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Downton Abbey and Our Identity

February 13, 2014



By Staci Eastin

If I had to pick a theme for Season 4 of Downton Abbey, I would pick identity. Many characters are struggling with who they are in an ever-changing world. Lady Mary believes that the only good in her was the part of her that loved Matthew, and she worries that it died with him. Isobel wonders who she is now that she’s no longer a mother. Moseley, unable to find a position that matches his experience and training,  despairs for his future. Chauffeur turned son-in-law Tom Branson can’t find where he belongs. And Edna schemes to trap Tom so she can be one of the family rather than a lady’s maid.

And those are just a few of the issues. But woven throughout each storyline is the same struggle—who am I really? What makes me who I am?

As Christians, we know that our identity is secure in Christ. We are made in God’s image, and as his children we know we are his beloved daughters. None of the Downton characters have expressed faith in Christ, so we can’t expect their actions to reflect this, but their trials illuminate some of the struggles we all face.

Hierarchies Are Part of This World

The Bible is clear that we are all one in Christ. Galatians 3:28 says, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” In 1 Corinthians 11, Paul warns the church about factions and divisions.

But there are people in the world who have more than us, and people whose positions require our respect. We are to submit to civil authorities, employers and church leaders. Women are to submit to their husbands.

I’ll admit, my American sensibilities think it’s absurd that Moseley finds serving the meal beneath him, and I don’t see what’s shocking about Lord Grantham dining with an opera singer. But while we can argue that the people who lived in this time and place took these things too seriously, we often don’t take them seriously enough. The characters on Downton offer plenty of negative examples, but their devotion to duty and deference to authority is something to be mindful of.

Hard Times Come to All

If Lord Grantham were real, he would have been born in the middle of the Victorian Era. Powerful families have risen and fallen since time began, and money problems have plagued this fictional family for a while. Many men of his station and generation, however, spent their growing up years believing their way of life was secure. But by Season 4, two certainties—death and taxes—have taken their toll on his family.

Death is the enemy, and we are right to mourn when it claims those we love. Nobody has to explain to us that it’s tragic for a young father to die. But we often believe that wealth and security ensure our happiness, when nothing on this earth is guaranteed.

Our Role is Not Our Mission

The characters on Downton base their identity on their roles. Isobel as a mother. Lady Mary as Matthew’s wife. Moseley as a valet. When those roles end—as all human roles eventually can—their natural grief is magnified. As Christians, though, our mission is clear: make disciples.  And as my pastor, James Green, recently said, “Our role is not the same as our mission.”

Our roles often determine how we live out our mission. From the single woman to the mother of young children to the older woman, each of us may have very different lives, but our mission is the same. When our roles end, as many of them do, we carry out our mission in a different way.

Walking with Christ does not mean tragedy will never find us. Hard times come to us all. We will have trouble on this earth, and we will all experience grief and loss. But Christ promises us an identity that earthly powers will not change. It is on this unshakeable foundation that we can put our trust.


Staci Eastin is the author of The Organized Heart (Cruciform Press, 2011). She also blogs at Writing and Living and the group blog Out of the Ordinary. She and her husband Todd have been married since 1994 and are the parents of three children. Staci lives in Southeast Missouri. Follow her on Twitter at @WritingLiving


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