Hello, my name is Candace, and I’m a Xena addict.
I already hear the cries of, “What’s up with that? I thought this was going to be an article about surviving a spiritual crisis.”
It will be … it is … but one must begin at the beginning. My spiritual crisis begins with Xena: Warrior Princess. I began watching the show because it was fun. A nice diversion when bored.
For those who are not proficient in the world of Xena, let me begin with a short primer. Xena is a peasant girl from a town called Amphipolis in ancient Greece. She began her life as a warrior when her village was raided by a warlord. She led the town to defeat the warlord, but just to ensure the future safety of her home she drove her army to conquer the surrounding villages. At some point, Xena lost the point of her warring ways, and it became a question of bloodlust and power. She became a ruthless warlord. It was her experiences with Hercules that convinced her to renounce her warring ways and seek to do good. Now, she roams the countryside, with her sidekick Gabrielle, defending villages and people under attack. She seeks to atone for the sins of her past by working for justice. Gabrielle is her friend, and serves as a moral compass for the former warlord.
The exact moment my fascination with Xena became an addiction, I cannot say. The addiction manifested as many often do, by taking over my life.
First I began watching the show regularly .. never missing an episode. Shortly thereafter, I began surfing the web for Xena pages. There is a thriving Xena subculture on the web, and they are prolific. I’m sure I’ve only seen a fraction of the web pages devoted to Xena and her trusted friend Gabrielle. Next, I signed up for mailing lists concerning Xena. Now, I earnestly tape every single show and even ordered the boxed set of the first season. [More than 17 hours of kicking butt and taking names, all while wearing a sexy leather miniskirt! Heaven!]
I thought of Xena constantly. I talked of Xena constantly. [Ask my spouse, I can bring Xena into any conversation!] I surfed pages while at work, read fan fiction until my eyes hurt from staring at the screen. I even spent my precious writing and meditating time penning my own fan fiction.
I knew it was an addiction at that point. Xena, and my obsession with her, was interfering with my work.
My spouse, ever observant of my foibles, asked one day, “What’s the topic of your next issue?”
“Surviving a spiritual crisis. Why?”
Her look said it all. I was smack in the middle of my own spiritual crisis, using Xena as a way to escape whatever it was God was asking me to do next.
I’ve stopped now to reflect on my addiction, and what it means. My philosophy has always been that God uses things in our lives to teach us lessons, if we’ll only stop to listen. I had been rushing head long, avoiding God at every turn, intentionally not listening. My attempts to run from God have led me right to him. Now, I’m backed into a corner, and God is speaking. God’s voice sounds remarkably like … Xena.
XENA: WARRIOR … PRINCESS … TEACHER
God was present with me in my addiction, and has used Xena to teach me what I needed to hear in my time of spiritual crisis. Xena does indeed have many skills, including that of a spiritual teacher. There are seven main lessons about Christianity I have learned from the Warrior Princess.
1. Defend anyone under attack and ask questions later.
Xena will invariably wander up on a fight during any given episode. She will always side with the underdog. She helps them defeat their attackers before she knows anything about them. She doesn’t stop to ask if these people are worth her time or effort. She doesn’t stop to think if their cause is one she agrees with or supports. She only sees people in need of help.
We should be so willing to give of ourselves so freely. Often Xena has been hurt and nearly killed in the process of helping people she has just met. But she is dedicated to fighting injustice perpetrated on anyone.
Xena perfectly embodies Isaiah 1:16:
… remove the evil from your doings from before my eyes
cease to do evil,
learn to do good;
defend the fatherless,
plead for the widow.
This must be our mission as well. We must be ready to defend anyone under attack, whether we like them or dislike them, whether we agree or disagree with their opinions or positions. If they are under attack, if they are oppressed, if they suffer injustice, we must defend them. Isaiah begs us to cease doing evil. What is evil? Turning away from those in need. Riding off into the sunset when battles still must be fought is evil. Instead, we must put on the full armor of God and learn to do good, seek justice and correct oppression.
2. Be ready when needed.
Xena never turns down a chance to do good. She’s always willing to go into battle, even, as we have seen, when she doesn’t know those for whom she fights.
Xena teaches an important lesson on selflessness. If she were on the road to Jericho you can bet she’d stop to help the man who had been attacked and beaten by thieves. She would even go one step further and seek to bring the thieves to justice.
