Once Upon a Time

Spoiler warning. A bit of detail about the last episode of Once Upon a Time is discussed in this blog post. So if you watch the show or just hate spoilers then stop reading now. If not then read on. My wife and I finished watching Once Upon a Time  and its season 6 finale. It was a well done ending for the most part and gave a satisfactory wrap up of several character’s stories. No major character spoilers are given below except for some discussion on one of the last scenes in the show and a few thoughts on the power of story.

The Once Upon a Time writers finished their 6 season story arc on ABC network. They closed the show with a very interesting allusion to Leonardo da Vinci’s The Last Supper (1495-8) of Christ in its closing minutes. The image below is a page from the Once Upon a Time storybook that acted like the Bible that told the highlights of all the main characters stories throughout the entire show.

OnceSeason6ending

The writers end Emma’s story with a feast with her family in Granny’s Diner pictured above. Emma is sitting in the center where Da Vinci depicts Jesus.  Emma’s love is to her left. This is a clear parallel to Jesus and the beloved disciple John. Pictured below is Da Vinci’s last supper with a helpful “who is who” guide for those of us that did not major in art history or have not parsed the location of who sat where in the Biblical accounts. 1)Just as a note, Da Vinci’s table is not anything like how 1st century Jews ate their meals. They ate their meals reclining and sitting on the floor. Eating at tables is a relatively modern dining innovation. DaVinci’s painting is the image that many people think of when they think of the Last Supper. The centrality of Jesus is the point of DaVinci’s art work and clearly is the image from which the writers of Once Upon a Time borrowed their final scene imagery.
last-supper-names

So what do we draw from all of this?

First, Jesus permeates all of culture. Pop culture still draws a common cultural language rooted in predominantly western cultures that over centuries were captivated by the message of Christ. Another ABC show that ran for several years ended with the note that the main protagonist was the son of Christian Shepard. It was revealed that he was the one leading them into the great unknown. Oftentimes, Christians are justifiably not satisfied with how our faith is portrayed in pop culture. It is often like looking at a fractured picture that distorts the original’s beauty. We forget though that Western culture has its shared language rooted in the teachings of Jesus however imperfect or incomplete. We should see this as a built in opening to share the biblical story of Jesus.

Second, there are universal themes such as the fall, faith, redemption, grace, love, hope, salvation, and the necessity of family that still capture our fractured cultural imagination. The reason that people like shows like Once Upon a Time, is that they tell powerful stories that capture our imaginations yet also build a community that often centers around family stories. Good writers regularly attempt to take familiar themes and re-work them to teach contemporary audiences timeless lessons such as sacrifice, free will, the importance of friends and family, the problem of evil, responsibility, and honor. If we want to reach our culture then we must learn to understand the basics of their stories and find those areas of common ground so we can share the greatest Story ever told in ways that capture our lost and found neighbors’ imaginations.2)“The Greek word for “lost” is from the apollumi/apololos word group. ”Excerpt From: Alvin Reid. “Evangelism Handbook.” iBooks.The word lost is not a pejorative in the Bible. Those who profess being righteous yet currently use lost in a pejorative sense are at best in sin and at worst are actually in that state which they look down upon without realizing their natural state. See Matthew 23:15.

Third, good storytellers like those in the show tell known stories in fresh and often startling ways.  Once Upon a Time rather cleverly took the myths of the last few hundred years and often inverted the stories. Jesus often took themes and events that people thought they knew and reinterpreted them to catch people’s attention. Jesus taught that the outcast would inherit the kingdom (see the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5-7), he tells stories of outward prodigals being lavished with love by the Father instead of the the outwardly obedient children (Luke 15:11-32), he shocked his listeners that even the really terrible cultural sinners were closer to God’s kingdom than the so-called righteous (Matthew 21:31), and even when summarizing the heart of the Old Testament law included a command to love your neighbor and equated to fulfilling the command to love God (Matthew 22:38-40). We need to constantly be thinking how we share the Gospel. Methodology must always be subservient to the Message. Good story telling though means knowing our audience enough to share messages that will connect with and when necessary challenge them and their assumptions.

Fourth, every story needs supporting characters to tell a complete story. Once Upon a Time reminded us of this by introducing dozens of bit characters. These characters, while not being main characters, were necessary to tell the full story. Bit characters are often forgotten but without them a story simply cannot be told. Every single one was central in some way or another so that the protagonist could accomplish their journey. This is true of Jesus reaching us. Without the whole Old Testament and the people who are little more than footnotes in the genealogy of Jesus then his story would never have happened. If we want to reach people for Jesus using the Bible then we need to learn how the big story and the little stories add together to make one incredible Story. It also moves us to capture the imagination of families, including children and young adults. We need to teach children and young adults how to share their stories as part of the story of redemption. Every person has a unique story that contributes to the over all story of Jesus.

Finally, every story can only cover so much content. We must be wise in what we share of the Story. The Gospel of John records stories not found in the other three gospels. John states that he wrote his Gospel so that people would believe in Jesus. These unique stories add incredible details to the story of Jesus. John realized that there was more that could be said but there simply was not room to say everything that could be said about Jesus3)“Now there are also many other things that Jesus did. Were every one of them to be written, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written” John 21:25. Jesus lived a life filled with other stories, yet the stories in the Scripture are the ones that set up the reason Jesus died and what his resurrection means to us and the whole of creation. As we share the story of Jesus we must be wise to teach how the story of the Gospel ends. The Gospel is not just how to have a happy ever after, but is also the beginning of a whole new story of living with Jesus. That is the adventure worth sharing.

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1. Just as a note, Da Vinci’s table is not anything like how 1st century Jews ate their meals. They ate their meals reclining and sitting on the floor. Eating at tables is a relatively modern dining innovation. DaVinci’s painting is the image that many people think of when they think of the Last Supper. The centrality of Jesus is the point of DaVinci’s art work and clearly is the image from which the writers of Once Upon a Time borrowed their final scene imagery.
2. “The Greek word for “lost” is from the apollumi/apololos word group. ”Excerpt From: Alvin Reid. “Evangelism Handbook.” iBooks.The word lost is not a pejorative in the Bible. Those who profess being righteous yet currently use lost in a pejorative sense are at best in sin and at worst are actually in that state which they look down upon without realizing their natural state. See Matthew 23:15.
3. “Now there are also many other things that Jesus did. Were every one of them to be written, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written” John 21:25.

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