Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Life on Mars

What to do at 9pm on a Tuesday now that this excellent series is over? Maybe read the book my wife got me at Spring Harvest 'Get more like Jesus while watching TV', which sounds like a win-win to me. In the meantime, meditations on Mars.....

1. What's the plot? (skip to 2 if you already know the plot)
Sam Tyler, a police officer in 2006, has a car crash, ends up in a coma, and 'wakes up' in 1973, working in the same police station but otherwise everything is different. He asks 'am I mad, in a coma, or back in time? Maybe if I can find out the reason, I can get home'.

Throughout the series Sam gets snippets from 2006 - he overhears conversations among the doctors round his bed, or gets messages through his TV set and radio. He also keeps bumping into people from his own past, including himself as a young boy.

In the final episode, Sam is first nearly persuaded that he does belong in 1973, but suffers from amnesia, and that the voices he hears are as a result of an accident he was in. He goes on an operation with his police unit, who are about to be gunned down by armed robbers when Sam suddenly wakes up in 2006. He gets back into his 2006 life, but finds it incredibly dull - police work is confined to meetings and paperwork, and he no longer feels 'alive' in the way he did in his coma world. So he jumps off a roof (stay with me here - this bit didn't make sense to me either), re-enters the 1973 story in time to save his police colleagues, and ends the series having decided to stay in the 1973 world, because he feels more alive there.

2. Strangers in a strange land
The Bible talks about Christians belonging to one place whilst living in another. Philippians and other books talk about us being citizens of heaven, and worship and Scripture are two things which keep us in touch with where we really belong. Sam is living in 1973 but knows he doesn't belong there, and is kept in touch with his true home by his own dreams and occasional 'voices'. these sustain his hope that one day he will wake up and escape.
At the same time, Sam brings his insights from 2006 into the police world of 1973 - recording interviews, organising things, gathering proper evidence rather than just beating suspects up etc. Most of this is strange to his colleagues, but they gradually come to realise that he has something to offer, and isn't just a weird guy.

How far is this a parallel with what followers of Jesus are supposed to be in a world where we don't belong? The Jews in exile in Babylon are encouraged to bless the people they are living amongst, whilst keeping alive a hope of return to where they belong. I doubt that this template was in the minds of the 'Life on Mars' writers, but it's a good way of helping us to think about where we truly belong, and what sustains hope and integrity in the midst of all that.

3. Staying connected to home
For Sam it is dreams, voices, and the media (TV, radio, newspapers) which send him messages about his true home. What keeps us connected to God, and helps us to remember that this isn't the real world compared to God's kingdom?

4. Hope and fantasy
Of course, all this parallel drawing falls apart because Sam opts for the dream world instead of the real one. He opts for the world in which he feels most alive. The series says something important about our society in 2007, and how hard it is to feel alive when we are surrounded by red tape, political correctness, legislation and litigation, and senses numbed by overconsumption. In the words of U2 'I feel numb.... too much is not enough'. Can Christians offer an alternative world where, in the words of Jesus, people can be fully alive. Not a fantasy world, but a way of living in the real world.

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