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The Office goes to church

The Office had an extremely thought provoking episode recently. It was called The Christening and was about Jim and Pam having their baby (CeCe) christened. It could just as easily have been called The Office Goes to Church, because that’s what they did and essentially what the episode was about. I found it highly informative as an outsider take on what happens inside our buildings and was something every Christian probably needs to watch.
 
The first thing to be noted was that this was a refreshingly church-friendly episode. At the christening, the minister speaks of "repentance, faithfulness and discipleship." That’s pretty heavy stuff for prime time television --- especially a comedy. The young people heading to Mexico for three months showed disciples reaching out to help those in need. This was interesting because such a positive portrayal goes against the current trend in the entertainment industry and against the way The Office had previously presented believers.  Until this episode, the show’s one known Christian was Angela, who is cast in the stereotypical manner we've come to expect: narrow-minded, hypocritical, and shrill. Maybe this episode and showing Jim and Pam as (to some degree) people of faith, is compensation for six years of Angela.
 
What makes The Office funny is the quirky ensemble of characters that work at DunderMifflin --- there is a lot of personality diversity. Given that, it’s not exactly brain surgery to put them in another setting (in this case church), and let them react to that. For example in this episode Dwight takes the opportunity to launch into full salesperson mode. As people enter, he’s there greeting them and passing out business cards. Later during a time of sharing, he thanks people for their prayers and remembrances and offers "a four percent discount on all Dunder Mifflin/Sabre products, if you buy a printer at full price." Later, he’s on his phone, "Hello, it's Dwight from the vestibule. You want to know my 11th commandment? I will not be undersold. I am ready to love thy neighbor with these kind of discounts." He is the money changer in the temple, the guy who is at the right place for the wrong reason.
 
Ryan is there as well but as the counter-culture slacker he is, wanting to know, "Have you brought your pipes? We’re about to smoke the opium of the masses," and later asks, "everyone have their Kool-Aid?" It’s typical Ryan stuff and unfortunately represents an increasing percentage of people in our culture who are disillusioned and skeptical about anything faith related. Then there’s Toby, whose religious issues are so pronounced he can’t even bring himself to enter the building. When he finally does he asks God, "Why you always got to be so mean to me?" Like Ryan, he is disaffected, but unlike him, there is something in Toby's past that has caused his pain. Again, he represents a very real segment of our world.

Darryl and Creed are put to sleep by the organ music, while Stanley and Kevin complain about the lack of food at the reception following the christening. They represent people who are spiritually dull and unaware, the ones who ate the fish and loaves and then left when the show was over.

Angela is nauseatingly nice to CeCe but insensitive to everyone else (as she always is). Later, she is found to have packed her purse with a large number of scones and she tries to cover herself by saying someone else put them in her bag. She is what she always is --- someone who uses religion not to become better, but to hide behind. She is Eve blaming the serpent.

Michael is what he usually is --- the jester through whom comedy and (accidental) insight come. The combination of him being rejected as godfather for CeCe and the welcoming atmosphere at church create a rebound effect that cause him to join the youth group on a three month mission in Mexico. But before he does, there is a scene where he sees the young people interacting and having a good time and says to his co-workers, "Look at these people. They are church going people and they know how to party." Later, he defends them asking his employees, "What’s so great about your lives that makes you think you’re better than everybody else?" There is well placed irony since this is often what the world asks of Christians and certainly the way Angela acts. So this turnaround caught me by surprise. As mentioned earlier, Michael goes off with the young people on the mission to Mexico. Andy joins him (to impress Erin). Of course, in no time they stop the bus and get off. They are those who may find the idea of mission appealing to their empty lives, but go for the wrong reasons and without counting the cost.

I’m not sure what to think about Jim and Pam. I’m not exactly a regular viewer of The Office. I catch some episodes on Hulu and others on reruns so I’m not totally solid on things like character development, all of the storylines, etc. This is the first time I remember Jim and Pam being involved in anything faith related (okay, they had a marriage ceremony at a church after they were married at Niagra Falls). But maybe that’s the way it is for them --- church represents something to them, but it is more peripheral than central. Maybe that’s why the minister didn’t get their last name correct. We’ll have to see what follows, but my guess is this episode was about church as a foil for the characters rather than for story/character development.
 
The Office going to church was entertaining as usual.  But this episode (purposefully or not), also said some things that we need to hear.  May God help us to hear and learn about everyone who is without Christ.  And may He bless us as we seek to share His love with them. 
 
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