How HBO is Teaching Me Something New About Jesus

by Addie

game-of-thrones

Last February, the second season of Game of Thrones hit stores right before my husband and I left for a weekend getaway to the North shore of Lake Superior. We bought it immediately and devoured it in two nights at our hotel in the wilderness.

I’ll be honest: the boob situation is a little out of control. The amount of female nudity in Game of Thrones is on the fairly gratuitous side. When the scene cuts to another voluptuous, nude palace prostitute (as it so often does), I roll my eyes and Andrew ducks his head under the blanket on the couch.

The Christian Guide to Movies flipbook our church used to keep on the Welcome Desk – a freebie, I believe, from Focus on the Family – would have given Game of Thrones a big old thumbs down. Between the nudity and the violence, the HBO hit series sets itself staunchly against the Morals and Values that conservative Christian culture tends to hold up as paramount to a life of faith.

I understand all the reasons not to watch shows like these, and there is a deep truth to the work of guarding your mind, your heart. I think it’s a kind of wisdom and maturity to recognize that the way the things we take in change the way we see the world.

And yet, there is no television show I’ve ever watched that has impacted my perception of the Bible so powerfully.

I should tell you, first of all, that I grew up on Bible stories turned animation, turned catchy songs with hand-motions. It’s not that the hard, sad, scary parts of the Bible were edited out of those early renderings. But they were tamped down until they were small enough to fit in my child-sized heart.

Biblical villains became cartoons, caricatures, no more threatening than Jafar in Aladdin or Ursula in The Little Mermaid. Their role in the story was brief and inevitably doomed, and I understood that Pharaoh was never really dangerous – just the necessary counterbalance to the Israelites brave escape. We sang Pharaoh Pharaoh/Ohhhhhh baby, let my people go/ (Huh!)/Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah in in the sweaty, mosquito-filled summer camp amphitheater, knowing that he wouldn’t…but that it would be okay. It was always going to be okay.

In the world I grew up in, Veggie Tales reinvented Goliath as a giant pickle and the soldiers of the city of Jericho as French peas, and I’m not saying that this was necessarily a bad thing. I’m not saying it’s wrong to present the Bible in an entertaining way to children. I’m not even saying that I won’t end up showing movies like these to my own kids in a moment of desperation.

Still, I wonder if part of the reason why it’s hard to make sense of a world where evil is truly heinous, where bad things happen and are as horrible and life altering and as real as a body lying before you…has something to do with the fact that our concept of evil in the Biblical world was tempered, toned down, turned Technicolor.

Game of Thrones is unapologetically violent and gritty. Main characters die without warning. Injustices occur and are left unchecked by the corrupt powers in place. In Season 2 [SPOILER ALERT] the evil young son of the duplicitous queen takes the crown and has infants put to death who maybe could possibly end up being heirs to the throne.

The women are naked, and it’s because they’re property, because their value is tied up in their sexuality and their reproductive abilities. Armies clash, and would-be-kings race toward the capital city to claim the throne that they believe to be rightfully theirs, and sitting in my chair caught in the chaos and wonder of the story, I understand maybe for the first time the terrible drug of power. The fear it creates, the way it creeps down to the heart like a cancer and turns it altogether dark.

My husband and I watched Season 2 in one weekend of total television gluttony that February, and when I began reading through the life of Jesus in the Gospels later that spring for a Bible study, I was shocked to find it altogether changed for me.

I read the part about Herod, sending soldiers to Bethlehem to kill all infants age two and younger, and while this had always troubled me, while I’d understood it intellectually, I finally could see it. I could see the child-king in Game of Thrones, mad with fear and power issuing the edict with the casual sweep of a hand.

I read, and I saw the world into which Christ was born not as a cartoon construction, but as a real place that was easily as corrupt and dangerous as the fiction world in which the HBO series unfolds. Jesus is born not into a friendly world but into another game of thrones, born King of Kings in a land where lesser, unkind kings held white-knuckled to their crowns.

And when his disciples kept waiting for him to defeat the empire, to take the throne, it wasn’t some kind of flimsy wish—it was desperation, and exhaustion, and fear, and being so close to change that they could almost taste it.

I think of the invisible, upside-down kingdom that Jesus offered to the hungry crowds on mountainsides. I get teary when I dare to imagine myself as a woman caught in the current of a power and corruption, being offered the entire world by a King who looks out into the crowd and sees me.

And really, nothing has changed, has it? Even in the dressed-up politeness of democracy, this is still the truth. It will always be the truth.

Season 3 of Game of Thrones comes out on February 18th, and you can bet we’ll be picking it up, sitting in the basement, turning our heads when the nudity is too much. We’ll find ourselves back in the middle of a story about power and corruption of goodness, and we’ll be captivated by the story.

But also, maybe, a little part of us will become even more captivated by the wonder of The Story – the one Jesus told when he was born into a game of thrones and changed the whole thing forever.

