Ambivalent Endings

I think that one of the dangers of being a theologian is that you notice the theology in daily life.  So, when I’m watching television, I’m often observing the theology in the writing and the acting.  One of my favorite shows to talk about theologically is Doctor Who, but only the new version (as I’m not British, I didn’t grow up with the classic show and have only watching the most recent four seasons with Christopher Eccleston and David Tennant as the Doctor).  Each Doctor has his own operative theology and it also changes depending on which companion he is with at a given time.  The latest season of the show just ended and, while I don’t want to give anything away or spoil anyone who hasn’t seen it yet, I will say that it ended on a sad note.

Which made me realize that I really like ambivalent endings…those endings where you walk away and you’re not happy about the way things ended, where you are stuck in that place of being uncomfortable or sad.  I’d name some good examples, but if you haven’t seen them, I don’t want to ruin any movies for you.  But my favorite movie of all time (starring Audrey Hepburn…that’s all I’ll say) fits in this ambivalent category.  Doctor Who often fits into it.  And I know a lot of other people who agree with me…they’d rather something end ambivalently than have it end happily.  So what does that say about us theologically?

The way I see it, there are two options.  One, it means that, though we are an Easter people, we have a hard time living that reality.  The second one, shows that we really are living in an already-not yet type of tension.  And the ambivalence we enjoy in endings reflects the fact that the kin-dom is not yet fully present among us.  Or maybe it’s a bit of both.  But either way, for now, I’m going to enjoy the ambivalence.

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2 thoughts on “Ambivalent Endings

  1. Well I’m glad someone can enjoy the ambivelent endings! I hate them myself. And if I were to theologize about it I know that I don’t like Easter to end. I want happy, pollyanna endings all of the time. I want to know what happens, even if it isn’t what I’d like to happen I guess. I don’t like Lent, and ordinary time is, umm, ordinary. Which translates into my life fittingly (unfortunately sometimes when I have to confront icky feelings!)

  2. Becky – I meant to respond to this long ago. Sorry it’s taken so long. I totally hear what you are saying here and love the you used Doctor Who (one of my all time favorite shows … going all the way back to watching reruns of Tom Baker playing the part when I was 8 in 1983 on PBS). One of the things I loved was that the best episodes of the show – past and present – have ALWAYS had ambivalent endings. That was why I liked them so much – they never tied up loose ends and so remained basically faithful to life as it really is, not a romanticized version we might like. (I can say all this now … when I was 8 I just loved the idea of the TARDIS!).

    Yes the ending of this season was sad … actually quite heartrending on many levels. At the same time, the Doctor (who is always the Messiah figure) suffers and rises and he inspires others or leaves an impression on them that changes them. So I see the theology at work there. In fact, most good sci-fi is the human story told “incognito.” Gene Rodenberry, the creator of “Star Trek,” always knew he was telling morality plays .

    I think what all this says theologically is that mystery and paradox, which theology inevitably deals with, must by necessity always be ambivalent. And that there is nothing wrong with that. The problem in my view seems to be when people keep trying to bring so much “clarity” to theology, to doctrine, to belief that it ends up squeezing out all mystery and paradox — basically making itself irrelevant in the process. This is what happened in the pre-Vatican II distortion of Thomism called “neo-scholasticism.” The faith was all about “knowing propositions” rather than knowing an integral and living faith.

    So between neo-scholasticism and Doctor Who, I’ll take the nameless Doctor, his unwitting but brilliant companions, and the ambiguity and ambilvalence of time travel in a Police Box anyday!

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