I don’t want to be upgraded

Screenshot from Doctor Who, series 8 episode "Dark Water."
Humans are funny. On one hand, we want to avoid any kind of vulnerability at all costs.  We don’t like to fail, be judged, or show any imperfection. We guard our appearance because we don’t want to look old, or fat, or out of style.  Consider the amount of makeup ladies wear; consider Spanks or Just For Men hair coloring.  And that’s just physical vulnerability—when we mess up, we immediately look for excuses—someone or something else to blame. We will go through all kinds of elaborate schemes to avoid feeling uncomfortable, uncertain or hurt.

On the other hand, we would fight to the death for our right to be imperfect, vulnerable and broken. We do it in personal relationships and as a species. And, as is reflected in our preference for stories that support and identify with our ways of thinking and feeling—we love stories where we are victorious over those who would take away our individuality, diversity, autonomy—our right to make our own mistakes and be vulnerable.

I wonder, would I be willing to sacrifice myself for someone else?

Most superhero stories have this element.  There’s often some alien race that wants to take over the world and make us conform to their ways—and it frequently means that they want to take away the things that make us weak—like feelings—so that we will be obedient.  Doctor Who has many examples of this: The Cybermen (who call it “upgrading”) and the Daleks to name a couple; Star Trek has the Borg who want to make everyone part of the Collective; Falling Skies has the Overlords who want to turn the kids into Skitters…

We also have stories of humans trying to “improve” their own kind, like in the novel Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell. There was talk a couple of years ago of scientists being able to remove bad memories from people’s brains—even my 12 year old thought that was a bad idea. And then, Gravity Falls had an episode all about it—and cartoon children came to the conclusion that there is value in vulnerability.

A story that has stuck with me is about Batman’s Mr. Freeze, who tried so hard to avoid the vulnerability of grief that he went to extreme measures; he tried to save his wife through cryogenics and wound up turning himself into a villain.

Avoiding emotion never ends well—you are always going to turn into a supervillain if you try not to feel.

Whether we have superheroes come to the rescue or a rag-tag fugitive fleet saves the day; a remnant few will stand up for our right to be the small, broken, hot mess that humanity is. Someone will be there to resist—even when resistance seems futile. In fact, in most TV shows and movies, the little group of heroes will inevitably have a conversation like, “What are the chances of success?”  “Slim to none.”  “Let’s do this.”

We would fight to the death for our right to be imperfect, vulnerable and broken.

In The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe, C.S. Lewis illustrates the power of vulnerability as salvific. Aslan offers his own life to save the life of Edmund—a traitor. By sacrificing himself, not only does Aslan save Edmund, he brings out the “deeper magic” that saves everyone and takes down the evil Witch who was oppressing Narnia. Aslan’s vulnerability changed from apparent weakness to the ultimate strength—and that’s why we are so willing to fight for it—vulnerability embraced becomes unfathomable strength.

Vulnerability is literally the banner of Christianity—the cross.  I’m challenged every day to step outside of my comfort zone to serve others, to see and acknowledge my failings and shortcomings. And, contrary to what many think about Christianity, valuing vulnerability doesn’t mean I’m an obedient drone. I wear my brokenness like a badge.

I follow the example of a God who came to the world in the form of a human, vulnerable and meek, and put Himself at humanity’s mercy.  He allowed Himself to be killed in the most humiliating, public, painful, shameful in order to show His unconditional love for us—and He told us to do the same for one another.

I wonder, would I be willing to sacrifice myself for someone else? For my husband, yes. For my kids, absolutely. For someone I didn’t know? I don’t know. If becoming a Cyberman was an option, would I fight for my right to be vulnerable when life got tough?

I hope I would embrace my vulnerability, because it makes me more authentically human. As a child of God, my vulnerability is a temporary state—when I enter into it with a properly disposed heart, it transforms into strength and helps me to become more fully alive.

Jennifer Schlameuss-Perry

Jennifer Schlameuss-Perry

Staff Writer at Area of Effect
Jen is a pastoral minister, wife, mother, ninja and writer. She loves sci-fi, superheroes, and classic literature, and prefers to share her Catholic faith through such lenses. Her book, "Comic Con Christianity" will be available from Paulist Press in Spring of 2018.
Jennifer Schlameuss-Perry

Latest posts by Jennifer Schlameuss-Perry (see all)