Redeeming Stranger Things

Redeeming Stranger Things

I’ll admit, I haven’t always been aboard the Stranger Things hype train.

I even wondered once or twice if the wildly popular series might have made a better T-Shirt than a TV show.

Think about it. A shirt—or perhaps a line of posters—could retain the brilliant casting and the flawless 80s aesthetic without the occasionally-dragging plotline, the silly monster, and tired trope of alternate dimensions. (I mean, come on, you’re telling me there could be a secret but successful Russian plot to utilize technology and undermine US stability by releasing a “monster” that cares only for himself while reeking societal destruction. That couldn’t happen.)

Note: I had thought that.

But the final episode of Season 3 redeemed the show for me.

One reason is that Peter Gabriel’s version of “Heroes” is perhaps the greatest “soundtrack song” of all time. (Fight me.)

But that wasn’t the only one.

Alongside classics like The Goonies and The Sandlot, the most compelling theme of Stranger Things is the possibility of redemptive friendship in a communion of misfits.

This comes across most memorably when Dustin (played by Gaten Matarazzo) sings a nervous, then progressively more jubilant, duet with his ham radio girlfriend, Suzie. The Neverending Story never seemed so fantastic.

And then there is the heart-wrenching final scene that explores one of the most painful and universally memorable of childhood experiences: a best friend moving away.

I’ll never forget my own daughter Penelope—with jagged bangs she cut with mommy’s scissors—running toward me sobbing because it was the first day after Christmas break, and she had learned (in front of the whole class) that her best friend, Lila, had moved to a different school. “I didn’t even get to tell her bye!!!” she sobbed.

If that doesn’t break your heart, then you’re as soulless as that gelatinous monster in the TV show.

Stranger Things taps into that feeling.

“We few, we happy few”—we band of misfits.

That’s one aspect of what the church is supposed to be: a “peculiar people” (1 Pet 2:9), not (please note) because we act genuinely crazy in a breathless conformity to Cable News and Talk Radio paranoia—but because real holiness and sacrificial love will always be “strange things” in a culture obsessed with image and abdominal muscles (like Billy, the pool hunk).

To that point, another virtue of the season finale is the way even Billy is humanized and drawn into the communion of misfits through the conduit of past pain and present forgiveness. A lesson here is that even “cool kids” feel like oddballs, even as they scoff at Dustin, El, and their ragtag gang.

To try to “fix” this peculiarity of the church is an obsession within some segments of evangelicalism (see here). And there are sometimes good reasons for it. “Weirdness,” after all, is not always a virtue. But in other cases, the attempt to excise peculiarity from God’s people has made us less like Jesus and more like the poolside housewives who gaze longingly at Billy as he strides–bronzly, and behind his mustache–to his lifeguard chair.

I heard a youth pastor say once that his church focused “primarily” on reaching the cool kids (prom queens, quarterbacks, “Billy”), because the less cool kids would then invariably “follow” after them.

It may have seemed like good “strategy,” but it was the opposite of what Jesus did.

Christ’s model was more about redeeming the “strange things” (fishermen and former prostitutes), and then pulling “Billy” into this alternate (Kingdom) dimension through the conduit of sacrificial love and unconditional forgiveness.

Stranger Things, for all its faults, gives a glimpse of that dynamic: the communion of saints as the communion of misfits (communio sanctorum as communio peculiare).

So I take back my initial “hot take” about it being better as a T-shirt.

(But mark my word: the monster is still stupid.)


 

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