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
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
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
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.