Chris Seay on The Gospel Reloaded

Well, ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, as you know, Matrix was an unbelievable smash hit and it-it changed the way people are making movies. It illustrated that people could actually make movies that are action/adventure and talk about stuff that matters. And Newsweek has called the year 2003, “The Year of the Matrix,” as blockbuster movies are sparking debate about culture and spirituality.
Q. Joining us right now is a guy who is willing to live on the edge. He is the
author of The Gospel According to Tony Soprano. And having caused a lot of stir and controversy with that one, he decided to hit another one out of the park. So he-he’s written a thing called The Gospel Reloaded, that I don’t think is even out there and available yet. We’ll find out, though. He is Chris Seay. He is the pastor of Ecclesia, a progressive Christian community in Houston, Texas. He is recognized for exploring spiritual questions of culture and breaking new ground in art, music, and film. And great to have you with us, Chris.
A. Thanks, Dick. It’s always great to be on your show.
Q. You know, we-we had an interesting thing happen after we talked about The
Sopranos, and I’d love for you to just tell the folks real quickly the-the outline of the story. The e-mail that I got, that I forwarded on to you, and what has happened since then, just to illustrate that you can take something like The Sopranos, that is a cultural icon, and actually turn it into conversations about gospel.
A. Yeah. You know, the¢â‚¬¦ I was on your show and many others. In fact, your
show was the real prompter for this one because you then do a turnover interview on Christianity Today. And we got a letter from a man that was looking for information about The Sopranos online. He came into the interview online that I did with you. He was just looking for, you know, random Soprano facts. He had no idea he was going to get a discussion about The Gospel According to Tony Soprano.
Q. Yeah.
A. And so he stopped, then read the interview, thought, I’ve got to order that
book, and has since sent a letter to CT, which they forwarded to you and then on to me, that basically he said just a big, huge thank you, that all he’d ever understood from church was that he was destined to this road, that there wasn’t any help for him. And he saw that there was-that-that the gospel was real and it offered a different path for him. I’ve sent him a Bible. We’ve been in discussion online and on the phone. I’m going to make it out to the east coast some time later this year, and we’re going to sit down and have a meal. And he’s contemplating the beauty of the gospel story. And God’s really working on him. So it’s one of those times for me ¢€œ and there have been many of these ¢€œ but it’s a really profound example because this man is actively involved in the Mafia. He lives a life much like Tony Soprano, though he describes in his e-mail to us that it’s-it’s not quite as glamorous. It’s a really grotesque and difficult life. And he’s contemplating leaving that behind so that he can follow Christ. And so it’s one of those reminders to me, this is what we’re about. We’re to be missional people, engaging the culture, and people that would not walk into the doors of the church, but they go-they watch The Sopranos week after week, and they go see films like The Matrix. And in many ways those have become kind of the new source of spiritual truth for people. And if people of faith, of Christian faith, don’t engage those stories and allow them to be conversation points, then we’ve-we’ve handed them over to others if we don’t choose to dialogue. So that’s the great part of writing books like The Gospel Reloaded and The Gospel According to Tony Soprano, is that we get to engage the discussions of faith that are already taking place and help tell the story of Christ.
Q. Now-now, of course, you were doing this long before The Matrix was
released, but-but describe what happened the first time you walked in the theater and saw The Matrix, the first Matrix, and then we’ll talk about The Matrix Reloaded and about¢â‚¬¦ Now, by the way, is your book out yet?
A. No. It-it-it’ll be shipped the first week in June, somewhere around June
5th/6th.
Q. And it’s The Gospel Reloaded.
A. The Gospel Reloaded. And you can order it on Amazon right now. It’s been
typically in the top 500 in sales ranking on Amazon, and that’s just pre-orders. So a lot of people are going on there pre-ordering. If you do that, you’ll make sure you get a copy quickly.
Q. Cool.
A. And so, yeah. The first time I walked in to see The Matrix, I’d heard a few
rumors that there was this spiritually dense film that was coming out, being released Easter-Easter weekend. All the promo that we’d gotten at that point was very mysterious. It was very much like what we get now in terms of it’s all about the question. And the question was, What is The Matrix?
