By Jill Hatcher
This fall NBC launched a new family drama television series which has proven to be a hit. With an unfolding storyline which bounces between the 1980s to modern day, This Is Us has captured my heart and that of about 9 million other viewers.
The magnetic familiar difficulties of life seem to stem from complicated familial relationships and their history together. I realized I was hooked when I could tell you which night of the week the show airs.
Tuesdays, by the way.
The enchanting feature of this show is the superpower we have all wished for at least once: unlimited flashback vision. Haven’t you wondered why someone is like this or does that?
If you could just see into their past, perhaps everything would become clear. This Is Us wields the Pearson family history to uncover hidden truths that shape each perfectly flawed person. In some cathartic fashion, their inadequacies and imperfections connect me even more to their journey because I know them even better than they know themselves, thanks to our viewer superpower. While my story is different, I still have the sense that I know how the characters are feeling.
It is strange to say I relate to the feelings of fictional characters. In truth, the connection is more likely that I feel understood as laughter and tears guarantee I will be watching next week. Perhaps, this is the secret to the unlikely phenomenal success of this family drama.
Humanity is hard-wired for connections as all television executives well know. Romans 12:15 exhorts the followers of Christ to, “rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.” Should one need an example, the Psalms spill over voicing communal praise and lament. As a Baptist, I feel naturally inclined to focus on rejoicing and praising God. However, I am learning that to weep with one another may be more powerful.
In Journey to the Common Good, Walter Brueggemann proposes that the hope we are compelled to share requires the difficult and anguished efforts of recognizing loss and voicing grief of our own and that of others. Otherwise, we lose sight of the transformative power of hope.Yet, Brueggemann emphasizes we cannot push through grief too quickly to reach the comfort of hope. Should we prematurely halt the grief of others out of our resistance to vulnerability, Brueggemann predicts social unrest and even destructive responses. It is in the discomfort of grief where transformation begins in lament, the birthplace of hope.
I have found this relationship between grief and hope reflected in the season of Advent. It guides us to celebrate the hope of the long-awaited Messiah and leads us to remember our hopelessness without Jesus our Savior.
My family has an unusual tradition of no gifts under the Christmas tree that sparkles with ornaments and lights announcing the promise of what is to come. We wait for Christmas day anticipating the moment when all the gifts come out of their hiding places. Suddenly, the emptiness is filled with laughter and joy. We are mindful that our lives are now the light announcing the hope-filled promise of the return of Jesus.
As I have watched polarizing events unfold like that of Standing Rock, the presidential election and recent monumental theological discussions, hope and light (surprisingly) rise out of the chaos.
I have been struck by the people who have come alongside one another even in cases when they did not agree on the issue at hand. In a way, these are stories of modern-day laments born out of the Psalms.
More than a sympathetic re-telling, lament is an intentional digesting of the fullness of brokenness. Lament is a powerful space where the fullness of our need is met in the fullness of our Savior.
The creators of This is Us have carefully woven the past into the essence of individual characters. Each episode reveals how different losses and painful stories shape each member as well as the whole family. This happens in every family, and perhaps even in every church family. Our stories may be different but the sense of knowing and being known in our sufferings transformed by hope is what makes us family.
This is us.
Jill Hatcher is a Cooperative Baptist Fellowship Leadership Scholar and is currently pursuing a Masters in Theology and Ministry from Fuller Theological Seminary. She is a grant writer for Together for Hope and CBF Ministries, and serves on the Coordinating Council for CBF of Oklahoma. Jill teaches Sunday school for young adults and helps lead worship at First Baptist Church of Norman, Okla. She lives in Norman with her husband, Kirk, and sons, Caeden and Dylan while their oldest son carries on the family legacy at Baylor University.