In this modern age of entertainment, television series have become more than just a source of entertainment; they have the power to touch our hearts, challenge our perspectives, and inspire us to reflect on our own lives. One such series that has captured the attention of many is "The Bear." While seemingly an ordinary show, it holds deep spiritual lessons that can resonate with our faith and journey with God. In this blog post, we will explore the profound themes of trauma, mental health, forgiveness, grief, calling/vocation, and redemption found within "The Bear" and draw insights from scripture that reinforce these important life lessons.
Lessons on Trauma: "The Bear" masterfully portrays the impact of trauma on individuals and communities. Just as the characters in the show experience pain and struggle, so do we in our own lives. However, we find hope in the words of Psalm 34:18: "The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit." This verse reminds us that God is present with us in our most difficult moments, offering comfort, healing, and restoration.
Insights on Mental Health: Mental health is a prevalent topic in today's society, and "The Bear" addresses it with sensitivity. The show prompts us to confront the stigma surrounding mental health and encourages us to extend compassion to those who are struggling. As we engage in this conversation, we are reminded of the importance of Philippians 4:6-7: "Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus."
The Power of Forgiveness: Forgiveness is a central theme in "The Bear," highlighting its transformative power. Through the characters' journeys, we witness the freedom that comes from releasing resentment and embracing forgiveness. Jesus teaches us about the significance of forgiveness in Matthew 6:14-15: "For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses."
Embracing Grief: Grief is a universal experience, and "The Bear" invites us to navigate its complexities. The show encourages us to embrace our grief and find solace in God's presence. In times of sorrow, we can find comfort in the words of Psalm 30:5: "For his anger is but for a moment, and his favor is for a lifetime. Weeping may tarry for the night, but joy comes with the morning."
Discovering Calling/Vocation: "The Bear" reminds us of the importance of discovering our calling or vocation. Each character in the series embarks on a personal journey to find their purpose. As followers of Christ, we are reminded in Romans 12:6-8 that we all have unique gifts and callings: "Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them."
Hope and Redemption: Redemption is a powerful force in "The Bear." The characters experience transformation and restoration, reminding us of God's redemptive work in our lives. Ephesians 1:7 assures us of this truth: "In him, we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace."
"The Bear" offers us spiritual lessons that mirror our own journeys of faith. Through the exploration of trauma, mental health, forgiveness, grief, calling/vocation, and redemption, we are reminded of God's unwavering presence, His desire for our healing, and the transformative power of His love. May we embrace these lessons, allowing them to guide us as we navigate our own paths of faith, always seeking to grow closer to God and embody His grace in the world.
The most recent passage our study group has discussed is found in Mark 3. For the purposes of this essay, I want to focus on Jesus’ use of a “parable,” i.e., a metaphor, and the response to Jesus by his family and by the religious authorities. In his explanation of his mission, Jesus says that “no one can break into a strong man’s house and make off with his goods unless he has first tied up the strong man” and only then “can he ransack the house” (Mark 3.27). Jesus is at this point elaborating on his response to the scribes or “doctors of the law” who have accused him of “driving out devils by (the power of) the prince of devils” (2.22). Jesus’ reply is that Satan has no interest in defeating Satan, but that only a force utterly different than Satan (“the Accuser”) would do this. Jesus identifies himself—and his followers— as the power (“regime”) bent on defeating Satan.
This is a wild way to identify people like you and me: thieves! Jesus calls us to join him in the ministry of theft and destruction. What should we steal? What should we destroy? I am thinking of institutions, traditions, and practices built on, promoting, and producing: alienation, greed, inequality, injustice, violence, and more. Our political system, our economic system, and in many ways, our religious systems need to be stolen away, “ransacked,” defeated.
As Jesus confronts and challenges the religious authorities and the settled and sacred institutions of his day, both the religious authorities and his own family worry about what he is doing (and how it will affect them). His family says Jesus is “out of his mind” (2.21) and the authorities say that he is “possessed by Beelzebul” (2.22). To his family he is demented and to the scribes he is demonic. (“Beelzebul,” by the way, was an obscure name probably derived from a Hebrew idiom meaning “Lord of the dwelling” (or “house”) with reference either to the air, or to the possessed, in whom he, the demonic, dwells.). The religious authorities accuse Jesus of being driven by the Accuser. But Jesus turns the tables on them. It is they who are aligned against God’s purposes. They are captive to the way things are. They resist criticism and change. They brutally suppress efforts at humanization. Jesus tells them he will bind the homeowner and release the captives. His is a rescue mission.
