1 SAMUEL 16:13-14 / So Samuel took the horn of oil and anointed him in the presence of his brothers, and from that day on the Spirit of the Lord came powerfully upon David. Samuel then went to Ramah. Now the Spirit of the Lord had departed from Saul, and an evil [a] spirit from the Lord tormented him.The HBO television series Game of Thrones has topped 25 million viewers, surpassing HBO’s second most popular series (The Sopranos) by about 10 million. It’s won 38 Emmy Awards. But what does that have to do with the United Methodist Church? Rev. Adam Mustoe of Good Shepherd UMC in Kansas City sees it as an opportunity to meet people where they are.
“I like to try to teach people something new from something that is familiar to them,” said Rev. Adam Mustoe.
The question of who will rule that drives the Game Of Thrones lends itself to parallel discussions from the Old Testament, so Mustoe crafted a short Bible study on the books of Samuel, which draws on themes from the show and compare them with themes in the Bible.
He launched on the Monday night after the recent Sunday night season opening episode for the show. They started by talking informally about the show the night before, then he shows a short clip from the show that he relates to the Bible verses being discussed that night. He puts the verses and story from the Bible in context, and they discuss various themes.
Although Game Of Thrones involves magic and dragons, it’s certainly no fairy tale for the children. If it were a movie, it would certainly be rated R, qualifying for that rating easily by every parameter which a movie can be deemed R. One episode was so disturbing that Missouri’s U.S. Senator Claire McCaskill went on record as saying it was too much – she wouldn’t watch the show anymore.
Game Of Thrones certainly isn’t a traditional kind of show to build a Bible study around, but Mustoe wasn’t looking for traditional. When he was at licensing school, four years before Bishop Bob Farr became bishop, he heard Farr encourage pastors to work within their particular affinity. For Mustoe, that would include games and fantasy fiction. He was also inspired by a Paul Nixon workshop, and Nixon’s book, Weird Church: Welcome to the 21st Century.
It should also be noted that Mustoe isn’t bringing Game Of Thrones to church, he’s taking church to the Game Of Thrones. His Bible study was held at Kansas City Pawn and Pints, a new business in Kansas City that has board games and fantasy role playing games available, and plenty of space to play them, for a five dollar admission.
Mustoe frequents the establishment, calling it his second office. When he approached owner Ed Schmalz, a former middle school teacher, about the idea for a Bible study there, he was all for it and said anyone just coming for the Bible study didn’t need to worry about the cover charge.
The Bible study took place on Monday nights at 9 p.m. Being at that location means that someone might need to a Bible verse extra loud to be heard by the group over the Billy Squire song being played at the establishment, but no one in the small group seemed to mind the noise.
“All of this classic rock is real nostalgic,” one of the participants said.
Shmalz and one of his business partners grew up in Catholic schools, and another partner is Jewish. They enjoy discussing religion and looking for religious themes in popular culture.
“Games create ways for people to interact with each other, rather than being fixated on their phones,” he said. “I wanted this to be a third space; not work, not home, but a neutral ground in between. All kinds of people of various political alignments and other affiliations can meet here and enjoy playing games together. I loved Adam’s idea about doing a Bible study here.”
Mike Saou, who attends Good Shepherd and participated in the study, hopes they will continue to meet there and look for other shows and movies to base scriptural study around.
“Adam has been explaining the definition of words in the original Hebrew, talking about things like word repetition, and putting everything in the context of when it was written,” Saou said. “He’s going a lot deeper than some off-the-shelf book that tries to relate pop-culture to the Bible. It’s been great.”