Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Finding Theology in "Desperate Housewives"

I can’t believe I’m writing this sentence, but there was some very good theology in this week’s episode of “Desperate Housewives”. This episode contained the typical “Housewives” fare, of course: secrets and deception, cheap sex jokes, dysfunctional relationships, and women over 40 showing way too much cleavage for most of our tastes. But one of the secondary story lines managed to sneak a valuable message about faith amongst the guilty pleasure that makes this show such a hit.

Lynette (played by Felicity Huffman) is the only character in this show I’d want to know in real life. Not only does she have a functional relationship with her significant other, but she actually manages to find healthy ways to deal with her problems. What such a character is doing on a prime time soap opera I have no idea, but I digress. Lynette grew up in a family that didn’t go to church, and she is one of the few residents of her neighborhood who doesn’t get dressed up and go out the door on Sunday mornings. But Lynette has been through a lot lately, having lost her hair in chemotherapy for breast cancer, and have witnessed a tornado wipe out half the neighborhood. As anyone facing these kinds of things might, Lynette has a few questions about God, so she seeks out her most religious (outwardly, at least) neighbor, Bree, and tags along to her Presbyterian church.

After what appears to have been an extremely long, boring sermon, Lynette stands up and raises her hand to ask a question, much to the chagrin of her friends and family. She didn’t grow up in church, after all, so she doesn’t know that you’re not supposed to do that. Bree later seeks out Lynette to set her straight. “Church isn’t a place for questions,” Bree explains, “it’s a place for answers.” This statement prompts Lynette to try the Catholic church instead, where presumably the priest is more open to questions, although I seriously doubt they’d stop the whole Mass just because someone had a question about the homily. Bree apologizes to her pastor later, only to find that he enjoyed the fact that someone cared more about understanding the sermon than about preserving decorum. “After all,” he says, “church is a place for questions, not just for answers.”

I loved this episode for a couple reasons. First of all it was nice to see a pastor on TV who was something other than a blithering idiot, a lecherous pervert, or a stodgy bulwark of the status quo. Also, I’d love it if people did what Lynette in my church. I’m much more interested in people understanding what the sermon is about than in preserving decorum or getting out on time, but for some reason we’ve developed a culture in the church, and perhaps in society at large, where maintaining the appearance of everything being nice and neat is more important than our struggle to really understand what is going on around us. I’m not sure why it is that we’re so afraid of asking questions. If someone comes to ask me a question about the sermon, they’ll usually preface it with, “I don't’ want to be disrespectful, but...”, not realizing that they’re paying the preacher the ultimate compliment by demonstrating that they were listening! Imagine that!

I’m not expecting next week’s episode of “Desperate Housewives” to have any theological value in the way this one did, but it was nice to see that even shows that can be as morally devoid as this one can have some heart from time to time. I guess it’s just proof that truth can be found anywhere.


Jessica Miller Kelley said...

There was a new episode of Desperate Housewives??? How did I not know this???

Katie Z. said...

lol @ Jessica =)

I missed the episode, and I'm sorry to say I did! It sounds like a great description of what a lot of us pastors would like to see in our congregants!

I'm personally struggling with how I can create more space for that type of response during worship. I've been posting my sermons online and have been trying to encourage the congregation to respond, ask questions, etc, but they don't seem to be tech-comfortable enough yet to do so... or willing.

Any ideas?

Jeff said...

I have been a DH fan from the beginning and on several occasions have thought there was some pretty preachable stuff. This particular episode was rich! I found a video clip on youtube and used it in a class following the week it aired -

I'm Always Laughing said...

I absolutely loved that episode of Desperate Housewives! Unfortunately, I think that frequently the characters who are like Lynette frequently are encouraged to leave church. I wonder if there is an element of people relating to Lynette in the reasons for not wanting to go to church or to be turned away from it.