Check out the latest from Jason Derr on Being Erica after the jump.
BEST SHOW YOU ARE NOT WATCHING
I will begin my article with an apology to my American friends and readers. As one of you – an American living in Canada – I am aware how much better international media is than our own. How many of us grew up watching anything BBC we could get our hands on? To the list of amazing international media we must add the CBC – the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. I apologize for referencing a show you are not watching, but one you hopefully can in the future.
Starting last year and continuing now into its second season, the CBC’s Being Erica follows Erica, a 32 year old with a Masters Degree, who in the first episode is fired from her call center job, stood up by her new boyfriend, and rushed to the hospital after an allergic reaction. This is where she meets Dr. Tom. As a therapist, Dr. Tom is a bit unorthodox. His therapy centers on asking Erica to identify her regrets in life and then, through means unexplained, sends Erica to that moment in time where she can examine the choices she made, why she made them, and what impact they have had on the person she has become.
Dr. Tom is sort of a Canadian Doctor Who. Instead of a TARDIS – a phone box that is larger on the inside than on the outside and which travels through space and time – he has an office that can magically be on the other side of any door Erica walks through during her day. Instead of fighting rogue Time Lords, Monsters, or Alien Threats, Dr. Tom helps Erica fight poor life choices. In many ways Erica has missed the mark in her life. A young woman full of potential, passion, and education, she has consistently settled for less in life. Haunted by the tragic death of her beloved brother, Erica lives her life off center from the person she knows she should and could be.
SIN AND GRACE
In this, I see a mine of deep theological reflection. In Being Erica, it could be said that past trauma – or in our religious language, past sin – becomes the place of present grace. Unlike the horror movie idea of sin so prevalent in much of Christian culture – where sin is the large stain on our soul that haunts us and causes much crisis – sin returns to its origin of missing the mark. To miss the mark is not to be beyond God’s grace or to be beyond redemption. To miss the mark means to be off a bit. In our current exploration it means that the past moment of being off the mark – broken relationships, trauma, pain, unhealthy – is the space by which God enters our lives as present grace. In this way, we can see that all lives are God-soaked lives and that sin is not a tragedy of salvic importance but are moments of Grace where the spirit of the newness of life is encountered.
Let’s take a moment to look at Ken Wilber’s Integral Theory, notably his use of the idea of the Great Chain Of Being. Here, the universe is seen as comprising holons – wholes that are also parts. For example, atoms are complete unto themselves. When two of them join together you have a molecule, also a whole unto itself. More molecules make an organism. More complex organisms also have a mind. Atoms to molecules to mind. Society moves from individuals to families to towns to villages to cities to nations, each piece of that is a part that is a whole. Beyond that, we could add post-national organizational ability with the advent of the Internet. Each level of evolution transcends and includes the previous level. Mind includes body (organism), includes molecules includes atoms. Evolution and transcendence are not escapes from bodily or evolutionary realities, but movements into more complex relationships with them.
In this way, it should be noted, if you destroy any level of evolution, you destroy every higher level. If you destroy at the level of organism – embodied realities – then you destroy that body and that mind. Lower levels remain. If you destroy at the molecular level you take with it the higher levels of molecule, organism and mind, leaving only atoms. The phrase for this action of the ‘great chain of being’ and its levels of evolution is “Include and Transcend”.
But let us return to sin. Sin is not, as we have said, the horror movie monster that stalks us, nor is it the great blemish on our soul. If we were to destroy sin, we would destroy everything that comes after it: the life lived, lessons learned, and repentance made. It is as much a part of our development and us as cognitive thinking and artistic expression are. If sin is an evolutionary development on the journey of being ‘inspirited’ in life and a movement towards the experience of Grace, then it is not something we can do away with or villainize. Those theologies that seek to trivialize sin by “epic-sizing” it miss the point.
The question for those of us of Christian faith now becomes what do we do with the biblical verses where God promises to forget our sin? If all higher levels are dependent on lower levels – or we cannot have our present without our past – then to destroy sin, as we said, destroys all that comes after it. In this way, I will suggest that we understand these verses as being an indication that God does not forget our sins but instead re/members them.
To re/member as the name suggests is to ‘member again’. This does not remove sin from our existence but ‘includes and transcends it’. A view of God as re/membering our sin recognizes that past sin is not something we can escape but is something we must accept and include in our present reality if we are to learn about our own lives and our lives with God. If our past sin is wiped out from memory – ours or Gods – then the ability to learn from those experiences and grow from them – re/member them – and thus experience the Grace of God in the present becomes moot and impossible. By re/membering our sin God is able to accept the forgiven past, and by the power of his/her call invites us to experience the grace that flows from past sin in the form of self-knowledge, growth, and deepening relationship with God, humanity, the earth, and ourselves.
A view of salvation in this model is not that we have the ability to have our sin wiped out but that we have the ability to have our sin re/membered by God. In contrast to a judgment model, this knowledge model allows God’s knowledge of us not to be a damning thing but a freeing thing. God allows us to re/member our lives in such a manner that freedom can be found in the present tense reality. When God re/members us and our sin – and when we re/member ourselves and our relationship with God – we are able to engage in a work of inclusion that allows our experience of grace-in-sin to speak deeply to our present lives. This deep speaking/listening contains in it the call of God, which moves us from a place of alienation to a place of holistic integration. Sin is not a foreign element in our life but the seat of God and God’s grace.
The discerning reader will recognize that I am referring to sin as concrete objects instead of as the default state of being of humanity. With Luther, I operate from a place that assumes the goodness of humanity. As Luther said, Christ would not have become incarnate in humanity if there were not something in humanity worth experiencing (paraphrase mine). As opposed to Original Sin then, I refer to a view of humanity that could take a nod from Mathew Fox’s idea of Original Blessing.
Beyond this, most of us do not relate to sin as the natural state of being off the mark. We instead refer to those moments of broken relationship that create forms of alienation between ourselves, God, Earth, neighbor and life. The state of broken relationship is always experienced in the concrete – the addicts falling off the wagon, the adulterer’s affair, and the concrete act of greed by the greedy. It is to these moments that I seek to address. If we can view these concrete moments of sin as being re/membered into our human experience, then they become less tragic and more joyful locations in life. From them we can recognize the encounter of God and the flow of Grace that wells up into the present life. No matter how many times an addict falls of the wagon, it is known only to God how many times he has resisted such things (and I would suggest the victories of grace outweigh the moments of brokenness).
Like Erica, we experience growth in the present only when we re-encounter our past and re/member the experience into our being. To be in denial of who and what we were does not allow growth into what we may then become. Just as Erica must re-encounter her experiences of her late brother – and come to terms with his failings and shortcomings – we must allow ourselves to be re/membered by God and by ourselves if we are to come into a right relationship that allows growth and self-discovery.
Erica’s journey of re/membering is much like our own. At each level of self -discovery she is faced with the challenge of how to reincorporate those past moments of being off the mark in such a manner that allows her to grow in the present. Her journey is towards being her self. God does not judge us if we fail to be like Moses or Jesus, but rather if we fail to be ourselves and the creation and person we are capable of being. As the great theological TV series Joan of Arcadia said, God wants us to fulfill our true nature.
Again, it is unfortunate that Being Erica is not available on any American network or cable channels. Of course, you can always search for it on iTunes or streaming on the internet.