For their part, his family tries to “seize” Jesus. This is a kind of family intervention. He was courting danger and disaster, and they must have wanted to protect him, and themselves, at least their reputations. Jesus has scandalized them. Kinship was the axis of the social world in antiquity. Mark’s Jesus attacks this institution too. Notice that Mark does not offer genealogies as do Matthew and Luke. He is not interested in Jesus’ family line or ancestory.com. In Jesus’ culture and society, one’s identity was all about family connections and to be severed from family was social suicide. Jesus’ challenge to the traditional family and the “family values” of his time is revolutionary and shocking. It should motivate us to ask what about our family traditions and values might incur the same judgment.
Jesus’ challenge to the traditional authority structures, the religious, social, and political orders of the day has by Mark 4, cut quite deeply. He has repudiated the “old fabric” and the “old wine” to make way for a new regime, a new reign, a new order. The fundamental unit of resocialization into the new society, new politics, new order, will be the new family, the community of disciples and discipleship.
Thanks for reading,
Our country is in a crisis. The church is in a crisis. There may be other countries in which both of these sentences are true, but certainly they are true in the United States. The church’s crisis is manifest in at least three ways. First, the rise of “Christian” nationalism, “Christian” partnership with white supremacy and authoritarianism, and “Christian” fear, bigotries, and hatred that have aligned with the radical right. Second (and related), the Christian support of neoliberal institutions and structures that are destructive to human life and human security. Third (and related), the loss of a compelling story to tell, the loss of reasons to give, the loss of demonstrating the radical love, justice, and peace of the Reign (“Kingdom”) of God inaugurated by Jesus. People are declining the invitation to give their lives to Jesus. Why would they? The church does not make talk about Jesus appealing, to say the least. Far too often, we do not walk what we talk—except when our talk is bigoted, fearful, and hateful.
In the second section of Mark’s story of Jesus (Mark 2.1—3.6), we are presented with five episodes that demonstrate Jesus’ true and powerful authority, in contrast to the weak and narcissistic authority of the religious authorities. The paragraph above notes a crisis of the church related to our lack of spiritual and moral authority (“authority” is one word for power).
In the midst of these episodes, Jesus uses two metaphors to indicate something of his power and the Reign of God he is initiating. He says, “No one sews a piece of unshrunk cloth on an old cloak; otherwise, the patch pulls away from it, the new from the old, and a worse tear is made. And no one puts new wine into old wineskins; otherwise, the wine will burst the skins, and the wine is lost, and so are the skins; but one puts new wine into fresh wineskins.”
Jesus’ metaphors are meant to help us see that the Good News of God’s Reign (rule, or regime) is not simply some modification of the religious, cultural, social, and political forms we already have. God did not “tear open the heavens and come down” (Isa. 64.1) just to make us into reformists. Tinkering with sinful structures, whether religious, cultural, economic, or political, is, to say the least, not enough. Paul writes to the church in Rome, “Do not be conformed to this world… “Romans 12.1-2). Reforming is too much conforming. To be conformed to a deceitful world is to be deceitful. To be conformed to a inegalitarian world is to be an inegalitarian. To be conformed to a world filled with systems of oppression is to abide oppression. To be conformed to a violent world is to participate in violence.
And yet. We live in a world where small steps are often necessary. Where we shouldn’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good. Where we have to have patience and practice “a long obedience in the same direction” (Nietzsche). The early modern Reformers spoke of a “reformed church always reforming.” The Anabaptists said reform is not enough, but rather the church needed to be restored. There has always been a tension in the church between the wisdom of reformation and the Gospel call to rebirth, new life (cf. 2 Corinthians 5.17), and radical change. New wine must have new wineskins. Our Mark study group had a fun time discussing this tension. A tension that we cannot escape.
I am blessed to belong to the community of Jesus called Riverfront Family Church. It is a community where we struggle with this tension rather than ignore it. We strive to embody the Reign of God in powerful and authoritative ways that are compelling and healing. We strive to embody Love for everyone. We strive to share the new wine of the Gospel and to be a new wineskin for it. As I write this, I do not mean to engage in self-congratulation. We embody failings too. Perhaps we are not as radical or loving as we claim to be, or not as consistently so.
But it is a powerful measure of grace for me to belong to a community such as ours. I believe we strive in the tension, seeking to be agents of God’s Good News in the world. Riverfront feels like new wine to me, still fermenting…
Thank you for reading,