Erasing the Downton Divide

Erasing the Downton Divide

I am a shameless Downton Abbey addict. I’ve seen every episode of the first season multiple times. I wait with baited breath each Sunday to watch another one. I’ve bought and devoured the book, The World of Downton Abbey, and have managed to YouTube my way through clips that give away this season’s plot as it has already aired in the United Kingdom.

Winner of best television miniseries at the 2012 Golden Globe awards, Downton Abbey is a British drama airing on PBS that is now taking the U.S. by storm. The show explores the intertwining fictional worlds of the aristocratic members of the Crawley family as well as that of their servants. The Crawleys’ world upstairs is filled with glamorous wardrobes, opulent surroundings, and important decisions that must be made. The servants’ world downstairs, however, consists of practical uniforms, simple provisions, and the gritty monotony of tasks that must be done. The show strikes a delicate balance when these two opposing worlds come together under one roof.

Why the fascination?

Well, for one, many scenes are filmed at the breathtakingly beautiful Highclere Castle in England. Interesting side note for history buffs, the castle belongs to the Carnarvon family, descendents of Lord Carnarvon who financially backed the search and excavation of King Tut’s tomb. But, I digress.

Second, unlike other period dramas that are often based on books, Downton Abbey offers an unpredictable, emerging script that keeps the audience on its toes, glued to the screen, and begging for more. Finally, there’s just something unidentifiably magical about the show. An hour’s detour from my world of diapers and dishes is magic enough for me, but this show does seem to have that extra special something.

Mary is my favorite character. The eldest daughter in the Crawley dynasty, she is stubborn, but compassionate. Witty, rebellious and yet, vulnerable. And desperately in need of a husband to secure and impart the family’s fortune. Thomas, the footman, is my least favorite. He’s good looking and clever. Cunning and conniving. His sarcasm devours anyone within his hemisphere.

It struck me that Thomas and Mary really aren’t all that different. They are both dedicated to gaining and preserving power. They are both prejudiced. Both prideful. And both committed to self preservation.

Living in different worlds. Struggling with the same issues.

Several years ago, I worked for a large ministry that helps Christians struggling with same-sex attraction to live a life consistent with biblical truth. Every year, they host an annual conference where hundreds whose lives are touched by this issue in some way come from all over the U.S. and around the world for education and encouragement.

I laugh when I think back to my first conference. I felt a bit out of place as I’ve never struggled with same-sex attraction, though my own sinful responses to other inclinations are no less. While I’d dealt with the public policy side of this issue, this event was different. Truth be told, I wanted to wear a big sandwich board that read, “I don’t struggle with this issue and never have!”

Erasing the Downton DivideI didn’t have much time to dwell on my discomfort. The week flew by as I was in charge of the media operation and we were overrun with press members interested in covering the event.

I will never forget the last night of the conference. The conviction and presence of the Holy Spirit was electric. When the speaker closed and invited anyone who needed prayer to come forward, hundreds poured into the aisles. The lines stretched halfway to the back of the auditorium. Both the brokenness of people and the presence of God were tangible as men and women cried out to Him.

As I sat in the front row with other staff members, the Lord began speaking to me about my own life. I wrestled with the thought that maybe I should go up for prayer. I didn’t wrestle long. Out of the blue, a man who had been praying with others stepped forward and asked, “Can I pray for you?”

“Sure,” I said awkwardly. How could I refuse? I would look like the worst Christian ever.

He began to pray. He prayed so specifically I was pretty sure he had a direct line to God. He ended with, “Lord, I pray that this woman will know that she is valued not because of her gifts, but because she belongs to You.”

His words pierced my heart. My whole life had been a search for value and identity. I had poured all my effort into my education and later, into my work. It was there that I derived my significance.

And the irony came into focus.

In my own pride, I had created a nonexistent division between my struggles and that of those standing beside me in the aisle. But I was right where I belonged. In and among a throng of fellow believers confessing my sin, seeking forgiveness, and exchanging the identity I’d given myself for the one offered by God.

As fellow believers, we all struggle. We struggle to combat Satan’s lies. We struggle with our identity. We struggle to live a life consistent with what we say we believe. And we are all in desperate and equal need of Jesus who has both bridged and erased sin’s great divide.

As in Downton Abbey, living in different worlds creates the illusion that we are different people, different classes of people. Nothing could be further from the truth.

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Julie Neils is passionate about living a real life in a fabricated world. Digging beneath the surface in her relationship with God and with others is the thing that gets her up out of bed. That and fussy little ones. And a big ol’ cup of coffee. As a media relations and branding consultant, she has spent more than fifteen years advising ministry leaders, policy makers and authors on relevant, out-of-the-box communications strategies. She and her husband, Brian, live in the Rocky Mountains where she homeschools their five kiddos.

  • I’ve become addicted to Downton Abbey too — even though I was hesitant in the first few episodes of Season 1 on whether I wanted to keep watching.

    One of the things I love about the series is that poor choices aren’t glossed over as they often are in modern shows. The characters — such as Mary or the maid Ethel — are shown dealing long-term with these choices. They end up affecting their day-to-day lives and their futures.

    And FWIW, my daughter just read a story about King Tut’s tomb in school. She learned about Lord Carnarvon!

    By the way, has anyone read the book, Lady Almina and the Real Downton Abbey? It sounds fascinating. I may see if our library has it.

  • I’m addicted to. Thanks for writing this. Although Mary is not my favorite character, she and Thomas fascinate me for the same reasons!

  • I too love the show! It’s highly addictive. You’re absolutely right about Mary and Thomas dealing with the same internal struggles. We are all sinful human beings, despite class or race. Great post.

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Erasing the Downton Divide

by Julie Neils time to read: 4 min