Marci and I have been watching a few of the more recent episodes of ‘Doctor Who’ lately. I love Matt Smith; he’s just mad enough to be the Doctor, in fact he’s probably the closest thing to Tom Baker that Doctor Who has had for a long time. I wouldn’t be surprised if he goes around in his ‘off-duty’ hours with an ‘I Am From Space’ tee-shirt on.
Nonetheless, when I watch one of the episodes in the revived series (note: the original series ended in 1989; the revived series began in 2005), I have this nagging sense of tiredness. The old series had long stories; granted, the episodes were about half an hour long, but each story lasted for between four and six episodes. You had more time for character development, more time for intricate plots. Everyone didn’t seem to be in such a blasted rush. And there was no frenetic background music most of the time; those were the days when you only got background music if something dark and sinister was about to happen!
I know, I know, some people found the old episodes slow. I didn’t; I love long stories, as long as they’re good ones. ‘Lord of the Rings’ is 1200 pages long and I’m always sorry when I get to the last chapter; I don’t want Frodo to go to the Grey Havens, I want him to come back and have more adventures! I don’t find ‘War and Peace’ and ‘Anna Karenina’ too long; I love the way Tolstoy has room to stretch out and really develop the characters so that you feel you know them as fully rounded human beings by the time the story is over. I don’t find traditional folk ballads too long, either; I love the dramatic tension you get as the story unfolds from verse to verse.
But of course, we live in an age of hurry and rush. I doubt if Tolkien would have been able to publish ‘The Lord of the Rings’ today without Rayner Unwin asking him to cut 400 pages from it. Most people want quick novels of around 250 pages; Heck, most people don’t want novels at all; they want blog posts you can read in five minutes.
This presents Christianity with a problem. Character transformation is a vital part of the gospel: ‘And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit’ (2 Corinthians 3:18). But this transformation can’t be rushed; it’s a lifetime thing, coming from long, patient prayer, practice, and perseverance. It doesn’t come in an ‘instant’ passage, and you can’t go to a short course and get it all in a weekend.
No – if you want to grow in Christ, you need to be willing to take time for it. You can’t get all the nuances of Jesus’ character in a 45-minute episode or a four-verse pop song; you need a miniseries that lasts a lifetime, a song that’s sung slowly and attentively, savouring every word and every image. Sorry to bring you the bad news on this, but there’s no short cut. If you want it badly enough, you will need to take time for it, and perhaps cut some other things out of your life to make room for it. In the long run, it’s worth it.