How many times do we turn down a chance to do even the slightest good deed? Forget helping strangers, how often are we too busy to help even our friends when they call? Our friends are not asking us to risk our lives, merely give of our time. Why is it so hard to do?
Jesus was always ready to help those in need. He healed on the Sabbath when others would have turned away. He was always quick to respond when anyone came to him seeking his help and healing powers. There is no evidence of him being too busy or too tired to help those who sought him.
Always be ready to respond when you are needed.
3. The value and peril of self reliance.
You don’t have to watch Xena long to find out she is not the religious sort. She does not worship any god. When confronted with religion she will always give a lecture about how you can only rely on yourself.
Self reliance is a valuable tool. It gives us a solid base from which to work. We can be more effective in our work when we are confident and sure of ourselves and our talents.
Xena’s self reliance has served her well. Her confidence and skills are superior. But it is her stubborn self reliance that proves her ultimate weakness, a source of pride. It often prevents her from asking for help when she needs it. For Xena, asking for help can mean the difference between life and death.
For us, the consequences may not be as severe, but there is a lesson to be learned. How often do we let ourselves get caught up in the “I can do it by myself” mode? That kind of self reliance is exactly what separates us from God. We pray to God, but ultimately we refuse to completely turn over our lives and problems to God. Instead we want to deal with them ourselves. Our pride tells us we don’t need God for some parts of our lives. We need to examine our lives and see where we are holding back, where we are trusting ourselves and not God.
Our fierce self reliance also harms Christianity at large. The value of Christianity is in it’s emphasis on community. We are told when two are more are gathered, God is present. We need others to make our experience of God complete.
As a body of Christ we are never alone. There is always another gathered with us in God’s presence. We should never be afraid to reach out and find the community of believers. Self reliance is good, but it can turn into pride and keep us from becoming part of a valuable body of believers.
4. Redemption is a paradox.
Xena has a tough time accepting redemption. She has taken so many lives, ruined so many people that she believes she can never do enough to make up for the evil she perpetrated in the past.
In his book Christian Doctrine, Shirley Guthrie has some words Xena needs to hear:
“Justification means that despite the fact that things are not right in our inner lives and our personal relationships, God forgives and accepts us nevertheless. Therefore, there is no need for our compulsive, anxious, defensive attempts to make things right ourselves or to give up in despair because we cannot do so.”
Often we refuse to accept redemption. We dwell instead on what we’ve done in the past. We are certain that we will not [and should not] be forgiven for our past actions and mistakes.
Xena’s brush with redemption mirrors Paul’s experience on the road to Damascus, with one important difference. It was Hercules who convinced Xena to give up her evil ways and embrace doing good. Xena’s conversion is her immediate redemption, but she does not recognize it. Instead, she believes she must continue her acts of goodness in order to become worthy of that forgiveness and redemption.
By contrast, Paul’s conversion is complete after he is blinded by a vision of Jesus on the road to Damascus. Paul had dedicated his life to persecuting Christians, but immediately after his experience he goes to Damascus and begins to pray. Paul has received his redemption immediately.
The difference? Xena seeks redemption, Paul accepts it.
We do not need to work for our redemption because it is already won. Jesus died on the cross to give us the forgiveness we need. His resurrection assures us that we have that redemption for eternity. We need not bear our own sins anymore.
Paul assures the Ephesians that, “in him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace which he lavished upon us.” [Ephesians 1:7-8]
Redemption is there for the asking, there for the accepting. Our toil is not required. Often we are like Xena, wanting to work for our own redemption. Our searching often feels futile, like we can never do enough to earn the salvation we seek. Therein lies the paradox. Ask for salvation and accept it, then you shall have it. Seek it and you shall lose it.
5. We are not saved by works alone.
As we have seen, Xena feels she must prove herself worthy of redemption, worthy of being forgiven for her past sins. She has not heard the good news that through Jesus Christ we are saved simply by grace. It is a gift that we only have to accept to receive.
As GLBT Christians we often believe as Xena does. We have been told we are not worthy of God’s love. We’ve been told because we are GLBT people we are worthless and hated by the very God who made us. Believing these lies makes us incapable of seeing that grace is a gift made especially for people like us! We don’t have to do anything to win God’s love and grace, we already have it. We are justified by grace alone. It is there for the asking.
Our justification by grace means our past is wiped away. Our past sins and transgressions do not matter. They are removed from us, never to be brought up again. We are a forgiven people with a clean slate.
