Entries with tag pop culture .

3 Things "Game of Thrones" Gets Right

After a short summer break, we’re happy to announce that our podcast, Pop Culture Coffee Hour, is back (with a new logo, too)!

To kick off our new season, Emma and I discussed Game of Thrones, which recently concluded its seventh season. You can listen to our conversation here.

Though incredibly popular, Game of Thrones can rub a lot of Christians the wrong way. Its episodes often include violent, sexual, or downright disturbing scenes. And it can seem that there’s no moral compass in the GoT universe: good characters die, bad characters thrive, and any good vs evil narrative seems cloudy, if not completely absent.

Emma and I push back on this take in our episode. Though GoT isn't appropriate for everyone (Christian and I talked about how to deal with things that are difficult or inappropriate to watch back in episode 6), we can find Christ at work even in the mixed-up world of Westeros. And we can identify some important themes that can offer a bit of encouragement and inspiration for every Christian who seeks the Kingdom.

To get the conversation started, here are three things Game of Thrones definitely gets right:

[Needless to say, spoilers ahead.]
 
1. Death is the Real Enemy
 
The title of Game of Thrones perfectly captures how the series started out: it was a gritty medieval fantasy that focused on the conflict between the great families of the land of Westeros. After the death of King Robert Baratheon upsets the tentative stability of the realm, intrigue and outright war commence. Established noble families and upstart schemers alike begin to play the “game of thrones” as they maneuver for power and, ultimately, the Iron Throne.

Yet, from the very beginning of the series, it’s clear that a malevolent force lurks in the north, beyond the Wall. While lords and ladies vie for power, the dead prepare to destroy mankind. As the seasons progress, characters like Jon Snow realize that even the winner of the “game of thrones” will ultimately lose when the White Walkers sweep south, killing all in their path.

As season 7 concludes, the warring powers face a choice: will they realize that their machinations and strategies have been distractions from the existential crisis that threatens them all?

As Snow says, “There is only one war that matters. The Great War. And it is here.”

Christians have a similar insight. Our sinful desires for fame or wealth are vain. Even a moralistic desire for good conduct, on its own, misses the mark. Our enemy is death, the oblivion that results from separation from God. 

Yet the Son of God took on flesh and became human for us. He took on our pain and loneliness and anguish, even to the point of dying on the Cross, so that we could have the true life that is properly His.

God has already won the Great War. Christ is Risen!
 
2. Being Good Can Cost You Dearly, and That’s Okay
 
Many important characters have died in the last seven seasons. Yet Game of Thrones is haunted by the memory of one man in particular: Ned Stark. 

Stark was the Lord of Winterfell and Warden of the North. A great man and the head of one of Westeros’ most important and historic families, Ned Stark was nonetheless grounded by a firm sense of truth and justice. He consistently tried to make choices, not because they would advance his position, but because they were right.

In a dramatic turn at the end of season 1, Ned Stark is executed.

Ned is not the only Stark who is injured as a consequence of trying to do what’s right. His son, Robb Stark, chose to marry for love rather than political advantage. And it cost him his head.

Jon Snow, whom Ned Stark raised as his own son, is cut from the same cloth. He tells the truth even when it will backfire on him, he refuses to make a false oath even though it will be politically advantageous. As Snow reasoned late in season 7, “I'm not going to swear an oath I can't uphold. When enough people make false promises, words stop meaning anything. Then there are no more answers, only better and better lies.”

Christians take a similar stand. While others may tell lies, we speak God’s true word. While others may work violence, we resolve to turn the other cheek.

When faced with the ultimate choice, Christians will even choose death rather than deny their Lord. Because we have already died in the waters of baptism and risen into new life in Christ. Even the world’s worst is nothing to fear.

3. There's Hope for Everyone
  
In Game of Thrones, even a noble character like Ned Stark can have a tragic flaw that leads to his undoing. Similarly, even a villainous character can have a deeper complexity that leads to his redemption.

We meet many characters that are deeply unsympathetic. Tyrion Lannister, the despised son of a powerful nobleman, is a lecher and drunk. Sandor Clegane, a knight and bodyguard to royalty, is a violent and ruthless killer.

Yet, as the series progresses, we uncover the scars that shaped these broken men. Lannister, a man of short stature whose mother died while giving birth to him, is despised by his father. Clegane, a man who bears a terrible scar on his face, has also been psychologically scarred by the violence and depravity of his older brother. 

And we soon find opportunities for these men to channel their pain into noble conduct. Lannister, an outcast who was arrested and almost killed by his family, becomes an advisor for Danaerys Targaryen, the “Breaker of Chains” and liberator of slaves. Clegane, himself the victim of abuse, becomes a protector of the downtrodden and even risks his life to help Jon Snow awaken Westeros to the dangers of the White Walkers. 

There is hope for even the lost of Westeros. And often, this hope grows out of their deepest pain.

Christians have a similar hope. St. Paul the Apostles, once a zealous persecutor of the Church, became a zealous evangelist. St. Mary of Egypt, once overcome by her lust, developed a desire for the Lord that drove her into a lifetime of repentance. St. Moses the Black, once a violent thief, resolved to take the Kingdom of God by force as he threw himself into a life of ascetic struggle.

Game of Thrones may not be suitable for every viewer, but it does present us with a complex worldview that is not always found in fantasy stories or popular television series. Its complex worldview and unexpected twists have presented some powerful themes over the past seven seasons, themes which may even help us better appreciate the drama and power of the unfolding story of salvation.

