Ghostbusters & The Afterlife of Sacrifice
I was 3 years old when the original Ghostbusters hit theatres. I remember growing up with references to it in everything I watched as a little kid from Alvin & The Chipmunks to Muppet Babies. Part 2 hit theaters in 89, the same year as Batman. I was 8 years old and remember strapping on my Toy Proton pack, having my really cool Stay Puft action figure, and skating with kids from my school at the local rink to Bobby Brown’s “On Our Own.” My daughters have grown up where some of the primary references for the franchise have been the kids from Stranger Things, and the reboot. There’s rarely been a time in the past 37 years where Ghostbusters didn’t have an automatic connection for people. Whether you are hardcore enthusiasts like my friend Phil Yee Hasanon, who works with Ghostbusters Virginia doing nonprofit community work and children’s outreach with their fantastic Ghostbusters cosplays and equipment, or people like me who still just miss their toy proton pack from 3 decades ago.
When the imagery and teasers for Ghostbusters Afterlife first started swirling the fandom was still bogged down with negativity from the 2016 version, but to be fair, all fandoms carry a metric ton of negativity these days. But when the trailer dropped, people began to slowly rise to a hopeful clamor about a direct sequel to the originals, but before we would get the originally intended release date, the world would hit the speed bump that was 2020. The movie would be in a purgatory between its original release date of July 10th 2020 till November 19th 2021. While I hate the fact that we had to wait for it, I honestly think it was better that we did. It feels like the end of 2021 was a better time for it. Regardless of when it released, I'm grateful for it, and grateful it was an experience I was able to share with my children.
Moving forward, I’ll be discussing the events of the movie with no discretion, so spoilers ahead.
Early on we see Egon alone, battling the forces of darkness all by himself. Isolated, on his own on his decrepit dirt farm, trying to bring down malevolent forces with defective equipment. We see that he failed to trap his prey, and without his team to back him up, it cost him his life, setting the rest of the events of the story in motion. The narrative that he was an absentee father that neglected and abandoned his family. The narrative that he was a betrayer of friendships and commitments who stole his team’s resources and livelihood. The narrative that he was just a crazy dirt farmer who was wasting his time on a plot of land and was the joke of his entire region. Egon had a purpose, he had a mission, and following that mission brought him a very negative perception from everyone in his life and association. He was alone and misunderstood in all that he did, but that didn’t make him wrong. There are also going to be times and seasons in your life where people are going to look at what you feel impassioned to do, and think less of you for it. It was true with Egon, it’s true now for us, and it was true throughout scripture as well.
In Genesis 6 we see the story of Noah, and God commanding him to build an Ark. A giant boat in the middle of a dry area, in a world that hadn’t experienced the full force of what water could do up to that point. Noah Got this huge list of instructions that would leave me scratching my head just walking through Lowes trying to find the right materials, let alone build it from scratch.
“14 So make yourself an ark of cypress wood; make rooms in it and coat it with pitch inside and out. 15 This is how you are to build it: The ark is to be three hundred cubits long, fifty cubits wide and thirty cubits high. 16 Make a roof for it, leaving below the roof an opening one cubit high all around. Put a door in the side of the ark and make lower, middle and upper decks.”
God gave this dude instructions to make a boat bigger than an NFL football field. If you read all of chapter 6 & 7, Noah spent 100 years building this thing. Can you imagine being the families that lived near Noah. “There’s the crazy dude building the big boat.” Dirt farmer folks, dirt farmer. There were probably kids that were born during this construction phase that saw this thing being built their whole lives, much like the I-4 Eyesore just north of Orlando. People spent a century watching someone else work towards something that seemed ridiculous. Having a goal or calling that others can’t understand can be incredibly isolating and demeaning. Believe me, the first time people started hearing of Faith & Fandom, I got lots of guff from “church folk” who knew it was a “foolish” idea. You don’t have to be bitter when people don’t understand your calling, just learn to be confident that you know you are moving in the way you need to, and that faithfulness is always success in itself.
