Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Desperate Housewives Go To Church?

"The church is a place for answers, not for questions."--Bree Van De Camp, Desperate Housewives.

Yes, it's true. I learned something insightful from the usually shallow-and-smutty-Desperate Housewives. My ears perked up when I heard one of the main characters declare to her family that they should go to church.

Lynette Scavo; mother of five, a surviving cancer victim, AND a surviving tornado victim; watches her neighbors leave for church on a Sunday morning, and realizes that she has a lot to be thankful for, as well as a lot of unanswered questions. This unbelieving, unchurched woman for the first time in her life wants to go to church. Lynette did not grow up in a religious family and has never attended a church. When she tells her family she wants to go to church, the husband says, "Why? What did we do?" She admits she knows nothing about God or Jesus and feels she needs to find out. Her son confidently declares that he knows plenty about Jesus. "Jesus is the guy who helps Santa at Christmas." Realizing their children's ignorance, they decide to head straight to church.

Lynette seeks out her best friend, Bree Vandecamp, the most "religious" person she knows, and asks if she and her family can tag along to her church. As Lynette walks away, she asks, "So, what are we now?" Bree answers, "Presbyterian!" and Lynette's eyes sort of glaze over, obviously puzzled because she is unfamiliar with the plethora of denominations out there.

The next scene shows Lynette and her family sitting in the pews, listening to the preacher finish his sermon on God's unfailing love. Just as he finishes speaking and is about to lead a hymn, Lynette shoots her hand in the air, eager to ask some pertinent questions about the sermon she just heard. Bree, mortified, frantically whispers, "We don't do that here!" Lynette persists, and the preacher uncomfortably calls on her. She stands up and says she's enjoyed the sermon, but did not understand how God's love could be unfailing when there are so many wars, school shootings, and natural disasters. The congregation looks uncomfortable. People look down at the floor. Men adjust their ties. Eyebrows descend toward squinting eyes. The pastor graciously responds about free will and living in fallen world. Just as the congregation breathes a sigh of relief, Lynette shoots her hand up with another question. The preacher invites her to the midweek bible study; a better place to discuss such deep theological questions.

Lynette, thrilled, accepts and rushes out to buy a bible. Lynette tells Bree that she's breaking in her bible and can't wait to ask all the questions brewing inside of her. Bree gently informs Lynette that "church isn't a place for questions, it's a place for answers." She then explains that church and bible study are a time to listen and eventually, if you have any questions, they will be answered by listening. A discouraged and hurt Lynette decides to give the Catholic church down the street a try instead, describing herself as a "free agent," and the church that will allow some Q & A can have her.

Meanwhile Bree is competing for a prestigious position as committee leader and thinks Lynette's improper behavior may have cost her the spot. But when Bree realizes her pastor was refreshed by Lynette's honest questions, she sets out to get Lynette back. But a still hurting Lynette lashes out at Bree, confessing she used to admire Bree's faith. That she thought Bree had a "real relationship with God," and that's how Bree got through the difficult times. But when she got cancer and her family was nearly killed in a tornado, she was puzzled that Bree never shared her faith. It was as if Bree kept the secret that gave her strength all to herself.

Lynette says, "I have survived cancer and a tornado and I don't understand why I survived and so many others didn't." She needs to understand how God fits into all of this.

Bree, stunned, says "Why didn't you ever tell me this?" Lynette shoots back, "Why didn't you ask? Oh that's right, you don't like asking questions."

In the end Bree apologizes. Bree says, "Faith shouldn't be blind. You don't threaten it by asking questions, you make it stronger." The episode ends with them on the porch reading the Bible together.

Throughout the episode, I kept thinking about the growing number of the population that is completely "unchurched." How many people do not know anything about God or Jesus, let alone how church is done. I wonder how the few curious seekers that do wander into churches see our services? Do they feel the way Lynette felt? Do even Christians sometimes feel the way Lynette felt? Like they are trouble-makers or lacking in faith if they ask the hard questions plaguing their hearts and minds? If they don't just sit back and hope one day their answers will come?

Are our churches a place for questions? I realize that in larger churches, it would be quite impractical to have the congregation asking their questions during those meetings. But I think the nature of Lynette's questions is what really made everyone uncomfortable. I've been part of several bible studies where similar questions were posed and the mood immediately changed. The tension was thick and people scrambled to dismiss the questions with simple pat answers and cliches before changing the subject. Slap a scripture on it and move on!

It seemed perfectly natural to Lynette (a representative of the unchurched segment of America) to voice her concerns and ask her questions once the preacher was done speaking. But when such questions are asked, does the church come off fearful or bothered by questions that have no easy answers? Do we make a place for such questions to be asked, whether from new comers or longtime members of the body? If our faith is real and our God is Truth, are there really any uncomfortable questions that can change that?

This episode of Desperate Housewives portrayed a valuable lessen, at least for me. It put me in the shoes of a person seeking God with no knowledge of the institutional church and how confusing it must all be for them.

BTW, I should return soon with more on the women series. These in depth posts on scriptures are wearing me out, because they involve so much and real life keeps getting in the way. So I thought I'd interrupt with a less studious post. But the women series will continue to march on.


rev. dr. todd said...

This was a great episode... it really seems like there is a lot of theology in DH. There have been many times that this show has made me think in theological ways, and this new episode was very direct about it!

Elspeth said...

I don't watch DH, for obvious reasons. You've read my post about TV shows and such. But it seems to me that this particular episode was thought-provoking without treating faith and the faithful like freaks of nature.

Taking a break from the heavy stuff for a couple of days, huh? We all need a breather every now and then!

Tia Lynn said...

Tis true!

I was shocked by this episode of Desperate Housewives, but something about it rang true to me, about how the unchurched might feel when they finally do go to church.

rev. dr. todd said...

