And every week I’m like:
I realize that writing about my dislike of the show is akin to social atheism. We all want to believe that our family story looks like the attractive, well-written characters we see played out each week. But you can count my country ass out.
I do not like This is Us. It feels emotionally manipulative and unrealistic. But then again, I didn’t like Parenthood either. I KNOW. KICK ME OFF THE PLANET ALREADY. It wasn’t the meandering plot lines that did me in — it was the idea that any family could exist under such gracious circumstances without a good and gracious God. Hilarious. And not because it’s supposed to be.
In This is Us, we are made to feel that these are people with real problems “just like us.” But I never feel that way when I watch. I always marvel at how unrealistically kind and understanding everyone is. I find the premise of recognized purpose and connection in difficult circumstances totally laughable. Also, the hair and lighting is Oscar-worthy. My hair won’t look that good when Jesus comes back.
I realize I am talking trash about a national treasure here. At this point you are likely trying to figure out how to throw a brick through my window.
Just remember to try to aim for my television. Because that’s where I watch Shameless.
If this is (indeed) us, then I am Frank Gallagher. On Shameless, Frank is played by the brilliant William H. Macy. And for some 6 seasons he has bludgeoned us with terrible decisions, incurable alcoholism, and a selfishness that will not let him go. He has basically abandoned his six children. And in a moment that was so painful it was almost unwatchable, when Frank Gallagher receives an underserved liver transplant, he turns around and starts drinking again.
So, you may be wondering, how could Sarah-the-pastor-and-suburban-mom see herself in Frank? Well, that’s easy. Frank is a massive sinner. He leaves a train wreck in his wake. He cheats on his girlfriends, gets his kids to buy him drugs, and could give less of a damn about anyone other than himself. Simply put, Frank is me without Jesus.
Whenever I make such assertions about my own fallenness, people often want to step in and correct me about myself. “Sarah, you aren’t that bad.” You’re right. I’m not. Not currently.
In one of my favorite moments of the show, Frank is asked if he believes in God. And his response is priceless. He barks back, “I believe in a force that thinks it’s greater than myself.”
If that isn’t my sinful, base-level, day-in and day-out response to God Almighty, then I don’t know what is.
My love of this show only deepened a few weeks ago when I was at a family reunion back in Mississippi. I had no less than 5 separate conversations with members of my family about how much we love Shameless. I do not come from one of those Southern families that has done a good job of hiding its mess behind pleasant conversations and cotillions.
Our family magnolia is marked by abusive alcoholism, unrelenting drug addiction, poverty, prison, adultery, and, perhaps the most shameful of all familial maladies, suicide. And we talk about it. All of it. Because it is real and interesting. Because it explains so much about who we are. And personally speaking, when I sing that Jesus doesn’t want me hiding my light under a bushel, I’m convinced we need the darkness in plain view so that God’s light clearly shines.
Plus, who wants to go to a family reunion where it’s all graduate degrees and gluten-free diets? People who watch Parenthood?
Part of me understands why people love shows like This is Us. Our lives are so complicated that watching something where everything (even the terrible stuff) all works itself out feels reassuring. But it never feels that way for me. I watch and feel as though not enough has been lost, or said, or taken. I can only think of that video where Brene Brown talks about going back to church. In the most haunting of quotes she recalls the words of a priest who once told her, “In all of these faith communities where forgiveness is too easy and love is too easy, there isn’t enough blood on the floor to make sense of that.”
I know we are all looking to bump into the light. But that doesn’t happen in the neatly connected webs of humanity we see played out on these shows. It happens when fallenness is actually fallen. Not manicured and pedicured into our comfort zone. But totally and utterly hopeless.
Only then can I see myself on the screen: addicted, selfish, broken, and yelling at my Creator. Only then can I hold up the mirror to my own sinful lot and see that there is no need to hide my redeemed mess under a bushel. Because the truth about my darkness comes as a relief and not a burden. My truth for His consequence. My low for His high. My darkness for His light.