Stranger Things: Beauty and Grace in a World of Fear and Anxiety

When Geoff Simpson and I led a week of summer camp at Camp Allen, we introduced our campers to science fiction movies from the 1950s. This genre has long been an enthusiasm of mine. Particularly striking, as I consider it, is the movie Invasion of the Body Snatchers from 1956. In the movie, malevolent aliens invaded earth by taking over human bodies. This was the terror: the friend or family member you knew and loved might be your sister — or she might also be an alien. This was an artistic rendering of the fear people of that time felt of Soviet infiltration. Of course, the McCarthy hearings, searching for communist agents in government and elsewhere, had been held a couple of years before in 1954. The Red Scare was the impetus of many science fiction films of the day.

My wife and I have been watching the third season of the Netflix hit series Stranger Things. Last night, we finished Chapter 3 and (together with an awesome 80s soundtrack!) it has some of the same themes as Invasion of the Body Snatchers. Some people are not who they seem to be and it is a horrifying prospect. This time, I believe, the fright comes not from the threat of an ill-intentioned alien presence but from fear of our own countrymen and women.

Social media has exacerbated, magnified, and platformed extremes in our society, emphasizing their natural animus toward anyone who opposes their views. We have formed tribes along any sorts of lines you can imagine in ways that were inconceivable only ten years ago. Elections are simple changes in leadership no more. They are now desperate exercises in self-preservation, full of anxiety and intensity. People are (understandably) frightened and they are ripe for a work of art to connect with that fear. Stranger Things 3 delivers: we as Christians should pay attention.

In John 13:34-35, Jesus says something very powerful to His disciples at the Last Supper: “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (ESV) People today are stretched thin by anxiety and worry. They are gaunt with constant fear and loathing. Jesus’ command to the disciples is both old and new. It is old in that we have heard it many times. It is new in that it is a balm in Gilead, a healing ointment, for our parched souls.

Fyodor Dostoevsky once wrote, “Beauty will save the world.” As a church, what beauty do we have to offer to our parched and anxious world? We have beautiful worship and music, yes — perhaps even preaching. Our Anglican tradition is indeed one of great beauty — but the real beauty we have to offer is Christian love. It is the beauty of God’s children gathered together, living our lives together. Our life together is not always very clean and orderly. The life of no family is. But we rebuke because we have been rebuked. We offer grace because we have been given grace. The bonds of our messy life together are born in the Gospel and marked by Christian love.

This messy, awkward Christian fellowship of ours is beautiful. It is beautiful because of Christ’s love for us and the love for others it cultivates in us. It is beautiful because of the rays of love that show through the cracks God has made in our hearts. It is this beauty we offer to a world enveloped in suspicion, anxiety, intensity, and fear. Listen for the signals you are given by our world. Know we have food and drink here at St. Thomas’ for the parched traveler.

— David Browder