Shepherd Book: Wrong Ship
Continuing in the line of enigmatic Whedon Characters in the Firefly Verse, we have Shepherd Book. From episode 1 you can tell this guy is not your average pastor. They play the strong suit of the mystery well and, again, this is a story that was planned to be revealed slowly over many wonderful seasons ( If you actually want to learn the truth on Book, I suggest picking up the graphic novel “A Shepherd’s Tale,” which contains his whole back story, and is very satisfying). His past aside, when we meet this hopeless wanderer of a preacher he is leaving the abbey/mission camp for the first time in a long while and as he states, “Been out of the world for a spell, like to walk it a while. Maybe bring the Word to them as need it told.”
I think this strongly characterizes the majority of believers when he makes the statement, “Been out of the world for a spell.” Not referencing the context of being of the world, but as followers of Christ we have such a habit of isolating ourselves into a stereotypical “Christian” bubble. We only hang out with other Christians, all the people we talk to on social media are Christians. In a very literal sense we can go for years and not be impacted by the world, but that also means we can go for years and not impact the world. It’s a dangerous concept we easily steer ourselves into.
Jesus commands us to go into all the world, to make disciples of all nations, and all we do is congregate with ourselves. So as you meet Book for the first time he truly is wandering, he’s gotten out of the abbey and making his way into the world. Thanks to the charm of Kaylee he ends up on Serenity. Then in no time flat, everything falls apart. Book thinks he is going to gently edge himself back in to the world, and it’s like he drops into a freefall. Mercenaries, fugitives, criminals, prostitutes, and violence. He wasn’t exaggerating when he later said, “Oh I got heathens a plenty, right here.”
We can be the same way. We want to get into the world, but only if we can get in a safe controlled environment. Only if we can gauge how much world we are around. I remember being on a mission trip to Myrtle Beach, SC with a youth pastor. We were walking down the strip at a pretty late hour heading back to our camp ground. All of a sudden, a jeep full of girls drives by and flashes us. It happened so fast I didn’t even know what had just taken place. My youth pastor was absolutely distraught. He felt like he had ruined us, he had brought us to this place to make an impact, but struggled when the world tried to make its own impact. We have to realize that we have to be prepared to experience opposition when we go out. Jesus put it pretty clearly in Matthew 10:16, “ sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as serpents and as harmless as doves.” He didn’t say, Look, “I’m sending you out like sheep into even fluffier sheep,” he said “wolves.” You can’t hide away from the world or shelter yourself from it completely and ever expect to make an impact. Shepherd book was beaten, shot, arrested, stranded, and much more, yet he stuck with it because it was the only way for him to ever make an impact.
“Dear friends, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that has come on you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice inasmuch as you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed. So then, those who suffer according to God’s will should commit themselves to their faithful Creator and continue to do good.” - 1 Peter 4:12-13.19
One of the moments I most identify with Book is after his first adventure on Serenity he finds himself spiritually and physically broken, being cared for by a prostitute. He breaks down stating,
“I've been out of the abbey two days. I've beaten a lawman
senseless; I've fallen in with criminals. I watched the captain shoot the man I swore to protect. And I'm not even sure if I think he was wrong. I believe...I just...I think I'm on the wrong ship."
Every time I am met with extreme opposition, this is the conversation that comes into my mind. When I see students throwing their lives away in drugs, when I see families ripped apart, when I see “religious” people try to place their will instead of God’s, when I just see so much of the brokenness I just say, “I think I’m on the wrong ship.”
In my mind I’ll start to think of what I could do instead. I tell my wife, “We are opening up a comic book shop/bakery,” or I’ll consider being a stay at home dad, anything other than the stress and heartache that can come with reaching out. Then I remember what Inara’s response was to Book, and it was probably her kindness, a sign that there is some hope in the world, that it’s not all wasted.
She kindly responds, “Maybe. Or maybe you're exactly where you ought to be.” We have to remember that there is no guarantee things will be easy. In fact, Jesus pretty much guarantees they won’t be. But God calls us out into the world, this is a process He started, and that He will continue if we allow Him to. 1 Thessalonians 5: “23 May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. 24 The one who calls you is faithful, and he will do it.”
Philippians 1:6, “Being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.”