If you’d like to listen to our podcast on Game of Thrones, click here.

 

Steven Christoforou is the Director of Y2AM.

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New Blog Series: Pop Culture Espresso Shots!

During the last year, I wrote a series of blog posts, each dealing with the Gospel reading for the upcoming Sunday. After working through basically the entire liturgical cycle, it’s time to begin a new project!

Since Steve and I have been dwelling in (not “being of”) and interacting with the world in our new podcast, Pop Culture Coffee Hour, I’ve decided to take that experiment just a step further.

And that is what brings us to…

Pop Culture Espresso Shots!

The dividing wall between sacred and secular is one that we often erect ourselves, and frankly, I’m tired of it. The reality is that every “secular” ritual carries sacred implications, and every “sacred” act can become secular. To divide the heavenly and the earthly is to do violence to the Word of God made flesh, who in His very Body brought creation to its proper union with the Uncreated God.

Since we’re Christians, we’re going to do more of that.

Christ Himself sets this example, not simply in the deep theology of His saving Incarnation, but even in the simple way He spoke to people. There is a reason that He told parables to capture the minds and hearts of His hearers. Jesus could have simply spoken to them of heavenly realities, telling them directly about divine forgiveness, telling them directly about the need for cultivating good deeds. He could have simply told us that man lives off God’s Word and left it at that.

But He didn’t.

Instead of telling us about God’s forgiveness, He showed us through a banal story about a father and his hapless son.

Instead of telling us about the need for cultivating good deeds, He told us a story about a farmer and some seeds.

Instead of merely preaching the need for God’s Word, He gave us Himself as real food and real drink, as Bread and Wine become Body and Blood.

It seems that God has a knack for using the ordinary as a gateway to the extraordinary.

Imagining the Extraordinary

When I was a kid, my mother read The Horse and His Boy to me, replacing the boy’s name with my own. Suddenly, the story of Shasta became my story. I had entered an extraordinary world through the very ordinary act of a mother reading a story to her son.

I became the subject of Aslan’s love. And he (He) became the subject of my own.

Now, as an adult, I understand that the real subject of my love, the real person towards whom my heart had been turned in the reading of this children’s book, was Christ Himself.

These stories capture our hearts because they are true. They are beautiful. And they are impossible.

We love Frodo because he is so little and yet overcomes the villainous Sauron. We love Narnia because animals speak. And we love Spider-Man (some of us) because he is the nerdy underdog who suddenly can walk up walls.

We love stories with impossible things.

Sadly, many of us have lost the ability to see the truth. We have lost our love of beauty. And worst of all, we have lost our ability to imagine the impossible happening.

With this sad reality buried in our hearts, how can we possibly be expected to believe the Gospel, the most impossible thing ever to have happened?

Stories thus provide a valuable training ground for our hearts, teaching us to long for the impossible. Teaching us to dwell on that which is good, noble, and pure.

On that which is true.

Telling the Truth: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

For Christians, the Truth is a person: the Crucified and Risen Lord. The Gospel of Christ tells us the truth about God and about ourselves.

The Good Truth: Our God gives His Life to defeat death.

The Crucified Body of Jesus Christ reveals to us that we have a God who is willing to give Himself fully, willingly submitting Himself to death for the sake of those He
“loved to the end.” Not to mentioned that the Resurrection shows us that death will be defeated and the dead shall also be raised.

The Bad Truth: We killed Him.

But the Gospel also shows us the scary truth about ourselves. We are violent. We are lost. We have strayed so far from our God and desire so much to be our own masters that, when our Creator comes close to us, we kill Him. We don’t want Him, and we go to great lengths to escape or get rid of Him.

The Ugly Truth: Humanity is horribly disfigured.

And the reason we try to kill Him is because He shows us the truth about ourselves. There, hanging on the Cross, the Lord shows us what it is to be human: beaten, bloodied, broken. In a word: crucified.

The Gospel shows us first that God is Love. It also shows us that we can’t handle that love. And our inability to handle that love reaches deeper than we could possibly imagine.

Learning to Fly: The Possible Impossiblity

That the Word of God would become a human infant born of a virgin; that He would live a life in submission to a human mother and Divine Father; that He would willingly enter death at the hands of His creatures; that He would be raised from the dead after three days….

All of this. Is. Impossible.

Overcoming the intellectual impossibility of these things cannot occur through our rational faculties. We know too much about science, and our heads get in the way.

Believing in the impossible is a job for the heart. We must thus embrace story-telling as the sacred art it is.

To truly know the real world, and not just know about the real world, we must spend time inhabiting worlds where good thoughts (and a little fairy dust) can make people fly.

We must dwell in places where the Good Guys win and the Bad Guys lose.

We need stories where someone can be a villain until the last minute of the last act and finally find some peace. Stories where, no matter how dark the night, the sun rises again.

We need to begin imagining the impossible, otherwise we won’t be able to believe in a God who makes the impossible happen.

So I'm gonna go make some popcorn and see what God is up to in the new season of Daredevil.

Christian is a Young Adult Ministries Coordinator for Y2AM. He is a husband, father, mover, shaker, coffee drinker, sandal wearer, and CrossFitter. Christian has his MA from Azusa Pacific University in Marriage and Family Therapy and is working toward a second MA in Children, Youth, and Family Ministry from Luther Seminary. Christian and his family live in Phoenix, Arizona.

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