Q. Yeah.
A. And I walked in there on Easter Sunday ¢€œ for Easter Sunday is a pretty tough
day for pastors, it’s an exhausting day ¢€œ but I-I heard enough about this film. And I come home and settled my family in for bed, and there was a 10:00 showing. And I thought, you know what? I’m going to go see that film. I had no idea what I was putting myself through because it, like so many others, it floored me as I had just entered into the story of Christ throughout Easter. I saw it retold in a very different form, but retold nonetheless with so many Christian symbols that I then stayed up all night searching for someone to talk about this film. And many of the-the web sites at that time all I could find were posts like, “Keanu’s cute,” and all these kind of things. And I was looking for somebody to talk about the spiritual and philosophical implications.
Q. Yeah.
A. But it didn’t take long for people to figure this all out and then a lot of us were
wanting to talk about that.
Q. Yeah. And you know, Time magazine just pointed out there are 1,000 web
sites now that are doing exegesis of some sort of trying to interpret and understand the first film, the first Matrix. And now, of course, The Matrix Reloaded is out there and-and busted all the R-rated movie first weekend box office results. And-and the other Matrix movie is coming out later this year, so like it’s the trilogy is all coming together now. I want to get to the kind of the-the issues that were raised by The Matrix and-and, even though this book isn’t out already, you’ve already captured very quickly a lot of the stuff that we see in The Matrix Reloaded. But for people that don’t know, let’s give them the basic concept of-of-of the-the construct ideologically of the movie. You already said the question is, “What is The Matrix?” Why don’t we start there.
A. Well, you know, we weren’t really sure when the-the first movie released.
The first implication that we got was that there was something that people needed saving from. And the first person that addressed this Keanu Reeves character in the first film, his first words to him are, You’re-you’re my savior. You’re my own personal Jesus Christ.
Q. Yeah.
A. And we knew at that point ¢€œ it wasn’t that subtle ¢€œ that we were looking at
some kind of a Christ figure. And we begin to find out that what we have, what we describe in the book in a chapter about the second fall of man, really we are created for paradise. We see really, truly a second fall that just as man¢â‚¬¦ God created mankind and mankind betrayed him. Man created machine and marveled, Morpheus says, in our magnificence, and in that we became so dependent on machines and we mistreated them to the point that they eventually took over and we became at war with machines.
Q. Uh-huh.
A. It’s really fascinating ¢€œ and I don’t want to get us too far off the subject ¢€œ but
to begin to read articles and essays by technologists and scientists that talk about the reality that some of these things could actually happen. We’ve become so dependent on machines ¢€œ
Q. Yeah.
A. ¢€œ that if they were to shut down we’d be in big trouble.
Q. Yeah. And actually Matrix Reloaded has some really interesting, has one
scene in particular that’s very interesting about-about machines, about what it means to control machines, about what it means to be able to turn them off and so forth, and-and that dialogue that was¢â‚¬¦ Kind of the seeds that were planted in The Matrix are already starting to be kind of unfolded in The Matrix Reloaded. We have to take a quick break. We’re going to be back in just a minute.
Our guest is Chris Seay. As he said, you can order your-your pre-released
copy of his book, it’s The Gospel Reloaded, by Chris Seay. It’s available at Amazon. You go there, do your pre-order, and it’ll be out, I think he said in early June. We’re going to get back and talk a little bit about the post-modern stew. I mean, I cringed when I heard some people saying, Well, The Matrix is a Christian movie in that I think what they picked up on Christian themes, but it’s really much more eclectic than that and synchrotistic than that. We’ll talk with Chris Seay more about it coming up right after this. Don’t touch that dial, we’ll be right back.
(Break.)
Well, this is Dick Staub back with you. We’re visiting with Chris Seay. He is the pastor of Ecclesia, he is the author of The Gospel According to Tony Soprano, and of a new book titled, The Gospel Reloaded,which will be available in your bookstores in June. But you can pre-order it now at Amazon.com.
