Theology and a TV Spy Show

Remember the "Mission: Impossible" TV series? This'll spark the memory, maybe:

The original TV series ran from 1966 to 1973, then another two seasons in the late 80s, then there were four movies starring Tom Cruise. The basic premise starts to get elaborated beyond recognition in the later movies; let’s just look at the TV show that started it.

Dan Briggs, later Jim Phelps, is the head of a super-secret government agency ("Impossible Missions Force" -- IMF), and is often given secret anonymous covert missions to attempt; quite often they are unmasking of criminals or the rescuing of hostages. He picks his team depending on which tasks need to be done. The mission must be carried out in entire secrecy, often relying on high-tech equipment and elaborate deceptions. It’s all very shadowy, and dangerous, yet appealing.

The organization that oversees the IMF is never revealed. The agents seem American, be we don’t even know if they work for the US government, or some other country.

You remember that tape player? Almost every episode began with the leader of the IMF – the Impossible Missions Force -- getting the assignment from a hidden tape recorder and an envelope of photos and information that explained the mission. The tape would begin “Good morning, Mr. Phelps.” It would explain the situation, and then introduce the mission with the words, “Your mission, Jim, should you decide to accept it...."

Then it would say:
"You have carte blanche as to methods and personnel. As always, should you or any of your team be caught or killed, the Secretary will disavow any knowledge of your actions. This tape will self-destruct in five seconds. Good luck, Jim."
Then smoke would rise from the tape.

It was such a memorable device. It captured our imaginations with the idea of being on mission that there was no record of. That envelop had some photos and some information in it, but there was no written description of the mission – just that tape . . . and we all saw what happened to the tape.

You’re on this mission, you have this job to do, some important role to play in the order of things – yet you can’t tell anybody, there’s no evidence of what you’re doing, and if you get caught, the secretary – whoever that is – will disavow any knowledge.

You may be wondering what any of this has to do with religion.


You are acting out the instructions of an invisible authority, who has clearly spoken to you – but nobody else. You have no way of even proving the existence of this authority. You just have a handful of followers who are prepared to believe what you tell them about the mission, and will join you in carrying it out. You and your followers have unusual talents and rather magical technology. You work miracles – you do things that are . . . impossible.

Kinda sound familiar?

I imagine Jesus walking the hills around Jerusalem, humming to himself the "Mission: Impossible" theme.

And then there’s that bit about, “your mission, should you decide to accept it.” There is a central power, but it gives you a choice whether to follow it. It’s up to you whether to have faith in that authority and accept the mission.

So. What mission -- especially, what "impossible" mission -- have you chosen to accept?

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This is part 1 of 6 of "Mission: Impossible"
Next: Part 2: "Authority and Mission"