Under my black cassock, I am wearing a brown coat. Not literally, of course, but certainly metaphorically. That is, I am an unapologetic fan, defender, and devotee of the TV series Firefly. My family owns three (that’s “three”) DVD copies of the series—one for watching, one for loaning, and one for an emergency backup in case something happens to the other two. Like I said: a fan.
One of the reasons I am such a fan is because the series provides the preacher in me with so many good lines and so much good theological material. Here I would like to examine what it is perhaps Firefly’s most obvious lesson—how to create unity out of diversity.
The crew of Firefly (for the uninitiated, Firefly is the ship in which everyone lives) are indeed all quite diverse. There is the captain and owner of the ship, “Mal”, a tough cynic and former believer who lost his faith fighting for the lost rebel cause. There is his first mate, an equally-tough lady named Zoe, battle-hardened, disciplined, and a fellow-soldier with Mal in the rebel army (the “Browncoats”). She is married to a distinctly non-battle hardened man, one who plays with toy dinosaurs and pilots the ship. His name is Washburne. We find a mercenary Jayne Cobb, a man without any obviously noticeable culture or conscience. We find the ship’s mechanic, Kaylee, sweet as everyone’s little sister, and the heart of the ship. We find a clergyman, (a “shepherd”) by the name of Book, a man of humour, strength, and conscience. We find fugitives on the run, Simon, a doctor, and his kid sister River, whom he saved by abducting her from a mysterious facility that was experimenting upon her brain. And we find a professional and pricey prostitute, taken on board to give the crew some respectability. (Yes, respectability—she is a very professional and very pricey prostitute—“companions” they were called.) Surveying them all, it would be hard to find a more diverse lot, and one is tempted to scornfully say that only on television could you actually find such a diverse group occupying the same space.
The scornful should resist the temptation, for the truth is that each parish is made up of such a diverse group. In fact, Christian unity in diversity is what it’s all about. This diversity began with the Twelve: in this group you had humble fishermen, who had no real “connections” with the important and the powerful, and you had someone who was well-connected enough with the powerful to know the High Priest (see Jn. 18:15). You had a Zealot (who wanted to kill all the Romans), and you had a tax-collector (who worked for the Romans). The Twelve were a mixed lot, with nothing to bind them into one except their love for their Lord.
The earliest apostolic churches continued this diversity, with Jews rubbing shoulders with Gentiles, rich with poor, educated with uneducated, slaves with slave-owners. The earliest churches were not divided into homogenous groups (or “jurisdictions”). Every Christian in a given geographical area was a part of the same local church. Regardless of their ethnicity, race, former religion, age, amount of wealth, or educational status, they all found themselves rubbing shoulders with each other in the same community week by week, and drinking from the same Chalice. We are called to do the same today. In our parishes we find that same old diversity, and we rub up against people utterly unlike us. In all this rubbing, we may find ourselves “rubbed the wrong way” by those sharing the same space in church, and yet we are called to be one with them. But how does one do that? How does one create unity between persons who are so different?
Firefly shows us how—by being together and by sharing danger. The shared dangers and crises they endured slowly moulded the crew of Firefly into a single group, a single body. Their differences were not annihilated; each person was still very different from all the others. But each had his own contribution to make to the common goal of survival. And each was valued because of that unique contribution. It is the same in the parish: everyone is different, everyone is unique. Everyone is valued. But worshipping together Sunday by Sunday, and sharing the experience of striving to survive the challenges from the World, the Flesh, and the Devil, slowly mould us into a single body. Joss Whedon, the creator behind Firefly, called this “creating family”. We call it “living as the body of Christ”.