• Faith & Fandom

Umbrella Academy: Failing at Family


Like many people, I tuned in for Netflix’s Umbrella Academy. It

was one of the highest streamed shows ever. While I've heard

people claim it’s just because of My Chemical Romance fans, I

highly doubt it. I’ve been aware of Gerard Way and Umbrella

Academy since the comic’s inception, but if I'm honest, I've

never heard a My Chemical Romance song. I have done 4

Comicons with Gerard though, and he has always been a

pleasure to be around. What I picked up from him and his

passion for his books and music is that he believes in telling

stories that matter. I believe that is evident in his tale of this

fractured family. It turned out to be a really solid piece of not

just superhero entertainment, but of great storytelling in

general. By the time you got to the, “I think we’re alone now”

scene, I’m pretty sure you were either completely bought in, or

already checking out.

Unless you are a reader of the comics, you more than likely

spent several episodes just getting acclimated to the odd

world, unique power structures, time travel presence, and the

eclectic remains of the family that once existed. Somewhere in

the midst of learning their names, powers, and team number, I

realized that all of this looked familiar. Not that the story was

plagiarized or unoriginal, but this is something that felt all too

familiar. I was looking at a family that was splintered. The

jaded remnants of what was once strong and unified was now

bitter and resentful towards each other. They were ignoring

each other in the areas that mattered most and quickly



heading towards a horrible destruction. It hit me. This is the

Church. The Church, the body of Christ (specifically the

American church I'm more familiar with) strongly resembled

this dysfunctional family. I felt that way by the 3rd episode,

and by the final episode of season 1, I was convinced. I’m in no

way implying this was Gerard’s intention, but it certainly spoke

to me.

They were a group of people that gathered together in force in

their youth, but as they got older, they became more

frustrated, disillusioned, and disenfranchised with what they

once were. I’ve been involved in the Christian faith and

community for 25 years. I’ve ran children, youth, and collegiate

ministries professionally. I now pastor a church. I’ve seen the

full gamut. I’ve seen what it looks like to be young, passionate,

and unified. I’ve seen what it looks like to see the trauma of

life and failure of leadership cause division. I’ve seen what it

looks like for the people you once called family to become

strangers, or perhaps even enemies. I’ve seen what it looks like

to no longer know who your family is or where you belong. I’ve

seen it in the lives of the people I’ve led, served, and

ministered with. I’ve seen it in the lives of the people who led

me. I still see it on a weekly basis within the people I have the

honor to minister to now, and I saw it when I binged 10

episodes of superhero drama about a broken family.

The Umbrella Academy reminded me of three things we do

that causes the failure of families. Whether your family be

biological, spiritual, or a domino mask clad superhero team,



our actions have repercussions on the future and stability of

those we love.

When we make someone feel ignored, we fail our families.

It’s really easy to focus on the ones that stand out the most.

The extroverts, the bold, the confident — these are the people

that naturally garner our attention. Those that are quieter,

more timid, or less easily accessible often become

marginalized or forgotten. Focusing on the people who are

easy to focus on is picking “low hanging fruit.” These are the

people you don’t have to make any effort to be attentive to in

group settings; sometimes they can be the only people you

give attention to. In the Umbrella academy, Luther, Five, and

Allison are the easy all-stars. They are the ones who have

powers that stand out and are easily perceived and

acknowledged while still remaining attractive. Diego throws

knives, Ben has octopus tentacles, and Klaus talks to the dead.

While these are useful, they definitely aren’t the lead singers

of the band. They fall somewhere between bass player and

drummer.

That doesn’t even mention what that looked like with Vanya.

As the kids grew up, the bitterness set into them from being

ignored. How many times did we hear Diego refer with disdain

at the concept of Luther being “#1?” How often did we see

Klaus simply try and sit things out because he didn’t matter

anyway? I mean, the dude literally got kidnapped and no one

noticed. There are thousands, if not millions of people that

have felt completely ignored when being part of a church. I’m



not just talking about visitors or new people. I’m talking about

people who have been there for months or years, but because

they were introverted or quiet, they just slide under the radar.