Q. And Chris, just before the break I was mentioning that-that I cringed when I
would hear people say that The Matrix was a Christian film, because I felt that what was happening was that they were ending up kind of betraying their-their limited understanding of both our faith and of-of-of all the other religious traditions represented in The Matrix. And you point out that this is a real post-modern stew. Richard Corliss even described the character of Morpheus as-as a black/white rabbit, an R & B Obiwan Kenobe, a big, bad John the Baptist, Gandolph with grooves, every wise guide from literature, religion, movies, and comics.
A. He is. He’s all those things.
Q. It’s a real mix.
A. Yeah, it is. And every one of those characters has so many metaphors that
apply to them. I believe that quite often that Christian metaphors are the most prominent.
Q. Yeah.
A. They’re the strongest. We need to be really careful about a lot of what I point
out in the book is that I think that the majority of the Christian metaphors are actually a gnostic Christian influence ¢€œ
Q. Yes.
A. ¢€œ and not really mainstream orthodox Christianity. And that sometimes our
faith has become so gnostic that we don’t even recognize the difference, but it’s really important to know it. So as we walk through it, we realize this-this plays on influences like Buddhism, on Hinduism, classic literature, Greek mythology, the list just goes on and on and on. And so part of understanding and appreciating the film is really saying, okay, what are all these influences? Why am I drawn to it? And why is the culture at large drawn to it? And so that’s a lot of the questions we try to answer and explore in the book.
Q. Now, in the-in The Matrix itself, we get introduced to Neo. And in what sense
is Neo kind of an interesting character when we think about the-the myths and metaphors that are encapsulated in that one character?
A. He’s a fascinating character. I mean, we get obviously a very central Christ
figure. And then we do what I think what good Hollywood films do, and this is what the Wachowski Brothers said, Essentially no one would want to come see a film about philosophy and religion.
Q. Yeah.
A. But if we could make a film that’s full of great action scenes that has the
subtext of a love story, a lot of people would actually enjoy it. And so they put Neo at the center, as this kind of Christ figure, they’ve given him a love interest. All of a sudden he transforms from this lonely slacker into one of my favorite lines from the first film when he turns to Morpheus and says, “I know kung fu.” He’s instantly a superhero, literally in the influences of Superman. I mean, that’s one of the prominent characters that we see him as in the-the second film. So he’s¢â‚¬¦ And-and at the same time I think he’s very much every man. I mean, Keanu Reeves is¢â‚¬¦ He’s, let’s say, not the greatest actor in Hollywood. He’s very average in many ways, and I think that’s part of why all of us tend to want to relate to him.
Q. Huh. Interesting. Now, when we think about Morpheus as a character, I just
said what Richard Corliss had to say about him. Who is Morpheus as you view him, metaphorically?
A. You know, I think, most prominently he is John the Baptist, but part of what
we’ve got to learn as we view these films is that whether it’s Neo as a Christ figure or Morpheus as a John the Baptist, it doesn’t exclude the other influences. At times he’s like God the Father. One of the characters on the ship in the first film turns and says, Morpheus, you’re more than a leader to us, you’re like a father to us.
Q. Uh-huh.
A. And clearly in the godhead of the trinity and Neo as a Christ figure, you see
Morpheus as God the Father in many ways, who¢â‚¬¦ But at the same time he’s clearly John the Baptist that literally baptized Neo into the faith. We-we see all these tips of the hat to John the Baptist in one of their first meetings where Neo says, It’s my pleasure, essentially, to meet you. And Morpheus says, No, no, it’s mine. Very-very much like what John the Baptist says to Christ. And I’m not worthy to untie your sandals. There are so many influences there. But I think that’s the most prominent metaphor for Morpheus.
Q. Now, when we think about the phrase, wake up, which is on the computer
screen, it’s the first lines in the first movie, it-it was a major, major theme. It’s a theme that obviously is huge in Buddhism, the idea of an awakening, but it also has some corollaries in the Christian tradition as well.
A. Yeah, absolutley. Some are from the gnostic tradition, but the-the gnostics
saw themselves as kind of a secret society that you were awakened into knowledge, an enlightening kind of experience. The gnoses that they would experience. Gnoses is actually one of the ships that’s referred to in the second film, Reloaded, and we get all kinds of tips of the hat to gnosticism in the process. But I think for people of the Christian faith there clearly comes an awakening point. And that’s what the first film is really about. It’s about belief, it’s about Neo accepting who he is and Neo believing that he is who Morpheus says he is, and also his viewers believing who he is.
