Sometimes, images echoing the kingdom of God show up in unexpected places.
Furious 7, the latest in the Fast & Furious franchise, took in an astounding $1 billion in 17 days. In the Washington Post, Stephanie Merry says the film’s success is due to factors such as likable characters and charismatic, multiethnic stars. Then Merry notes the film’s surprising emotional core: “the loyalty of these engine-revving, brawling, backyard-barbequing street racers-turned-heist artists who consider themselves ‘family.’ ”
The Fast & Furious family centers on Dom Toretto (Vin Diesel), a tough but good-hearted ex-con and street racer. He’s protective of his sister Mia, whom he raised after their father was killed. Mia falls in love with and eventually marries Brian O’Connell (the late Paul Walker), who becomes like a brother to Torretto.
Over the years, others — most of whom live on society’s margins and have little, if any, connection with their biological families — graft into this diverse, unified, forgiving family. Each brings gifts and talents that make them stronger together. They bond deeply and share their resources. Individual members often sacrifice their own best interest for the common good of each other and the group.
“I don’t have friends,” says Toretto. “I have family.”
This surrogate family is their primary group. “The most important thing in life will always be the people right here, right now. That’s what’s real,” says Toretto.
One of the most iconic images of the franchise is the crew gathered around a backyard table sharing a prayed-over meal. In a culture fraught with individualism, it’s no wonder Fast & Furious’ family speaks to our craving for connection and deep bonds like theirs.
There’s plenty in the Fast & Furious world that conflicts with the Jesus way of life, but I find this grafted-together, table-gathering family a thought-provoking image echoing the kind of family Jesus calls us to.
“Jesus radically challenged his disciples . . . to join the new surrogate family of siblings he was establishing — the family of God,” says Joseph Hellerman in When the Church Was a Family.
“Who do you think my mother and brothers are?” Jesus asks. He stretches out his hand toward his disciples, a grafted-together, eclectic group from the margins of society. “Look closely. These are my mother and brothers” (Matt. 12:48, Message).
This family was their primary group, nurturing spiritual growth and formation, but also serving as economic safety nets for each other. Noting Jesus’ conversation with his disciples after his encounter with the rich young ruler, Hellerman points out that Jesus expects this surrogate family to reflect the practical benefits of biological families, including access to material resources.
Early Christian literature is full of stories of the church living this out. And let’s not forget that table-gathering, the most basic of family activities, is a profound act of resource sharing.
While Toretto’s crew probably isn’t what Jesus had in mind when he put all that in motion, perhaps it should give us pause. In some ways, the Fast & Furious family reflects Jesus’ kingdom family better than many of us live out today.
“The group, not the individual, took priority in a believer’s life in the early church,” Hellerman says in a Christianity Today article. “If we are really serious about spiritual formation, we must become really serious about creating churches that act like real families.”
Carmen Andres, a former editor of the Mennonite Brethren magazine Christian Leader, lives in Alexandria, Va.
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