They quietly slip in and slip out. They don’t build relationship,

they don’t become part of a community, and they don’t find

encouragement or accountability. They end up just being

background characters for the rock stars of the family.

So often, I've seen people just walk away from a body of

believers because they felt no one would notice they were

even gone. Sadly, often they are right. If we don’t make an

effort to welcome and embrace everyone, people become the

Vanya or Klaus of the Church and just slip away because they

were being ignored anyway. So many churches make

statements like “All are welcome,” when in reality the truth is

more like “You are welcome to show up, but that doesn’t

mean we will pay you any attention.” We have to be better.

In Matthew 25, Jesus showed how crucial it is not to ignore the

people God brings into our lives:

“42 For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I

was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43 I was a

stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes

and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and

you did not look after me.’ 44 “They also will answer,

‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a

stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did

not help you?’45 “He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you,



whatever you did not do for one of the least of these,

you did not do for me.’”

When we ignore the people God has placed in our lives, we are

tearing the family apart. Make a conscious effort to move

beyond interacting only with the easiest and most organic

connections. Look for the people you interact with the least

and make a deliberate effort to know them. In simply knowing

them, you will lay the foundation to build a stronger family.

Imagine how much stronger the Umbrella Academy family

would have been if Hargeeves would have made the same

effort to care for each of the kids equally. Imagine how much

stronger they would have been if they had made an effort as a

team not to let each other fall by the wayside. Let’s learn from

their pain and the pain we have seen in generations of faith.

Seek out the ignored.

When we make people feel isolated, we fail our families.

Isolation and being ignored may be similar concepts, but one

requires apathy where the other requires action. Isolation was

a toxic element in the life of the Umbrella Academy. When we

first meet Luther, we see that he is floating around on the

moon for 4 years. As the story plays on, we see that it

apparently was for nothing. It was to simply give him a

purpose, but also to keep Hargreeves from having to deal with

the aftermath of Luther’s accident (lowkey, I hope the moon

thing actually had a purpose and plays out in preventing the

apocalypse). Hargreeves couldn’t deal with the sight of his own

failures, so he pushed away his most faithful son.


Through Klaus’s training, he was continually isolated from his

family and surrounded by the dead. Not only was this toxic to

Klaus, but it also made it harder for his brothers and sisters to

connect with him as they grew. The intentional isolation from

Hargreeves caused more trauma to Klaus than seeing the

dead. He forced him to experience the horrors of his powers

alone instead of giving him emotional support.

Vanya was the epitome of this when Hargreeves isolated a

poor terrified child from her own family. He kept her locked

away from the world that she knew and from the only people

who cared about her. Like Klaus, the trauma did damage to

Vanya personally, but also damaged the relationship with her

family. Even at the end of the season, we see the lasting

effects of her isolation. The trauma wasn’t just a buried event.

It surfaced and showed how much pain and anguish was

caused by Hargreeves’ actions.

Hargreeves isolated one child because of shame, one child

because of manipulation, and one child out of fear. The same

things happen on a regular basis within the Church and

Christian faith. When we come across people with whom we

are ashamed or we feel guilt towards, we isolate them. Even

though we have no business feeling guilt or shame towards

them in the first place, too often we take it on ourselves the

way Hargreeves did with Luther. Divorced couples, unwed

mothers, people with addictions, or simply anyone that sins in

a different way than we do are examples of people we isolate.



We isolate them so we don’t have to deal with them. We

intentionally keep them from getting involved in our little

cliques. Like with Klaus, we isolate them as a form of

manipulation. We want something from them, to force them

to “step up,” or we just want to prove a point. We want them

to handle their own issues instead of us having to deal with

them. Even if the intentions are good, it is still a horrible way

to deal with people. Like with Vanya, sometimes we isolate

and push people away because we are simply scared of them

or their issues. We can’t grow as a family if we push away the

people that need family the most.

The first negative statement in the Bible is, “The Lord God said,

“It is not good for man to be alone. I will make a helper

suitable for him” (Genesis 2:18). God said it wasn’t good for

man to be alone. This was before the fall of man and sin

tarnishing everything. Even in an ideal situation, God said we

don’t need to be alone. We see the effects of that as Five and

Luther waited for their ambush on Cha-Cha and Hazel.

