[As our kids were growing up, our concern for them was not as much about what they were thinking or doing, but why they were thinking or doing it. I try to maintain an ongoing self-eval using the same question: Why? Proverbs 16:2, 1 Cor 4:3-5]
Why in the world would I watch and promote watching ‘This is Us’?
I did my best to dismiss the hype. I’ve rarely followed the crowd when it comes to popular tv shows. Honestly, I’m not much for drama or comedy built around a bunch of people who either make life extremely serious or those that make it extremely frivolous. Really, folks … the title itself has grammar issues. ‘This is us’? Good grief.
My daughter wrote about it last year, and I agree with what she said. (Read her thoughts here.)
In her beautiful way of writing, she touched on many of the reasons I am spending time engaging my mind and heart in a show that would not be considered “family friendly viewing” due to its heavy, and sometimes immoral, themes. If you’ve read anything I write, you know I have put forth a great deal of effort to persuade my peeps that Philippians 4:8 should be a filter we use daily for the things that occupy our minds. I’m fairly certain that some of the ways TIU handles questionable topics would not pass the test of “honorable … pure … morally excellent.”
So, why? Am I being hypocritical to watch, and even love, this show? Or is it hyper-critical to try and avoid any and all entertainment that’s not gospel-centered?
In the specific case here, I am answering the Why with these thoughts:
This is Us is a story. A fictional story. It’s a fictional story out of Hollywood. A fictional story that is world-based, not faith-based. In fact, unlike the police family of Reagans, or that long-ago mountain family of Waltons, or the reality-inspired story of the Ingalls family on the prairie, there is very little mention of any kind of religious/faith practices in the Pearson family. No talk of God or prayer or church. IMO, there has actually been a blatant omission of any kind of spiritually-minded person or position in a family that weekly demonstrates a much bigger story that includes a thread of redemption. And as odd as it sounds, that is the answer to my ‘why?’
TIU is a story that I believe represents many stories. It is a story about the lives of people who interact with one another in a way that, for the most part, demonstrates an agnostic approach to faith. They all go about their daily life as if there is no higher initiator of goodness beyond what humans provide. They especially view the patriarch of the family as their hero and inspiration to be well and to do good. They love each other. As deeply as people without God can love. They care about each other. As deeply as people without God can care. They forgive, they support, they rally, and they protect each other.
All of these things make the Pearsons a fairly typical American family who deeply desire to more than just survive. They desire to thrive. And they believe they will.
All without any help from God.
When I first began watching TIU, I wrote some thoughts about the show. As I watched the first episode of the new season this week, these thoughts were still prominent in my heart. And they may shed the most light on why I watch.
As we recently watched this new show, I tried to analyze why it captured my interest and heart. The way that most of the characters live isn’t Christian at all. I don’t think I could even give the show a “wholesome” rating. But what it does is stir me to FEEL for each person. I am drawn in to their stories and their pain. I don’t have the desire to excuse the wrong choices, but I do deeply feel their struggle. As I have learned the background of each of their stories, it has changed my heart toward them over time.
Yes, there is a major missing piece in the show. It’s gospel hope, springing from faith. Because it’s Hollywood, I wasn’t really expecting anything different. But there’s something about the characters that makes me want to reach out to them. To rescue them from their pain. It’s through this show that I’m thrust into another space. A space where I must face the reality that so many people are in need of life-altering hope. It is this glimpse into broken lives that should give us more empathy for people, not less.
Building relationships with people (especially in a context like a small group within a local church) provides an opportunity for them to honestly say, This.is.Me. That’s what all the ‘one anothers’ in the Bible are about. As people rewind and unwrap their stories in the safe and loving context of a group, we have an opportunity to feel something for them. We have the opportunity to see them from a different perspective. And we also need people who will listen to our stories and feel genuine compassion for us. People who will take to heart what we’ve experienced. People who will see through our walls and our masks in order to see us through. Those who will stick around because they are invested in the outcome of our lives.
As I watch the Pearsons each week, I grieve for them. I’ve come to “know” them and care. As I watch them neglect to prescribe Faith as a cure, I recognize that they represent people and families in my own community. The cashier, the store clerk, the banker, my neighbor… Life has happened to them and they are all sorting through it and struggling to understand. I’m thankful that this show confronts me and leads me to a better awareness.
And that awareness leads me to be mindful and prayerful. Mindful that people everywhere need hope. The one and only Hope of all the world.
And prayerful. Prayerful that I will spill over with the gospel … to affect the lives of those around me.
Paul stood in the middle of the Areopagus and said: “People of Athens! I see that you are extremely religious in every respect. For as I was passing through and observing the objects of your worship, I even found an altar on which was inscribed: ‘To an Unknown God.’ Therefore, what you worship in ignorance, this I proclaim to you. The God who made the world and everything in it— He is Lord of heaven and earth — does not live in shrines made by hands. Neither is He served by human hands, as though He needed anything, since He Himself gives everyone life and breath and all things. From one man He has made every nationality to live over the whole earth and has determined their appointed times and the boundaries of where they live. He did this so that they might seek God, and perhaps they might reach out and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us.
For in Him we live and move and have our being, as even some of your own poets have said, ‘For we are also his offspring.’ Since we are God’s offspring then, we shouldn’t think that the divine nature is like gold or silver or stone, an image fashioned by human art and imagination.
Therefore, having overlooked the times of ignorance, God now commands all people everywhere to repent, because he has set a day when he is going to judge the world in righteousness by the man he has appointed. He has provided proof of this to everyone by raising him from the dead.”
When they heard about the resurrection of the dead, some began to ridicule him, but others said, “We’d like to hear from you again about this.”
So Paul left their presence. However, some people joined him and believed.