God’s love, the Rev. Matt Rawle says, is like the TARDIS. It’s bigger on the inside.
Rawle, 35, and the lead pastor at Ponchatoula’s The Well United Methodist Church, started watching the Doctor pilot his blue police box-shaped TARDIS around time and space in BBC’s “Doctor Who” when he was a kid, but didn’t see the divine connections until he was older.
“I’ve always been fascinated, specifically, with the nature of God and the nature of time,” Rawle said. And as he started watching the rebooted “Doctor Who” series with David Tennant, he saw a definite theological theme.
It started with “Blink.” In that episode, the 10th iteration of the Doctor, played by Tennant, battles one of the most terrifying of his enemies, the Weeping Angels, and he does it from the past. The Weeping Angels look like ordinary angel statues, but the second you take your eyes off them, even to blink, they attack. If they touch you, they feed on your soul, sending it back in time. To fully understand it requires some mental acrobatics.
“People assume that time is a strict progression of cause to effect,” Tennant’s Doctor says in the episode. “But actually, from a nonlinear, nonsubjective viewpoint, it’s more like a big ball of wibbly, wobbley, timey-wimey ... stuff.”
“When we think about time, we tend to think linearly — that time is fundamentally about cause and effect — something happens which leads to something else,” Rawle writes in a paper he presented at the University of Manchester in England last year. “If you follow that logic backwards — an effect is dependent on a cause — then you eventually come to the realization that at some point, there was an uncaused effect … . What does an uncaused effect look like? Well, it looks like water into wine at Cana of Galilee. It looks like 12 baskets of food left over after feeding the 5,000. It looks like Resurrection.”
Salvation, likewise, isn’t a linear progression.
Rawle tells a story about a believers’ retreat he applied for while he was an undergrad at LSU. The application asked the date he was saved, and the life-long churchgoer wrote “approximately 33 A.D.” He didn’t get to go.
“One of the things I love to think about is the chronology of salvation,” said Rawle, who can now laugh about his response. “Salvation isn’t bound by time.”
Another theme Rawle sees is the Doctor’s regeneration. Every few years, the Doctor regenerates into a new self. His wardrobe, his personality and even his weapon of choice, the sonic screwdriver, changes. But he’s still the Doctor, because he carries the Doctor’s memories, and, more importantly, because of our memories of the Doctor.
“I found it fascinating that the audience buys David Tennant being the same as Tom Baker or Matt Smith,” Rawle said. There’s a relationship, he says, between our memories, our identity and our salvation. “The thief has it right. Our salvation doesn’t depend on our memory of Christ, but rather Christ’s memory of us. Salvation is something Christ does on our behalf, not the other way around.”
The paper Rawle presented in England was born of a four-part sermon series he did at Broadmoor United Methodist Church in Shreveport.
“‘Doctor Who’ is a great medium where science and religion can get along,” said Rawle, the son of a chemist. There are other things in there, too, he said, like passivism.
“He wins the universe with a screwdriver and his wit, which I think is a beautiful thing,” he said. “War is not his default setting.”
It’s not the first pop culture theme Rawle has worked into sermons. This past Easter, he presented a sermon series called “Jesus Who?” that centered on the music of The Who and featured a Who-carist instead of the Eucharist. He crafted another around “Downton Abbey” and Christian servanthood.
In August, The Well church, located at 21400 South I-12 Service Road in Ponchatoula, will present a sermon series centered on “To Kill A Mockingbird.” The first sermon, set for Aug. 17, is titled “The Parable of Atticus Finch,” and will discuss standing up for what is right, even if it’s hard to do.
“It’s an accessible way to dialogue about racial tension,” Rawle said. “Folks don’t get mad at me, they get mad at Atticus.”
For Rawle, integrating pop culture into his sermons makes Jesus more relatable.
“I really work on making the church accessible. Especially for folks who might not know the lingo, folks who have either been turned off by the church or don’t go to church, but who would go to a Who concert,” Rawle said. “A song doesn’t have to say Jesus to still be full of truth. Conversely, not every song that says Jesus is good. There’s a lot we can learn from sources outside the church. God is bigger than the denomination.”