Q. Yeah.
A. Very much like the awakening kind of experience many of us have when we
first come to faith in Christ. The-the second film, in some ways, is more interesting to me in terms of the spiritual dialogue.
Q. Really.
A. It doesn’t revolve as much around acceptance and belief, it’s really much
more about walking the path. Then what do you have to do when you believe? And as a pastor that’s part of what I spend more time walking people through. It’s one thing to come to faith, it’s another thing entirely to then live out a life of faith.
Q. When you-when you talk about ¢€œ without giving away a lot of the plot line for
the second movie, because many people haven’t seen it yet ¢€œ if the first movie is about awakening and kind of starting on the path, and the second movie you’re saying thematically is really getting at kind of this is what it looks like, just give us a couple of examples that-that illustrate that.
A. Well, there-there are several. Part of it is that Neo has to begin to make some
important choices about literally what door he’s going to walk through.
Q. Yeah.
A. What that means for him. He begins the film saying to Trinity, I just wish I
knew what I was supposed to do. And he’s turned to the prophets, he’s turned to a spiritual mentor. And in the end nobody can really tell him what he’s got to do, he’s just got to do it. He’s got to intuitively sense what’s right and he’s got to move in that direction. Some of those may affect the life of people that he loves.
Q. Yeah.
A. Others may affect the life of mankind, literally those that we believe that he’s
called to save as this kind of Christ figure.
Q. Yeah, yeah.
A. That he’s come to rescue, to set the captives free. So there’s some really
important decisions for him to make and for all the characters that surround him about how they deal with him and what they’re to do.
Q. Yeah. Interesting in this movie on your John the Baptist theme with
Morpheus, we see that moment where ¢€œ and we all know John the Baptist in prison was-was-was-was asked about Jesus ¢€œ and he wanted to know more information. And it was like there was a doubt there. And we see Morpheus who-who comes to a moment of his whole passion prophetic voice. There’s some evidence coming at him in this one that makes him question that. It’s a very interesting progression.
A. Yeah, it really is. And it’s so realistic, like the gospel story is when we often
try to make these people into heroes. John the Baptist didn’t have it all figured out.
Q. Yeah.
A. Just like the rest of the characters in scripture don’t. And these guys don’t
either. They really, really believe, but at times they have to stop and question, much like the rest of us are.
Q. Now, in metaphor you don’t want to carry it too literally to extreme, but what
do you make of the fact that Morpheus is-is the-is-is the commander of the ship, Nebuchadnezzar, which Nebuchadnezzar was pretty much bad news for the children of Israel.
A. Oh absolutely. I mean, the combination of Nebuchadnezzar and Zion, the city
of the free, is-is-is pretty ominous. I mean, it’s at least a reference to the reality that oppression and disaster is always looming about. I mean, Nebuchadnezzar was the one king that did really completely destroy Israel in 586 BC, where he burned the place down.
Q. Yeah.
A. I think it’s very much a remnant, a reference to the remnant that remained
under Nebuchadnezzar’s rule.
Q. Yeah, absolutely.
A. And that’s pretty much what they are. They’re the remnant that’s left on that
ship.
Q. Yeah. Well Daniel, and all those guys.
Hey folks, we’ve got to take a quick break. Chris Seay will be back with
some concluding comments. You can pre-order a copy of his brand new book. It’s not even out yet, but it is available if you go to Amazon.com in a pre-order version. The Gospel Reloaded. Pre-order it, and then it will come as soon as it’s shipped. We’ll be back with some concluding comments from Chris Seay, pastor of Ecclesia, right after this.
(Break.)
Well, this is Dick Staub back with you. We’re visiting with Chris Seay. He is the author of The Gospel According to Tony Soprano and now, most recently, The Gospel Reloaded, which is a book about exploring spirituality and faith in The Matrix. It can be pre-ordered at Amazon.com. And go ahead and make your move now on it and they’ll send it out as soon as it’s ready to be shipped.