Sometimes it’s not long-term crackpot endurance missions like Egon or Noah, sometimes it’s simply doing what you have to do in a small season. In the movie Pheobe, Podcast, & Trevor chase a ghost through the middle of town, causing a bajillion dollars in damage before finally catching it at the last moment. Of course they felt like it was something they needed to do, and literally 0 other people in their area understood, well maybe Mr. Grooberson, but they followed what they thought was right in the moment (right, not wise), and it of course brought them consequences. A brief jail stint, scolding, shame, conflict etc, but it ultimately led them to explore and find out where the source was for all of the evil, had they not been willing to take the steps that brought them momentary adversity and scorn, they wouldn’t have been able to actually save their home, and possibly the world.
In Joshua 6 we see another story that ended in property damage, just with less proton packs. In this circumstance God tells Joshua and his people to march around a city for 7 days to ensure victory.
2 Then the Lord said to Joshua, “See, I have delivered Jericho into your hands, along with its king and its fighting men. 3 March around the city once with all the armed men. Do this for six days. 4 Have seven priests carry trumpets of rams’ horns in front of the ark. On the seventh day, march around the city seven times, with the priests blowing the trumpets. 5 When you hear them sound a long blast on the trumpets, have the whole army give a loud shout; then the wall of the city will collapse and the army will go up, everyone straight in.”
Can you imagine being the people in that city or the folks traveling to and from the city and seeing these people marching silently day after day. They wouldn’t have understood, they wouldn’t have taken them seriously. Maybe it’s me not being able to separate the VeggieTales version with the French peas from reality, but I bet they faced tons of scorn, ridicule, and shame.
The persistence to do what you are called to is essential to be who you meant to be, and where you are meant to be. So many of us turn away from something that could truly be amazing because we don’t like the spotlight of isolation that comes from taking a step forward. I’ve spoken to content creators, podcasters, pastors, and artists who feel like they are called to do something, but the response they met when they started made them feel alone and ridiculed so they stopped. The views were low, the attendance was bad, other people were doing it better, they received negative reviews or comments. So many times people turn away because they feel like their goal, they hope for isn’t worth the discomfort they presently feel.
Scripture does encourage us to keep going in moments like these.
“Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.” - Galatians 6:9
“I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.” - Romans 8:18
Scripture encourages to keep going, and that the struggle will be worth it, but we also need to understand that while we are promised life and joy beyond our circumstances here in this life, it doesn’t mean we are guaranteed a happy ending in this life or our circumstances. If we are only willing to go as far as a happy ending can be certain, we won’t go far in life. Sometimes there will be sacrifice, abandonment, pain, and suffering in order to actually accomplish the goals necessary. It takes great integrity, character, fortitude, and faith to take that step when you know there’s not a safety net in your current circumstances.
Egon spent a bulk of the movie painted as a villain. Someone who was negligent, someone who didn’t love or value his family, someone who abandoned his friends and partners. He died in that place. He died with the world looking at him as a failure, a fraud, and terrible human. He didn’t get a happy ending like Winston did in the post credits. He didn’t get absolution while he lived. He tried to convince his friends, and they wouldn’t listen, and we know that he walked away from his family for their sake and safety. But that didn’t make it easier. It wasn’t until Phoebe and the young squad came together in the Gozer Temple of Doom until anyone truly knew the truth.
“He was right all along. Our grandfather, he was right here. He built this. He was standing guard even when no one believed him. He sacrificed everything. His life. His friends. Us.”
Egon accomplished his goal, but he had to die to do it. He stopped Gozer, but it took the next generation rising up, and the people that had let him down repenting to make it happen. He made that stand that no one understood, and supported. We have to realize that doing the right thing, does not always mean we will be here to see the fruit of our labor. If you are actually following God, or following the calling He places on your life, you may have to do the same thing.
You may have to stand alone.
With this obviously applicable and often used Bible verse, let’s think about it for a second
“Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” - John 15:13.
Laying down your life for a friend, in some perspectives means you are taking your life away from others. Laying down your life for a friend means you are letting go of what you hoped for your life yourself. Laying down your life means that you are allowing your goals and desires to be used to the betterment of others and a bigger purpose. That is greater love, but it’s not easily accepted love. There is pain, anger, frustration, and disappointment that will always be focused and centered when your life is laid down. That goes for if you are just giving up what your life looked like to step into a new direction, or if you are literally sacrificing your life for others. You may not have to go full Egon or Iron Man to lay down your life. It may just be being willing to follow where God actually leads you, but don’t be misguided to think it’s always easy. Don’t forget that most of the apostles died ugly deaths for their faith while they were still waiting for Jesus to come back. Their sacrifice was worth it, they thought the cost was worth it, but God didn’t pull an Abraham/Isaac situation, rescuing them at the last moment. And we should understand fully, that following Jesus is not always going to be Stay Puft soft.
