Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Jesus and The Americans

So, my favorite TV show right now is probably The Americans. It's a fantastic story about two Russian spies in the US in the 80's - except they came to the US in the 60's and have infiltrated normal American life - two kids, house in the suburbs, the whole works. It's deep cover kinda stuff. The show is interesting because on top of all the spy stuff going on, they're just regular people with regular problems (and a whole extra set of spy problems on top of it all).

One of the interesting subplots in the show (and I don't think I'll give a ton away here, but if you're a super stickler for spoilers, you might want to have someone else read it first) is the daughter, Paige, who ends up rebelling against her parents by joining a church and becoming a Christian. It's difficult for her atheist, communist parents to deal with (the same thing every teenager and parents deal with, just interesting particulars). On a show filled with metaphors and allusions, this subplot is ripe for many of them.

We've just finished season three now and, as we've all been expecting, Paige finally finds out what her parents do. They've told her they're spies from Russia and if she tells anyone (even her younger brother), her parents will probably go to jail forever. It's a lot for a 15 year old to process. She has a really tough time. She always felt her parents were hiding something, but she never expected this.

There's a couple episodes where she's struggling with her identity - trying to figure out who she really is and what it all means. What's so fascinating to me, though, as a Christian, is that Paige's identity crisis is not about whether she should be loyal to Russia or the US, but whether she can deal with the reality of what her parents are/do and still be a Christian.

I mean she's a teenager, growing up in a house where, let's face it, her parents were not super patriotic. Now she's in a situation where her whole life, essentially, is a lie - and if she's going to continue to live it, she'll also have to be a liar. It's in direct contradiction with the faith she's chosen (and a faith that's provide some real depth and stability in her life).

As a pastor, it's this sort of decision about allegiance I try to communicate to people as necessary to wrestle with. The way of Christ is inherently different than the way of the world and culture around us (whether its Soviet communism or American free-market capitalism) - there are real choices we're forced to make revolving around what we believe and how we'll act in response.

To see this sort of identity crisis played out on TV is pretty profound. It's probably the most authentic representation of Christian faith you'll see anywhere on TV (including the "Christian" channels or all those bible-based miniseries out right now). This is what the gospels are all about - Jesus preaching a new way, something different from what we've come to expect. This is what the letters of Paul are all about - how to live differently in the midst of a contradictory culture. It's the sort of question our generic, americanized version of Christianity seems to be squeezing out of public (and Christian) discourse in recent years.

I'll be interested to see how much of this faith conflict makes it onto the screen in future episodes of The Americans. Based on how they ended season three, it looks like it'll be pretty important to the start of season four. This decision between finding identity in Christ and finding identity in family is an issue with a long, complicated history. One of the best books I've ever read When the Church was a Family by Joseph Hellerman, delves deeply into it. I've loved this book for a while, recommended it to many and passed my own copy on as often as I can. I just quite expected The Americans to become a case study for the ideas therein.

Just another good reason to spend some time watching TV.


David Parker said...

We too love the show and are fascinated by the Christian teenager subplot. It is also refreshing to see a pastor portrayed as a sincere loving person, rather than a fake or superficial simpleton. Where this goes next season should be very interesting!

Jessica Wolst said...

Maybe this post needed a #spoileralert, but then again, I've only watched season 1. My husband and I are catching up, and this blog post made me super excited to hurry up and watch the other episodes! Sadly I have to wait for him to be home to watch the show. :(

Ryan said...

I did mention potential spoilers, but it is pretty minimal. Nothing I shared was anything but inevitable at some point.