I think Joss Whedon and Jesus are a lot alike. They both have great beards, they both have cult followings that have blown into full-scale social phenomena, and they both were influencing my life long before I was aware it was happening. Jesus worked with a small budget, and his popularity grew only because of a grassroots movement; the same can be said about pretty much everything Whedon creates. Just as the disciples gathered grain on the sabbath, Whedon was filming a web-exclusive movie during the writer’s strike. In that way, neither seemed to obey the rules; instead, they transcended them. Jesus healed the blind; Joss makes use of eye-popping special effects. Do I need to go on? The similarities are uncanny!
All joking aside, Joss Whedon is as close to a “priest of the nerds” as you can get. He’s created some of the most enduring, inspiring, and sharp sci-fi or superheroish works of film and television of the past decade and a half. His shoestring-budget masterpieces include the well-known “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” series; his sci-fi western series “Firefly,” and “Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog,” a web-exclusive film in three parts, created in defiance of the writer’s strike in 2009. So when I say that his influence on me has been dangerously near to Jesus’ own work in my life, you’ll have to excuse my sacrilege. Here, I’ll walk you through a few milestones in my life, just to explain a bit better:
1987:Born, baptized. Joss Whedon exists, but the only facial hair influencing my life is my dad’s moustache.
1990: Beginning Sunday school, where teachers try to tame my unending questions with decent theology, but all I seem to get out of it is “Don’t do ____, because I said so!” Joss Whedon is writing for the TV show “Roseanne,” which I am not allowed to watch, despite how hilarious the oddly matched and weighty Roseanne Barr and John Goodman are as a couple. I won’t understand why my parents “said so” until much later, and then I’m grateful.
1992: Whedon’s Buffy the Vampire Slayer film tanks. So does my little league softball team, despite how faithfully I prayed that I would catch a ball, just once.
1995: Whedon co-writes Toy Story, boosting his profile enough to begin work on “Buffy” as a TV show. My parents try rigorously to help me learn about Jesus; I play with “Tale Spin” toys, and jump off the sewing machine with a tea-towel tied to my neck like a cape.
1996: A girl at school beat me up. Neither Joss nor Jesus intervened.
2002: Adolescence stirs. The emotional rollercoaster of understanding my faith, while noticing girls, makes the coinciding 8:00pm Tuesday time slot for “Buffy” and my church youth group meetings a conflicted time in my life.
2002 ½: “Firefly” is cancelled after 12 episodes. Doesn’t relate to the theme, it’s just pretty sad if you ask me.
2005: “Firefly” is re-released as a film, Serenity, with more violence; as per Whedon tradition, it tanks at the box office. The Passion of the Christ is re-released in March, cut with less violence; this version also tanks. ”Tank” could have been my middle name as I start university; more for my grade point average than my commitment to the gym.
2009: “Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog” reignites my desire to wear my Superman t-shirt and sing around the house. My wife complains that her wedding ring is starting to feel “uncomfortable.”
So that brings me to this year, when in what seems like an unimaginable impossibility, Joss Whedon has written and directed what is sure to be a box-office safe bet, The Avengers. He had a big budget and big stars, and yet in some ways, these are the things he laments. The huge constraints that he has often dealt with have given way to great creativity. ”Buffy” came out of a failed movie, and the project required constant re-tooling along the way. ”Firefly’s” iconic desert planet landscapes came from literally having no budget with which to construct an alien set, and so they drove into the Nevada desert to film. In an interview at this year’s SXSW convention, Whedon remarked,
“It’s lovely to have everything and be able to have wild fantasies where you can have a Hulk. But it’s also frustrating and daunting. Limitations are something I latch onto. It’s like genre. A genre writer doesn’t ever have a blank page. So that’s useful to me. When you can have everything, everybody wants to give you everything and then it’s very hard to make things feel real, to make things feel lived in.”
In some ways, it’s too bad that Joss Whedon isn’t scripting my life. I would be really witty, and I’m sure that would come to my advantage from time to time. On the other hand, I’m quite certain that if I were scripting my own life, I wouldn’t bother with adversity; I’d go for a “shiny,” polished life. It’d be all mapped out and perfect; however, it wouldn’t seem very “lived in” to Joss Whedon, and the life I’d invent for myself would too full of plasticky-perfection for Jesus to find room in my heart. When the gospel works itself into real life, it is often neither pretty or controlled; the gospel challenges our comfort and makes us admit to what we lack, and then cling to Jesus to make it through.
Fortunately, I’m not writing my life script. It’s not about the decisions I make or the butterfly effect that would make me a billionaire on one end and a junkie on the other. No, life is much more often about action; Jesus’ work in my life isn’t as much about the wild possibilities as it is about the firm realities of what I actually end up doing, and how God shapes the opportunities around me. Joss Whedon’s Avengers may be a fantastic movie, but many will still point to his work that was developed with wafer-thin budgets and oppressive time constraints as his best. These are the ones that feel “lived in.” When I think about that, I wonder a little less over why life can get hard, and wonder a little more about where each trouble in my faith journey will take me.
The mission of Intersection is to help our readers to see how the gospel of Jesus intersects & transforms all of life in a very real way. Our goal is to destroy the false & harmful dichotomy between 'the sacred' & 'the secular' by presenting a wide range of perspectives that focus on different aspects of life in the city. These stories, reflections, observations, & opinions all have one thing in common—the shared conviction that every arena of life can be holy & beautiful when it is lived out in full awareness of the gospel & in full submission to the leadership of Jesus. Although the Intersection team loves, values, & supports all of its contributors, the views expressed in their posts are ultimately their own & may not necessarily reflect the beliefs & values of New City Church.