Q. We’ve talked about what The Matrix is, we’ve talked a little bit about Neo,
about the concept of waking up. We’ve talked about-about Morpheus. One of the things that you’ve mentioned a few times is gnostic Christianity. And a lot of people are really unaware that there was a whole another kind of version of Christianity called gnosticism. Real quickly, highlight some of the beliefs in gnosticism that you see in The Matrix that people need to be aware of.
A. Well, the biggest theme that’s most prominent is this understanding that the
physical life was very separate from the spiritual. And so in The Matrix you get this separation between what’s real and what’s not real.
Q. Yes.
A. And that was one of the primary beliefs of gnostics. They focused around a
kind of central cultic kind of philosophy that said, you know, we have secret knowledge we’ll pass on to one another. Very sectarian. They were the only ones that really believe. But they took some of the essence of Christianity and twisted it just enough to turn it into heresy. So it’s a really fine line we have to walk when we’re approaching gnosticism. We don’t hear a whole lot about it anymore, but in times of the early church it was a major division within the church.
Q. Now, when you look at the-The Matrix Reloaded, what are some-some-some-
some themes in this second movie that you think would be great to have conversation about over coffee?
A. Well, one of the ones that we just began to delve into but I would say to read a
book by Rich Kurzweil about spiritual machines, basically where we’re going with technology, and it plays into this discussion of The Matrix. Probably what we already referred to, this difficult and hairy relationship between man and machine ¢€œ
Q. Yeah.
A. ¢€œ and whether we rely on machine or they rely on us, or both. You know,
something we talked about was walking the path and what that means is really important. And the most important are these kind of primary discussions that people of faith have had for a long time about who’s really in control, about faith and predestination. Part of what Neo tries to talk about with the Oracle, if you already know what I’ve chosen, she’s referring to a really simple example there. She’s offered him a piece of candy. And he says, Do you know what I’m going to do? And she says, Yeah. I wouldn’t be much of an Oracle if I didn’t. And he says, If you already know, then do I really get to choose? So this question of foreknowledge and determination is really important. There’s another conversation with, one that’s described as a Merovingian. If we know history a little bit we know that the Merovingian dynasty was a Frankish dynasty that was said to have been from the descendants, from the lineage of Christ, and we’re there to preserve their line, that that was the most important thing.
Q. Yeah.
A. And so their role in this third film is going to be really interesting, I think.
But they have the same conversation at a different vein where he begins to talk about causality, and life is really about cause and effect. And Morpheus says, No, life centers around choice. And later on Neo says, You know, choice really is the problem, when he reaches the crisis.
Q. Yeah. Well, you’ve got these real clear themes. As a matter of fact, in a
certain way there was some of the dialogue that sounded very kind of Star War-ish about faith and providence, the issue of choosing, the issue of destiny. You see fate, I see providence. What do you think is going on in that whole interplay?
A. Well, I think it’s much of what the Wachowskis said they set out to do.
George Lucas said he set out to do the same thing, and re-establish this sense of mythology and story that’s really been lost within culture, and do a film that was really asking the big questions. And so it’s very much in the tradition of Star Wars, and is really in the end, I think — and you’ve said this subtly as we’ve talked about it — but-but it’s really what draws us back to this film. We enjoy a love story, we enjoy an action film, but give us something to think about. And maybe it’s not what draws people to the film the first time.
Q. Yeah.
A. But it’s definitely what draws them back to it again and again and again. I
saw it on Thursday, I saw a premiere on Monday, and so on Wednesday night and Thursday, as I was kind of wrapping up final details, I had one-wanted to make a few changes on the book after I saw it then.
Q. Yeah.
A. And I was sitting there with people that have already seen it three times in a
row.
Q. Yeah, exactly.
A. They-they just want to come back and back and back. There are very few
films that do that.
