Yet more life lessons from Sleepy Hollow

In his “Letters to Malcolm” (one of by favorite books on prayer), CS Lewis stresses that we cannot bring to God only those petitions that we feel are worthy of divine attention. We can only be honest with God about what is on our mind at any given moment if we are to have any hope of integrity and authenticity in our spiritual lives.

And so, following Lewis’s sage advice, I could offer profound thoughts on our annual Lenten pilgrimage. I could talk about what a great experience it was to offer Ashes-t0-Go for the first time in my new campus community, and the vital importance of the church to in going out of our buildings to engage with the very earnest spiritual hunger in the world around us. Or I could write about Sleepy Hollow, the guiltiest of my guilty pleasure TV obsessions. The supernatural crime procedural recently return from its mid-season 3 hiatus, and all signs point to the writers taking a renewed interest in pretty much the only thing that makes the show worth watching–the fantastic performances by leads Tom Mison and Nicole Beharie. For which my unashamed fangirl heart is incredibly grateful.

I have written about Sleepy Hollow here before. Partially that is because I am a lover of the ridiculous (need I sing the praises of Galavant yet again?) and it is hard to get more ridiculous than a show about a temporally displaced Ichabod Crane serving with his faithful companion LEFtenant Abbie Mills as the two witnesses destined in the book of Revelation to thwart the apocalypse as prophesied by the Founding Fathers of the United States. Or something? It’s hard to follow. But I also find it fascinating (and depressing) to reflect on how much Sleepy Hollow was something of a victim of its own success.

Sleepy Hollow was a surprise hit of the 2013-4 TV season. And it was amazing, not to mention one of the most racially diverse series on TV–featuring not only the brilliant Beharie herself, but Lyndie Greenwood as her sister Jenny, the delightful Orlando Jones has police chief Frank Irving, and John Cho as Abbie’s former police colleague. It was awesome. Nobody made a big deal about it. And people loved it. You can read read my previous thoughts on that subject here.

Then season two happened. I have no evidence to back any of this up, but it is as if some group of executives started making decisions less born of creativity and more from a desire to build a bigger and bigger audience. Unfortunately, this led to foregrounding the stories of the white characters (some of whom were needlessly introduced) while marginalizing others, including Abbie Mills. You can read my previous thoughts on the subject here.

Which brings us to the present third season. I am delighted that the writers have learned from the error of their ways and are once again foregrounding the relationship between Ichabod and Abbie. All the same, I am frustrated at how increasingly bland the stories have become–did I mention Ichabod and Abbie are the only reason to watch the show? All I want is a zombie George Washington or cryptic theologically problematic Biblical references! Is that too much for a priest to ask? Instead we have gone from the Horsemen of the apocalypse to … Pandora? And some generic “nameless” deity. Yet again, it seems creative choices are being made by writers and produces not in the attempt to make fun or compelling television but to reach as broad an audience as possible. In so doing, they have done a pretty good job of alienating that fan base which gave them such unexpected success two years ago. And they have effectively diminished one of the truly unique projects on network TV. Only seven episodes remain before the almost certain cancellation of the series.

Perhaps there is a lesson in that for all of us, whatever our situation in life might be. In the church, for example, we are always searching for new ways to be “relevant” to the world around us. To a degree, that is absolutely right. We must constantly seek new ways of connecting with an ever-changing culture (see above, re: Ashes to Go), and we must always work to break down those barriers which rightly give people pause before crossing the threshold into our religious communities. But we must be wary not to do so wholly at the expense of those traditions which give our faith shame and meaning in the first place. It is a delicate line to walk.

Even outside the context of the church, though, it strikes me there the focus of our various endeavors can be so easily misguided. All too often, social media fails to be a source of genuine human connection and becomes a context where we are all trying to build “likes” and “followers” or “up-votes.” Rather than building friendships, we build platforms, presenting highly curated versions of our lives. We might think of what has become of the state of our democracy when candidates across the political spectrum perform for the approval of voters, not any sense of personal integrity. Or, in the context of the classroom we work for top grades and academic standing — which means we fail to take risks because it might mean bringing down a perfect GPA (a state of mind I know all too well).

I think the most any of us can strive for–whether in our spiritual lives, our friendships, or our work–is authenticity. Perhaps even vulnerability. Because if we are always working to satisfy others, rather than embracing our own unique God-given identity, our lives might be safe and comfortable, but they will always be a little more shallow–a little less quirky and unique–than they could be.

The only think I have to add is that if I stuck with three seasons of Sleepy Hollow and Abbie and Ichabod never actually get together, someone at Fox owes me a lot of money. It’s 2016. I promise the interracial couple won’t bite.

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