The Rev'd Robin Sims-Williams
What do the works of Shakespeare, Doctor Who, Star Wars and the Radio 4 comedy Cabin Pressure all have in common?
They all have inspired fans to write, perform and record their own stories… that’s right, they all have FanFic, or Fan fiction
In a way Shakespeare’s FanFic is the most mainstream as it’s lead to films like Shakespeare in Love or plays like Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead. Fan Fiction is an expression of admiration for the fictional world that has been created, a kind of homage to the original, but also demonstrates the shared ownership of the story that enables the audience to engage creatively with the story. To my surprise, so long as it wasn’t too kinky, George Lucas actually encouraged fans to develop their own stories, he even later included nods to this in other star wars stories. There is also a tradition of Fan theories, not unrelated to Conspiracy Theories, in that the Fan takes back some ownership of the story when the studio, writer and director are holding too tightly onto canon.
In today’s gospel Jesus is answering a question from one of the disciples, as to why he is going to leave them before he has revealed himself to the world. The answer he gives is more than a little frustrating, and it’s a bit convoluted, but effectively he says: ‘you will tell them.’ What me? At college I remember being told, when people come up with good, if rather ambitious, ideas about what the church should be doing, your answer should be: ‘so lets see how I can help you do that.’ This is in effect Jesus’ answer - only it’s more than that.. The disciples aren’t just being told they will need to go tell people about Chris, they will need to be Christ to them, just as Jesus was as the Father to the disciples. That means the disciples, which includes all of us,
needed to be as Christ in the world. They needed to care for people, relate to them, ‘open the scripture up’ for them in the way that Jesus did, so that we would all have a shared ownership of this story. We are, as those disciples were before us, called to be Christ and bring God’s Kingdom into the world here and now.
At the age of 18 I led a team of teenagers delivering a week long day camp programme for 4 to 12 year olds. We would run the programme, with local volunteers, for the week, then move on to another church where we would start again. In each place we lived with members of the local community, so we were always on duty in some way.The team I was travelling with was all younger than me, but many of the volunteers I was working with in each place were parents themselves. I remember being absolutely petrified and I can remember making some stupid mistakes, but I can also recall reacting in difficult circumstances with the kind of wherewithal I doubt I would have today. It might sound tripe, but I felt a real presence of the Holy Spirit working with me guiding me and encouraging me.
This Thursday is the Feast of the Ascension, it’s the day the Church remembers Jesus being ‘taken up’. Apart from dealing with a problematic plot hole post resurrection … i.e. if the resurrected Jesus can pop in and out of locked rooms and help the disciples fishing, where is he today. But more than just explaining away the lack of a ghostly Jesus walking about today, the ascension is a definition of a new horizon.
No longer are we just the favoured creation of a God who made us in his image. In this fully human and fully divine Christ, we are all taken up to heaven to sit at God’s right hand. We are all recognised for the possibility of being fully human, fully good… We are all recognised as being the hands and mouth of God on earth. And as we are drawn into God by the ascension of this fully human Christ, the Holy Spirit, we are told flows out into all of us, joining us with Christ to do God’s work. This also encourages us to engage with the stories of the Gospel personally, to take ownership of them, not to treat them like some tome to be memorised and never explored. The Jewish tradition of Midrash is kind of like the biblical equivalent of FanFic, the reader is actively encouraged to imagine the goings on between the lines. In a way it is the lack of ownership of the conversation, of the narrative which has led to so many people favouring the outsiders in politics. Similarly, in religious circles, if the ownership of the meaning of scripture is too tightly held onto by the magisterium, it can lead to extremists being forced underground and pushed further to the extreme.
In Kids Club we are actively encouraging the children to engage with the bible in this way. We are encouraging them to have a shared ownership with all of us of these stories of our faith. An ownership which encourages the shared conversation. So, depending on the story we ask ‘what is your favourite part of this story? What is most important? who or what could be taken away without changing the story?’ It’s not a test, they cannot give wrong answers, but the parents leading the sessions do amazingly at helping them to explore the implications of their answers, helping them to inhabit the story themselves, before exploring the story in the more concrete way which we see when they show us what they’ve made at the end of the service.
So be encouraged that, being brought into presence of God by the going up of Christ and the sending out of the Spirit, we are all equipped to be Christ in the world today, that this story is our story, to be owned and explored in creative and challenging ways. But most of all, that, as heirs with Christ, we can achieve more than we can ask or imagine.