Q. Yeah. Real quick, what do you make of Trinity as a character?
A. You know, she is¢â‚¬¦ I named my daughter, I’ve got a two-year old named
Trinity, and it’s part, very likely partially, it is clearly partly inspired by seeing the film. She’s one of the most fascinating characters. She represents very much I think the Holy Spirit as that part of the godhead. And Christianity is often referred to in the female. She is the one calling out to Neo. She’s the first one seeking him out. She reminds him, I know what drives you. And the question drives you. Just like the Holy Spirit would come after us, Trinity goes after Neo. And it’s kind of the backbone in many ways of their-their remnant.
Q. So for a person who has not yet seen Matrix Reloaded, what are a couple of
things you want them to really watch for, to be a good culture watcher? Thinking about doing the dual listening you and I have talked about before, listening to faith, listening to culture, going into the movie and recognizing I want to just have a great, straight-out good time. It’s very entertaining, it’s action packed, it’s adventure, great special effects, but I also want to listen thematically so that I can be kind of tuned in and engaged in the conversations that people are having about what this whole thing means.
A. Absolutely. And that’s what we need to listen for. Listen for things that we
would want to discuss with other people when they say, What did you think about the film? These are the things I want to bring up, and they become a priority in the discussion of the story of God.
Q. Yeah.
A. I think all film and art that we ¢€œ whether it be music or whatever that we view
¢€œ we have to begin to categorize it in some ways in our mind as saying, This is really explicit. Some of it’s explicit Christian truth. This is like it came out of the Bible. At times Morpheus actually is reinterpreting some of the words from King Nebuchadnezzar from the book of Daniel.
Q. Huh.
A. At other times there would be things that would be a gnostic heresy or a
Buddhist theology that we begin to say, But it has just an element of truth in it that’s worth discussing.
Q. Yeah.
A. Other stuff we’d say, Well that’s just garbage. I think we have to begin to
say, Okay, what do I believe? How do I match up what I know of scripture and what I know about God?
Q. Yeah.
A. And what’s being said in this film so that we come out at ¢€œ and we’ve talked
about this before ¢€œ as people that just absorb what they see ¢€œ
Q. Yeah.
A. ¢€œ but people that are thinking and processing and then discussing.
Q. Yeah.
A. And that’s the best part of this film, it leads us to discussion and to interact
with one another. And I think that ultimately we just interact with God.
Q. Yeah. When you-when you think about the first movie and the phrases like
wake up, and-and the different elements that just jumped out at you and you said, Oh, man. I can’t believe that’s there. What were a couple of those in this movie for you?
A. You know, the-the ultimate one was probably what we referenced before, this
sense where at the end Neo said, The problem is choice. And he’s faced with these two doors, these two paths that he has to go.
Q. Yeah.
A. And that was really profound for me. Another was when a character called
Seraphim ¢€œ we know what Seraphim is ¢€œ
Q. Yeah.
A. ¢€œ is-is the one that defends the Oracle, after he fights Neo he says, I had to
know that you were the one. And Neo says, Well, you could have just asked. And Seraphim says, You never really truly know someone until you fight them.
Q. Yeah.
A. And it reminds me a lot of what I do with couples in pre-marital counseling. I
refuse to marry them until they’ve had a really, really good fight, you know?
Q. Yeah. You know, there’s also the ship Logos in this movie.
A. Absolutely. The Logos is one of the ships that goes in there to save Neo, or
rescue the crew when they’re in trouble. So it-it’s filled with all the imagery. You’ll see it all over the place if you just open your eyes and begin to look and do what this film calls us to do and all the billboards say, Free your mind. Morpheus would add to it in the first film, To leave behind doubt and to embrace faith, you know, is really what this movie is about. Ultimately the question is, we don’t know what the movie is really saying, what kind of faith they’re calling us to embrace, but we as people know what faith is.
Q. Yeah.
A. And I believe that Jesus’ words have always been true, Those that seek will
find.
Q. Absolutely.
Chris, you’re an interesting guy, you’re doing great work. I thank you for
spending time with us this afternoon. You can pre-order a copy of Chris Seay’s book. It’s SEAYC. The book is titled, The Gospel Reloaded. And as I said, it can be pre-ordered at Amazon. It will be available and shipped in June, but that’s right around the corner, so do it now. We’ll be back with some more “Marty’s World” coming up right after this. Do not touch that dial, kids. We’ll be right back.

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