Five: I think it was all those years alone. Solitude can do

funny things to the mind.

Luther: Yeah, well you were gone for such a long time. I

only spent four years on the moon, but that was long

enough. It’s the being alone that breaks you.

“Two are better than one, because they have a good

return for their labor: If either of them falls down, one

can help the other up. But pity anyone who falls and has



no one to help them up. Also, if two lie down together,

they will keep warm. But how can one keep warm

alone? Though one may be overpowered, two can

defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly

broken.” - Ecclesiastes 4:9-12.

We can’t expect to function as a family if we push away

people. No one is going to be healed by taking their support

system from them. When your instinct is to push people away,

stop. Realize how much grace is offered to you. Realize how

hard it has been for you when you felt isolated, and when you

have the opportunity, draw people closer.

When we make someone feel irredeemable, we fail our

families.

The most painful moments of the show for me were for Vanya

after she was unleashed. After she had wounded Allison, she

actually came home. If I had slit my sisters throat, I don’t think

I would have had the courage to actually show up. Look at the

bravery she had. She walked into her home. She checked on

Allison and apologized. She was contrite. She literally walked

into the place she had wronged and asked for forgiveness,

which is effectively the best option in that situation. Sadly

though, I saw where the scene was going just by the look on

Luther’s face. She walked up to her brother into his open arms,

and he betrayed her. He looked at her like a threat or weapon

instead of his brokenhearted sister. He attacked her rather

than welcoming her. This one moment could have prevented

the apocalypse. All he had to do was welcome in his broken



family and let healing begin. So often though, our response is

no different than Luther’s.

When people in the faith community fail or don’t live up to our

standards, they are treated like there is no hope for them. I’ve

watched countless people in the faith community be

blacklisted and abandoned over mistakes. I’m not saying their

mistakes aren’t real. I’m not saying there aren’t consequences

associated with actions, but we should be the one place that is

welcoming of the broken. I see people daily that love God and

have been believers for years, but they don’t believe they are

ever welcome in church because of their mistakes. Just like

Vanya, if someone who made mistakes has the courage to

come back, they deserve the undeserved grace of God.

John makes this life changing statement in scripture, “If we

confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our

sins and purify us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). The

standard Jesus sets is that if we have fallen and we seek

redemption, we not only receive forgiveness, but we are made

clean. That is the standard that Christ sets, but it’s not the

standard upheld by his followers in many cases.

Allison modeled this perfectly. She was the one wronged by

Vanya, yet she was Vanya’s biggest advocate. She wanted

Vanya to be set free from the chamber. At the theatre, she

wanted Vanya to be received as family. She knew what Vanya

needed, and she was right, too. When Vanya saw her in the

crowd, a sweet smile came across Vanya’s face. I truly believe

if her idiot brothers had not attacked, Vanya would have





finished her piece, and Allison and Vanya could have hugged it

out. Everyone could head back to the shambles of their home

and start to rebuild their lives. Instead, they attacked her, stuff

got real, and the world ended. Galatians 6:1-2 shows just how

right Allison was, and how wrong her brothers were.

“Brothers and sisters, if someone is caught in a sin, you

who live by the Spirit should restore that person gently.

But watch yourselves, or you also may be tempted.

Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will

fulfill the law of Christ.”

We are commanded to restore them gently and carry their

burdens. The command was definitely not to attack them. So

often though, we are Luther when it comes to the fallen. We

think because someone has made a mistake that they are

beyond redemption, we push them further away from ever

finding it. We should always be the people that the wounded

can come home to.

As season 1 ended, even though the world was ending as well,

I had hope. For the first time since the story started, they were

all together. They were all unified, and even with Vanya down,

they didn’t leave her behind. My hope is that we, as the people

who claim to follow Jesus, can do that. Even in the midst of

everything falling apart, despite all the mistakes we’ve made,

pick up the pieces and move forward together as a family.

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