Theological Lessons from How I Met Your Mother
We all have our guilty pleasures, those things which are not necessarily wrong, but also offer little to make us better human beings. For many years one of my guilty pleasures involved spending half-an-hour almost every week watching the latest episode of How I Met Your Mother. The characters were far from exemplars of Christian living, but they certainly provided me with comic distraction and some relief from the daily grind. While the show generally provided little in the way of philosophical insight, the series did contain a number of memorable scenes which engaged me at a deeper level.
I was particularly able to relate to Marshall. Like me, his character was both a lawyer and an idealist. Throughout the series Marshall struggled with the knowledge that his raison d’être into the legal profession was only secondarily to make money and primarily to serve others. As the series progressed, Marshall moved from the corporate world into environmental law, before returning back to his initial position. All the time he was searching for a deeper response to the call of his personal vocation. But what made me connect to Marshall most personally was the passing of his father in the sixth season. Having lost both of my parents before I was thirty, I could empathise with a character who struggled on bravely and tried to keep grounded while his world was being turned upside down.
It’s understandable, then, that this plot development would lead to one of the shows more personally meaningful scenes. As the camera focused on Marshall standing in a snow-covered cemetery, the narrator explained that “on New Year’s Day 2012, Uncle Marshall took a trip to Minnesota to see someone he truly missed.” Marshall’s eyes were downcast as he firmly gripped both sides of the tombstone: “Hey, Pop. I can’t believe it’s been a year. I think the most appropriate way to honour your memory today is … to get blasted and watch the Vikings make the Bears their furry little b*tches. Go Vikes!”
As I said, the show was merely a guilty pleasure…
But even the script writer’s decision to abruptly deflect from so serious a moment was something which I fully understood. The loss of my parents is not something I always have the strength to confront. I can talk about it, but sometimes the emotions are so deep that I need to construct a mental barrier between what I am saying and what I am feeling. More often I will deflect the conversation myself, preferring to discuss the loss other people have suffered or explain how my situation could have been worse. If I reflect honestly, I know I am still grieving in my heart.
I also understand why Marshall decided to drive from New York to Minnesota to visit his father. Marshall honoured his father’s memory for the same reason that I visit my father’s grave and honour his memory: because our loved ones are still alive in our memories and always will be.
It is not surprising that at the last supper Jesus took bread, broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body which is given for you: do this in remembrance of me.” Jesus wants to be alive in our minds and in our hearts. But there is a great difference between all the acts which I have done in memory and remembrance of my dad and that which is done in remembrance of Jesus. My father, Wieslaw Nowak, died on June 2, 2003 and is buried in St. Thomas of Villanova cemetery in Newfoundland, Canada. Jesus died in Jerusalem in 33 A.D., but Jesus rose from the dead. My God is not dead. My God is surely alive (to be continued…)