Some of you may have already seen the first season of Leaving Eden, but I only stumbled on it owing to a blog post by Larry Beane over at Gottesdienst Online.
This series, about a pastor named Ben Nicholson (David Sapiro) leading an evangelically Lutheran church, was written by the son of a—you guessed it—LCMS pastor, Greg Batiansila. It’s a one-camera, documentary-style drama that takes its time, doesn’t express big emotions, walks you through the quotidian and the humdrum, but nevertheless draws you in and elicits empathy, even a little sympathy, for the characters.
The production values are thoroughly professional and the actors are playful, sweet (with the exception of the church secretary/office manager, Carol [Angela Mack], who I wanted to send to Gitmo), and just fragile enough that you’re actually a little afraid for them.
Beane had his problems with the low-church, almost Salvation Army–quality feel of the worship depicted in the series. You will not see a high-church Lutheran experience on display, by any means, and the preaching relies on homely anecdotes as illustrations of how we must not, cannot, hide the “garbage” of our lives. That may be a show stopper, and not in a good way, if you’re going to demand that these mini-dramas bring to life a full-throated and robust Lutheran law/Gospel sacramental theology. Which you’d think is one of the points of a series like this, especially since Beane sees it as “a postmodern video version of The Hammer of God that addresses the church’s challenges in our own day and age and cultural setting.”
It may be attempting that, but I don’t think it quite gets there.
However, with that said, these services were very familiar to me from experiences in LCMS churches, both in New York and Delaware.
I am posting the first two episodes of Season One. Visit the YouTube page that Beane set up and watch them all (they run 12-15 minutes each), assuming you are sufficiently engaged. I wish Batiansila and his cast and crew well and hope their careers blossom.