like him are able to offer their readers this consolation of the happy ending is because the Creator has already given it to us.

“The birth of Christ,” he wrote, “is the eucatastrophe of man’s history. The resurrection is the eucatastrophe of the story of the incarnation. This story begins and ends in joy. There is no tale ever told that men would rather find was true, and none which so many sceptical men have accepted as true on its own merits.”

As we continue our journey through Lent, and become conscious of the closeness of Easter, let us look forward with joy and expectation to the ultimate ‘happy ending’ (or ‘eucatastrophe’) on Easter Sunday.

Postscript: Other print/electronic media coverage of this event include:

* An opinion piece written by Avril in the Herald Sun
* The critical article in the Herald Sun (same day)
* A blog post in the Uniting Church's Tasmission Blog
(and of course I'm sure there's more out there in the blogosphere, but these are the main pieces I have seen).