I'm in school and chat with Len Sweet every Monday. Yesterday, he brought up this episode and said that it embodied all that we have been talking about this semester. It was pretty funny to hear him talk about it and people in my class were all giving him a hard time for watching DH. He said he just read about it and didn't watch it, but we all know the truth :)

Robert Cornwall said...

I'm not a big DH fan, but watch with my wife. It was a most interesting episode. What is interesting is the pastor's reaction the next week when Bree arrives without Lynette and family. Bree of course is surprised, but he says I always believe that church is about questions rather than answers.

Now, I've not had anyone stand up in church and ask questions like she has, but hey, why not? It might be fun! Of course this kind of thing does happen in Bible studies.

But notice too that they kept going -- just to another church.

DeeAnn said...

When I read the title I wondered if you were referring to me! Ha.

keithandjennifer said...

My opinion---

We could have come to this conclusion without watching DH..... or TV even. Just LOOK AROUND.....

Tia Lynn said...

Wow Jen. I can’t tell how you meant that comment to sound, but are you offended that I posted about a Desperate Housewives episode?

I’m not advocating becoming a fan of Desperate Housewives. I saw a promo for this episode about church and wanted to see this uncharacteristic storyline. It always pricks my curiosity when secular outlets and church experience collide. I thought it was interesting because it portrayed how a church service can look to someone on the outside. I wasn’t insinuating that DH is an endless source of godly knowledge, because we all know it’s not. I was merely sharing something that struck me from an unusual place. So what IF I could have came to the same realization by other means? I didn’t. That small, inconsequential, and odd portrayal gave me something to chew on, and I shared. Of course it’s not essential (or usually beneficial) to watch DH, I wasn’t making a doctrine out of it. Just something I found interesting.

keithandjennifer said...

Hey-- I didn't want my comment to sound THAT bad..(sorry) But, I don't like DH or much TV at all.

musicmommy3 said...

of course we don't NEED TV for much of anything but it IS interesting to see how the world (or the Hollywood World-anyway) is portraying us. It sounds like it was a fair description vs the ones where they make Christians look like idiots just for obvious spite.
God can use lots of things to teach us about Him. Am I advocating that show or TV- no? I'm just saying that God uses all kinds of things.

One of the things that I like about you Tia is that you are open to critisicm of Christianity from non-believers. Lots of us get so offended or ruffled that we cannot hear the emptiness in their hearts as they attack us. You listen to where they are coming from and you go from there. Love ya girl!

-Angela :)

Anonymous said...

"We could have come to this conclusion without watching DH..... or TV even. Just LOOK AROUND....."

How exactly does one “just look around” and instinctively see that people feel like they cannot ask difficult questions in the church? Or how do those of us in the church “see” that people feel like they are not suppose to critically think long enough to even form real questions? The whole point seems to be that this feeling usually goes unexpressed in churches. When Christians spend the large majority of their lives in the church world, they can become rather oblivious to these suppressed feelings that belong to members of the church and those who do not belong to the church. “Looking around,” as brilliant of a plan as that sounds, won’t necessarily reveal the hidden struggles of the neighbor sitting next to us in the pew. Is television always the answer to this dilemma? Most likely not. But God works in mysterious ways. Whoever wrote that episode probably experienced a similar situation or feeling in the church. If there is merit to it, then there is no reason a Christian cannot benefit from it or use it as a starting point to realize a larger truth.

Tia lynn, I’m looking forward to the rest of the series. You are doing a marvelous job. Everytime I want to throw my two-cents in, you’ve already said it!

Tim said...

Unfortunately, too few churches allow more interactive dialog, I would love more Q&A in church, it's far more interesting.

Anonymous said...

That's pretty incredible, Tia! It always surprises me when blatantly pro-Christian stuff lands on television; especially when it challenges the church to be more like the Church and less like church-the-american-version, you know? That's pretty encouraging :)

Anonymous said...

This just goes to show us “holy” church-goers, that people really do hunger for a living God, even the ones some of us take such pleasure in despising. Beneath all the trash: the lies, the distractions, the rebellion, the illusion of fineness, even out in the dreaded entertainment world, people are lost and they long to be found. We’d be wise to see these deeper issues, instead of being consumed in our own self-righteous judgment about the outward actions of those who are still searching.

Rev SS said...

Amen! And ... Thanks for posting this (which I found via Jan at Church for Starving Artists) I don't watch DH, but sure wish I had seen this episode.

Anonymous said...

I didn't watch the episode, but it sounded drastically different than what the show comes across as. I have to say that I would feel much more comfortable in a church that allowed questions than one that didn't. I have been in services where that has happened, and the church completely embraced it. Obviously you wouldn't want it all the time, but don't you think that is what happened when Jesus taught people? I mean you read constantly that Jesus was talking and someone would ask a question and he would turn that direction to respond.

Anyway, thanks for posting.

Tia Lynn said...

Tis true. There's a time and place for everything. But so often hard questions are frowned upon, looked at as "divisive" or something. Thanks for stopping by!

melissa said...

I think this episode it good how it shows someone asking questions in the church. Too many churches promote conformity which is religiosity. People are searching and the church needs to answer their questions and be prepared for this. Afterall, this is what the church is here for, to reach out to people. Plus, I don't think her questions were too hard. I think the preacher did an ok job in answering. We do live in a fallen world. Driven by sin. People are selfish. God wiped out the world once with the flood, but then promised not to do it again until he returns again. (because he loves us so so much)...The world is in a mess because of people not god. So if shows like this get people thinking about this kind of stuff, well I say it is much healthier then watching people jump into bed with one another. I say its great. Thanks to lynn for sharing with us about this episode.