Faith & Fandom
Stranger Things: The World Is Upside Down
Stranger Things looked and felt like my childhood. Admittedly, there were less scary monsters in my life, but beyond that, Stranger Things is a polaroid of my upbringing. Even more than appearance, it really took me back to that time period. It felt like I was watching "The Goonies" with a bigger budget, and on Netflix. I don't think many people expected the overwhelming response to the series, but I'm glad it exists thankful for some things it reminded me of in my own life.
One of the things that hit me the hardest was Joyce, Will's mom, and her unrelenting belief that her son was still out there. This went beyond just blind hope and denial. She believed with every fiber of her being that her son was still alive. Even when family, the government, and even a rather convincing body double told her otherwise, she said, "I don’t care if anyone believes me. I am not gonna stop looking for him until I find him and bring him home! I am going to bring him home!”
In reality, many of us don’t hold to our own beliefs this tightly. We believe certain things, but situations, doubt, and circumstances often cause us to loosen our grip on our convictions. Even John the Baptist, Jesus' own family, began to loosen his hold on belief in Jesus. Matthew the disciple writes in chapter 11 of his gospel, "When John, who was in prison, heard about the deeds of the Messiah, he sent his disciples to ask him, ‘Are you the one who is to come, or should we expect someone else?’” (v. 2-3)
When our situations shift around us, or the world begins to make our beliefs seem ludicrous, or we feel like we are believing with no substance, hold on. John's situation didn't change who God was, or who Jesus was. Your situation won't either. Even if you don't have evidence and reassurances in front of you, hold strong. Joyce held fast to the belief that somewhere, Will was still alive. Jesus also encourages his children to hold fast to our belief even without in-your-face confirmations. John’s gospel recounts, ”Then Jesus told him, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” (John 20:29)
I know believing would be so much easier if God would give us loads of constant reminders and proof of His presence, but Jesus shows us that our faith is stronger and more blessed when we believe without seeing. I think some of us would rather trade a less blessed faith for more proof, but I'm grateful God has never abandoned me during the times when my ability to believe was weaker than others. I strongly believe that there is a reward for our faith. I'm not just talking about heaven, either. Our belief makes us stronger in every situation, and that is a hope to which we can cling. It gives us something to cut through the darkness even in the hardest time.
Our belief in a lot of ways is like Joyce's Christmas lights. She explains herself by saying, "Maybe I’m crazy. Maybe I’m out of my mind! But God help me, I will keep these lights up until the day I die if I think there’s a chance that Will’s still out there!" I would rather believe in the hardest times than let go of my faith. Romans 4:3 even goes on to remind us that like Abraham, our faith results in righteousness. The verse reads, "What does Scripture say? ‘Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness’”. When some people watch Stranger Things and see Wynona Ryder losing her mind, they just think she's bananas, but for me it's a picture of what it's like to cling to our belief in a world where it seems so foreign, and to truly believe in something beyond that is in front of us day to day.
Another element I enjoyed from the show was how close the concept of the "Upside Down" felt to the reality of the world around us. Much like a Matrix “red pill/blue pill” situation, the Upside Down showed us what it was like to be separated from the world in which you are meant to be; it demonstrated being lost and held at bay from the ones that love you and being in a place where you are pursued by a relentless enemy. While Will just wanted to get back to the real world and his family and friends, for believers, this world is the Upside Down. While the world we live in may not be some swampy looking twilight version of earth (and we can't make Christmas lights spell stuff), it's not the world for which we are meant.
Check out what Jesus shows us in John 15:19. "If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you.” The longer Will, Hopper, and Joyce spent in the Upside Down, the more damage it did to them. It was clear that they didn't belong there, and being stuck there would destroy them. While this world may have similarities to the Upside Down, Jesus has no intentions for us to try and run away from it. In John 17:15-19, Jesus shows us what His plan was in regards for us in this world. That passage reads:
"My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one. They are not of the world, even as I am not of it. Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth. As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world.”
While the whole purpose of the show was to get Will out of the toxic world, Jesus actually wants us to remain in this world. He wants us to be present, active, and effective. That would be like Hopper sending Will into the Upside Down and telling him to fix the place up. Thankfully we have someone much more powerful on our side than Hopper (although Hopper is cool). Jesus said He is sending us into this world the way God sent Him into the world. His power, presence, purpose, and love all have gone before and beside us as we head into the darkness.
Jesus also prayed for us that we would be protected from the evil one. Now in all reality, the Demogorgon in Stranger Things struck me more like a walking Piranha Plant from Super Mario Bros, but when the boys named it that after the Dungeons & Dragons character, they were pretty close to what Jesus was talking about as well. Check out the Dungeons & Dragons description of the Demogorgon beast: "He is known as the Prince Of Demons, a self-proclaimed title he holds by virtue of his power and influence, which, in turn, is a title acknowledged by both mortals and his fellow demons.”
Jesus prayed to God specifically to protect us from the evil one. Think about that for a second. JESUS asked GOD to protect us from Satan. It's a threat real enough that Jesus took time to ask God specifically to watch out for us. We can see why. Just like the Demogorgon hunted the kids, Satan is out for us. In one of his letters, Peter writes, ”Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8). Much like with the Demogorgon, even when we think we've made it out and are safe, Satan will still come at us. Like Christ prayed, our sanctification in Him is all we've got. If we try to fight Satan in our own strength, it will be as effective as that slingshot on the Demogorgon.
One of the recurring themes in the show was "Friends Don't Lie." It was a simple concept between children, but carries huge weight for all of us. Establishing trust, honesty, and accountability with our young heroes was a huge deal. Eleven literally had no one she could trust, and the idea that you could believe people to be true was something foreign she had to fight to grasp. It was even harder when around every corner, friends did lie. But even in their fallibility, we are challenged to be honest with the people in our lives. Paul writes in Colossians 3, "Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices” (v. 9). It's simple that we shouldn't lie to each other, but the reality is sometimes it's not about not lying. Sometimes it boils down to the fact that we aren't honest, like when we omit truth, hide our realities, or only allow people to see the small window we want them to see. When we keep the people in our lives at such an arms length from the truth, all our relationships suffer.
People were hiding things all throughout the story. Mike was hiding Eleven in his basement. Nancy was hiding her relationship. Joyce didn't hide much, but no one believed her. Eleven hid the truth about her origin. The kids hid the truth from their parents and teachers. Just all around, they were hiding things. Eventually, everything came to light. When it came to light it all had bloody conflicts, hurt feelings, betrayals, and pain. I know it was a sensitive situation and some of that stuff couldn’t have been handled openly, but most of us aren't hiding a psychic young lady in our basement. Most of us are hiding sins, struggles, fears, insecurities, doubts, and pain. When we hide things from the intimate people in our lives, we lie.
Friends don't lie. We can't have authentic friendships and intimacy if we aren't honest about what's going on in our lives. I can tell you wholeheartedly, some of the biggest growth in my life has taken place when I opened up to my friends, leaders, and family about the things I've done, the things I'm doing, and the things in my heart. It's important. James shows us this in chapter 5 verse 16 when he writes, "Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective." Christ brings forgiveness for sins, but when we are living in community of believers, we can also find healing when we confess our sins to one another. We must be open and allow God to not only speak to us through His Word and Spirit, but also through the people who love us. So many times we feel alone, even with people around us. Many times this is because we aren't real with the people who we let close. Be real, be vulnerable, be open, and be honest. Friends don't lie.