However, that grace should instill in us the desire to change, to cease our wicked ways and become a true follower of Christ. Xena doesn’t realize it, but she has done this better than many Christians I have seen. Certainly she is tempted to return to her old ways. She often must fight the battle within herself to not go back to killing without mercy. She has to be reminded that she’s changed, that she no longer does such things.
Often we are tempted to return to sinful ways. It’s often easier than doing the right thing. Often we must be reminded that we are new creations. We are changed. Resisting the temptation to sin is difficult, and when we stumble God is always there, ready to forgive us again, and help us to move on and do better next time. We should always seek to improve.
Many of us do as Xena does, however. We may be forgiven by God and even those around us, but we refuse to forgive ourselves. We continue to beat ourselves up for bad things we have done, thought or said. Grace is waiting for you. Accept it, forgive yourself and let God help you improve your life.
6. You reap what you sow.
Xena has learned that no matter how hard she tries, she sometimes cannot escape her evil past. It comes back to haunt her in many ways, in the form of bad dreams, and bad people who seek revenge on her for past actions. Xena spent so much of her life sowing the seeds of evil, she is certain to reap that evil ten fold.
This should show us it is best to sow the seeds of love and peace. What you put out into the universe is ultimately what you will receive. Remember Jesus tells us “the measure you give will be the measure you get.” [Matthew 7:2]
Stop and think about what you’re sowing. Are you sowing the seeds of love, the seeds of peace, the seeds of tolerance, the seeds of reconciliation? Or are you sowing seeds of hate, judgment, intolerance and division?
Be careful as you sow your spiritual fields.
7. Always be ready to defend yourself.
As a Warrior Princess and former warlord, Xena has plenty of enemies, most with murder on their minds. Xena is always ready to defend herself from anyone who seeks to harm her.
As GLBT Christians we have many enemies as well. 1 Peter 3:15 tells us to “always be prepared to make a defense to any one who calls you to account for the hope that is in you.” Like Xena, we must be ready to defend ourselves. Granted Xena’s enemies come at her with swords, and other deadly weapons. Our enemies come armed with hurtful words, but can be just as dangerous. They may not be able to kill the body, but they can damage the soul if we are not ready to defend the hope that is within us.
The rest of the verse in 1 Peter tells us to make our defense with “gentleness and reverence.” That means we must put our swords away and reason with our enemies. Might does not make right. We are like Xena, however, often too quick with the sword, and too slow to realize a gentle and reverent defense is often our best defense. It’s easy to lash back with the same vehemence with which we are attacked. But it does nothing to make peace, it only increases the ferocity of the attack. We must be first to lay down our weapons. Let us seek peace and pursue it.
You Can’t Be Serious
That’s just one reaction when I started writing an essay on Xena and what she has taught me about Christianity. I am serious. I thank God for bringing Xena into my life. I’ve learned a lot. I’ve learned the value of everything in moderation. [I’m still trying to limit my Xena activities so they don’t disrupt my life.] I’ve learned that we are all in process, and none of the answers in life are easy. I, like Xena, am continuing to learn how to handle all the obstacles life throws my way. I’m glad to have such an interesting teacher. I continue to learn a lot by watching her struggle with the evil in her world, and the evil that lurks within herself. It helps me exorcise my own demons and look squarely at the problems that plague the world where I live.
I’ve been criticized by at least one conservative Christian who feels the only revelation of God comes from reading and studying the Bible. I say, “You can’t be serious.” Why limit God to the pages of the Bible? Is not God everywhere, in everything and everyone? God is in the enemy and the friend, the Koran, the Bible and the writings of Lao Tzu. God waits to be noticed. God waits to be heard. We must learn to listen. We must become aware of the sacred and the holy that surrounds us everyday, not just within the pages of the Bible.
I hope this essay helps you to realize that God can speak through anything, even a fictional Warrior Princess. Listen closely, God may bring Xena to your door next.
Founder of Motley Mystic and the Jubilee! Circle interfaith spiritual community In Columbia, S.C., Candace Chellew (she/her) is the author of Bulletproof Faith: A Spiritual Survival Guide for Gay and Lesbian Christians (Jossey-Bass, 2008). Founder and Editor Emeritus of Whosoever, she earned her masters of theological studies at Emory University’s Candler School of Theology, was ordained by Gentle Spirit Christian Church in December 2003, and trained as a spiritual director through the Omega Point program of the Episcopal Diocese of Atlanta. She is also a musician and animal lover.