 

13 Responses to “How HBO is Teaching Me Something New About Jesus”

  1. Diane Volk Harris February 6, 2014 at 7:59 am #

    It’s so refreshing to hear from a Christian who isn’t afraid of the grit in today’s entertainment culture, and can actually benefit from a thoughtful analysis of it all. I haven’t watched Game of Thrones but I have enjoyed Rectify, Breaking Bad and Orange is the New Black–all shows that would make your average Baptist cringe. Mostly I find interesting ideas about human motivation in these shows, and I am basking in the freedom to make my own choices about what I see. There was a time when radically conservative Christianity (think Focus) suffocated me, but no more. Thanks for a great post, Addie.

  2. Marilyn February 6, 2014 at 8:03 am #

    I so get this. I’ve not seen Game of Thrones and my guess is Scandal(though equally scandalous)doesn’t have quite the same connections with the Biblical story. But I know exactly what you mean by it leading you to a greater appreciation for the Story. We’re a big film family and when our kids were younger we know we showed them so stuff that other parents perhaps would have steered away from. But so much of it was about seeing and better understanding the theology behind the film. In fact we started this thing called Theatre and Theology where we discussed theological truths and themes in film. But that’s another story. And on Veggie Tales – cute as they are, Haman probably didn’t go to the land of perpetual tickles…Great post.

  3. Christie February 6, 2014 at 8:04 am #

    The power dynamic of Game of Thrones is what drew both my husband and I to watching (I later read all of the books as well). And yes, of course, it is gritty and awful at times, but as you’ve mentioned, in many ways REAL. The sheep-cuddling, flannel graph Jesus of my childhood isn’t a particularly accurate portrayal of the true story of the gospels. Because things were really ugly, and I think knowing that ugliness helps us appreciate the grace of God at a much deeper level.

    Thanks so much for this post Addie!

  4. Erika February 6, 2014 at 11:42 am #

    YES.

  5. Lucas Dawn February 6, 2014 at 11:49 am #

    Another “throne” in the story of Jesus that is often missed is that of the scribes and Pharisees. Most think of them as religious leaders, not rulers. But Jesus says they sit on “Moses’ seat” in the synagogues, where they teach, interpret, apply, and enforce the law of Moses for their local villages and towns (the law of Moses being the “constitution” for the kingdom of Israel). They are indeed “authorities” over the daily lives of those people; and they are the main antagonists of Jesus in the Gospels. This “game” is not just about religious principles or power; it is also a about a conflict with a new king who threatens the political power of these Jewish rulers. Of course, Jesus is not really trying to take over their kind of power; but he does often directly confront them, and often warns his new kingdom of disciples that they must be different from these revered “fathers.”

  6. Diana Trautwein February 6, 2014 at 2:42 pm #

    Oh, well done, Addie! There was a reason for the ‘fairy tales’ of the brothers Grimm, which were actually quite graphic and frightening. Children do not necessarily need everything sugar coated and adults most definitely do not. I get tired of the nudity, too, but it fits the time period and the through line of the story. There is no pretension about the ‘kinder’ side of blind ambition, the supremely evil outcome of unchecked greed in these stories. They’re disturbing and powerful. And they do force us to look at our story, the one between the first page of Genesis and the last page of Revelation, with new, more well-informed eyes. Thanks so much for this.

  7. Heidi February 7, 2014 at 3:31 am #

    Addie, I love this! That’s why I loved watching The Tudors, because it gave a more accurate protrayal of the depravity of man and made it so much more obvious why Christ needed to step into this world and save us. And I loved Spartacus, too, because the time period was much closer to Jesus’. I got a more accurate depiction of what He (and Paul and Peter, etc) were up against when their worldviews so clearly conflicted with the Romans’.

    I do find myself, sometimes, being cautious who I tell my taste in television shows to. After all, how could a good Christian expose herself to something like Game of Thrones? So I’m very glad to know there are other people who are just like me, people trying to reconcile their conservative upbringings with the gritty, and sometimes nasty, ways of the real world.

  8. Janice February 9, 2014 at 8:15 am #

    Ever wonder if the reason us Christians are led to ‘soften’ evil for children is that it actually makes it less easy to identify evil? Seems it makes it so much easier for evil to appear as good and good to appear as evil. I see so many parents ‘protect’ children from death by never taking them to funerals. More than a few young adults I know never attended a funeral till the death of a grandparent, parent or sibling. That protection left a traumatized teen not knowing how to deal with death. Thanks for this post and a reminder of just how dark evil really is.

  9. Mary Beth February 10, 2014 at 12:54 pm #

    I absolutely get this — I’ve never been able to think of women’s rights and feminism the same after watching it. I always want to scream out AND THIS IS WHY [fill in the blank] while watching. It stays with me, too. I think as a whole we pretend that all kings are good kings and all men are good men, so we should just blindly trust those with authority to do right by everyone else. History shows us a different truth. These kinds of shows help me remember.

  10. Heather February 25, 2014 at 6:16 pm #

    YES!

    Great post. I too am addicted to Game of Thrones. I have recently read the latest book. Not long after finishing, I left for a trip to Israel. As we toured Megiddo and Masada, I found myself making Game of Thrones references. I hadn’t realized until just then that the books helped me shape history in my mind in a more realistic manner, just like you said.

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