When a ton of people started following Jesus, He straight up warned them, it was not for the faint of heart.
“Large crowds were traveling with Jesus, and turning to them he said: “If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even their own life—such a person cannot be my disciple.And whoever does not carry their cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.” - Luke 14:25-27
He straight up told them, you aren’t going to be able to hold on to all that you want for life and actually follow where I'm going. Which is why most Christians and Christianity looks watered down and weak, because people have convinced themselves they can have it all, and if they ever actually end up in a place where they face hardship or sacrifice, they feel like God has abandoned them.
Jesus didn’t just warn the window shoppers, He warned the disciples as well;
“Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it. What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul?” - Matthew 16:24-26
But we aren’t quick to embrace that sacrifice, we aren’t quick to be willing to make those stands, we have good intentions, but better excuses.
Jesus was knocking down excuses and halfhearted intentions left and right in Luke 9;
“As they were walking along the road, a man said to him, “I will follow you wherever you go.” Jesus replied, “Foxes have dens and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.” He said to another man, “Follow me.” But he replied, “Lord, first let me go and bury my father.” Jesus said to him, “Let the dead bury their own dead, but you go and proclaim the kingdom of God.” Still another said, “I will follow you, Lord; but first let me go back and say goodbye to my family.” Jesus replied, “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God.”” - Luke 9:57-62.
Many people will say they are there for the commitment, whether that’s following your calling, achieving a goal, following Jesus, or stopping a Sumerian shape-shifting god of destruction. And if you are the only one willing to take that step, stand guard. Stand alone.
One of the hard parts though is we shouldn’t have to stand alone. We should have people that are willing to support us, encourage us, strengthen us. I don’t expect everyone that claims me as a Facebook friend to actually be there for me when I need them, but the people I consider my true friends, my team, my squad, my blood, I expect them to be there for me. Sadly, that hasn’t been the case. Everyone I've ever truly depended on in my life has let me down at some time or another. We are failed and flawed people. I get it, I can’t expect airtight commitment from broken vessels. But the times when I've truly needed someone and I couldn’t count on them, it broke me. I know as Egon stood there holding that trap off the porch, he probably felt incredibly alone and abandoned, and wished his team were standing beside him, and when he sat down in that chair before his death, that ache of isolation was probably crippling. I’ve never had the experience where I’ve been chased across a dirt farm wishing my friends had showed up, but I have had friends I considered blood just ghost me for years, pastors I considered mentors abandon me when I needed help and counsel, people that were my teammates not only turn away from me but turn against me, people I ministered to try to get me fired over petty preferences, partners disappear and refuse to return my calls, just...everyone. Which is why the Five Iron Frenzy lyric “The only one that’s never left me has carried me so very far,” leaves me a weepy puddle.
I know that hurt, like Egon knew that hurt, like Jesus knows that hurt, like you probably know that hurt as well. Hanging on to the past pain can’t resolve anything, but we can make it better for others. How?
Don’t force your team to stand alone.
“Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.” - Galatians 6:2
“A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for a time of adversity.” - Proverbs 17:17
Simply that, if you see your people standing alone, stand with them. It can make all the difference in the world. I know we are all in places where we are struggling to hold our own stuff together, but when your people need you, do your best to show up for them.
In the climactic moment of ALL the Ghostbusters battling against Gozer, the original team looked at Egon with remorse and sadness, apologizing for not showing up when he needed them. It was an incredibly beautiful moment, but for us, maybe not wait until after your friends die on a dirt farm to make recompense. Show up for them. Be there when they need you. Yes, sometimes sacrifice is needed, sometimes we have to stand alone, but sometimes sacrifice wouldn’t be required if we actually showed up for each other when we are needed.
Be bold enough to be the only one to stand, but also be bold that your people won’t have to stand alone.