There is nothing more iconic about the sci-fi series “Doctor Who” than the blue police phone-box known as the TARDIS. This contraption has been with the time traveling protagonist of the show, self-proclaimed as “The Doctor” for the last 50 years and continues to be the central element of continuity in the show as it moves from doctor to doctor. I was laying in bed last night thinking about how much I loved Doctor Who and trying to pray when suddenly it hit me… the TARDIS is a great window into seeing the Catholic Church. The more I thought about it the more it made sense. Call it the product half-waking haze, or evidence that I have completely jumped the shark, but I wrote up a few thoughts on how the TARDIS helps us understand the Catholic Church:
- She’s (much) Bigger on the inside -This is a major theme in Doctor Who. The TARDIS looks like a phone booth on the outside, but on the inside she is an expansive network of rooms, tunnels, and galleries. When someone enters the TARDIS for the first time, they inevitably will declare “it’s bigger on the inside.” This was also my experience when I first entered the Catholic Church.Early on in my years of protestant ministry a few friends of mine joined the Catholic church in a rather short span of time. I remember thinking that their inspiration must be that they wanted all the answers. Catholicism looked so small and unimaginative to me. I loved theological inquiry and exploration, I thought that the being a Catholic meant giving up on that and simply submitting to a rigid and unbending hierarchy. No thank you!I think this is the common understanding people have of the Catholic Church. It is, however, far from the truth. Now that I am in the Catholic Church I can testify that it’s huge in here. The Church does have dogma, but that is not developed to answer every question but rather to safeguard the mystery of Jesus. Dogma is the fertilizer in the soil of theology that assures that theological conversation will be healthy and bear fruit. The protestant world I was living in, it turns out, was much smaller theologically. We defined ourselves by what made us different from others, and found our identity in the theological controversies that had inspired our formation centuries before. This had the effect of keeping us locked in one paradigm, often continually fighting theological battles that the world around them had long forgotten were important.
- She adapts for each era – One of the fun things about the TARDIS is that she changes. Each time there is a new Doctor, the look and feel or the TARDIS also changes. She’s the same TARDIS, and the same Doctor. What’s different is how the TARDIS adapts to match the unique expressions of the new face of her rider.This can also be said of the Catholic Church.One of the key texts that inspired me while I was discerning joining the Catholic church was a book by John Henry Newman called An Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine. In it he talks about how the Catholic Church is a living thing. As new environments emerge the church articulates itself in new ways. Newman says it does this not because the church is changing, but because new environments require adaption for the church to remain the same. The seed planted on a hill will look different than that same seed planted in a valley, but they both would reflect the natural life of the seed.
- She Moves you through time – Doctor Who is the story of a time lord who uses the TARDIS to move throughout space and time. Catholicism also causes us to time travel. It’s one of the big things that changed when I joined the church. As a protestant church history had a big gap. We talked about the apostles, jumped right to the reformers, then jumped right to our contemporary situation. I knew about St. Peter St. Paul and the rest of the biblical names and faces. I also knew Martin Luther, John Calvin and Zwingli. Most of the time Church history ended there. The Catholic faith helped me see that in every time and place there were people who had given their lives for Jesus in just as radical a calling as any of the apostles. What was even more amazing was that in the Mass I could join with them in praise and thanksgiving.
- She takes you where your need to go even if it’s not where you want to go – In Doctor Who the TARDIS has a propensity for ignoring what the Doctor tells her to do. Most of the time this is because the TARDIS determines that there is another place or time which requires the Doctors presence and intervention much more than where the Doctor intended to. The Church does this too. It is in the business of not only comforting the afflicted, but also afflicting the comfortable. She calls me to fast when I want to eat. She calls me to pray when I want to rest. She calls me to be joyful when I want to feel sorry for myself. She calls me to love others when I was hell bed on only loving myself. She gets me where I need to go.
Do you have any other ways Doctor Who has helped you think about your faith. Let me know in the comments below!