Sunday, November 18, 2012

Goodbye, Status Quo

When Shawn Ryan looks in the mirror,
he sees Vic Mackey
The way I see it, Last Resort is easily the best new show of the current TV season. It’s certainly not surprising, given that the man at the helm is Shawn Ryan, the man responsible for The Shield and a key creative force behind Terriers, both of which are absolutely incredible shows. This is certainly not television that you can multitask while watching: it demands your attention and your intelligence. There are complex themes at the heart of this show, and the writers and producers don’t shy away from exploring issues and ideas that don’t have easy answers and aren’t resolved in 43 minutes. I realize that some people like to sit down and watch TV with their brains checked at the couch, and I understand if that’s your philosophy, but Last Resort has a lot of action and suspense as well. In my opinion, giving a show depth and intelligence does nothing to reduce the fun or the entertainment of it all. I guess that’s because I’m more entertained and engaged when something is compelling than when it is simply big, loud and dumb.

Even though I’m a big fan of quality television, we don’t have cable or anything like that. We actually use Netflix and Hulu Plus for all of the entertainment needs in our house. The combined cost is less than $20 and we have Netflix for movies and non-current shows, and Hulu Plus for current shows that we’d like to keep up with. CBS doesn’t play ball with Hulu for whatever reason so that means no Amazing Race or Big Bang Theory. Oh well. But I watch everything, usually in HD, on my nice big TV through my PS3. I started looking eagerly for Last Resort to premiere because there was no way I was going to miss it, but, for some reason, Last Resort was only licensed to be watched on a computer and not on a TV. I have no idea why. ABC must just want to make it more difficult for people to watch this show. So I’ve been hooking up my laptop via HDMI to get around that and still watch it in the living room. Why am I telling you this? Because I wouldn’t go to the hassle of hooking up my computer to the TV for just any show. In fact, I don’t go to the hassle for any other show. But Last Resort is just that good.

"Nobody forget where we parked."
Since ratings indicate that not nearly as many are watching as should be, I’ll recap the basic premise. A nuclear sub, the USS Colorado, in the waters near Pakistan receives a suspicious order through non-standard channels to attack Pakistan with nuclear missiles. When the captain and the XO seek confirmation of the orders from someone they know—this is, after all, a pretty big deal and the lives of millions of Pakistanis depend on whether they are nuked or not—the Colorado is subsequently attacked by United States forces, Pakistan is blamed and then gets attacked. Captain Marcus Chaplin (played by Andre Braugher) sets up shop with his crew on the island of Sainte Marina, threatening to use his sub’s nuclear launch capabilities if anyone gets too close. His goal is to expose those in the government who set up the Colorado and to arrange for his crew to come home to their families.

Like I said, it’s exciting stuff. And the show deals with issues and concepts of loyalty and morality, which of course makes it perfect for our study of theofictionology, expounding on spiritual themes found in fiction. The most obvious place to go here may be Peter’s famous statement when he was commanded to stop preaching in the name of Jesus Christ: “We must obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29). The officers of the Colorado believe that they have found themselves in a situation where their commitment to obey orders has been overridden by a higher loyalty to the ideals of the United States and the value of human life. That’s an interesting place to go, I think, and we could have a nice little chat along those lines, but I’ve decided to go in another (albeit related) direction.

This man does not consider nuking Pakistani civilians a fun pastime.
The title of the show—Last Resort—indicates another theme that the series explores. I’ve heard people say that this is unrealistic or even audacious (not fans of 24 or Lost I suppose), but that’s actually kind of the point. Captain Chaplin has reached his breaking point and his actions are extreme, they are audacious, they are absolutely radical. What brought him to this point? There may have been a variety of factors contributing to this (and, in fact, there is reason to wonder whether Chaplin is still playing with the whole fleet, as it were), but the shady order to nuke Pakistan was the last straw. The man has been pushed to a place where he was no longer willing or able to maintain the status quo. His actions have made him unable to continue on as before, and frankly, things will never go back to normal no matter what the outcome. And that’s where I want to go.

Those of us who have made the decision to follow Christ and get plugged in to a local church, we might think that we’ve already reached our breaking point, and in some ways we have. It takes a lot for us proud creatures to admit that we’re sinful, that we’re enemies of God (Rom. 5:10), that we need help—and for us to cry out to a Savior. But oftentimes we go from maintaining one status quo (that of our secular lives and community) for another, which looks very similar in many ways, but with church on Sunday morning. It is easy for the natural enthusiasm and momentum that consumes us at the point of conversion to soon be lost in the status quo of mainstream Christianity. What is the result of mainstream Christianity? Take a look around at the United States and bear witness.

You may have heard the statistics before. The Barna Group is a good source for such things, if you are so inclined, and a lot of very useful numbers and suggestions can be found in George Barna’s book, Growing True Disciples, which I very much recommend. The short version is that Christians, statistically speaking, do not live any differently from the world. “Well,” we might say, “even if we’re still living like we’re slaves to sin, at least we’re effectively communicating Christian belief, right?” (Note: I don’t know why we’d say that. I wouldn’t say that. I don’t think James [the half-brother of Christ/epistle author] would either. If you want to say it, however, go ahead.) But, no, it’s not true. Barna reports a massive gap between what the Bible teaches and what believers who attend evangelical churches believe (e.g. 40% of believers say that Jesus committed sins and over 25% deny a physical, bodily resurrection). Add to these numbers the fact that some estimates say that as many of 88% of children raised in evangelical churches will abandon their faith by the age of 18, and I think it’s fair to say that mainstream American Christianity has a crisis on its hands.
"Eenie, meenie, minie, moe..."

But have we reached the breaking point yet? Do these numbers do it? Have we reached the point—and frankly I don’t know if we ever will as a unified church whole in this country—where we come to the conclusion that the attitudes and behaviors that have gotten us to this point are not going to fulfill the task we’ve been given? If we reach the breaking point, our goal will not be to merely maintain the status quo and look like all the other smiling faces in church but to pick up our cross daily and follow Christ (Luke 9:23), to be the servant of all (1 Cor. 9:19) and to make disciples of all nations (Matt. 28:19-20). Yes, I said make disciples, not get them to attend church. Jesus made disciples. Paul made disciples. The world was turned upside down as Christianity spread like wildfire. We live in a place where everyone (well most, anyway) believe in God but very few live like it.

White afro or not, Keith Green saw with clarity.
Thirty-four years ago, in 1978, Keith Green asked of a lukewarm church, “Do you see, do you see all the people sinking down? Don’t you care, don’t you care? Are you gonna let them drown? How can you be so numb, not to care if they come? You close your eyes and pretend the job’s done. . .How can you be so dead when you’ve been so well-fed” (Asleep in the Light)? Do we stand here in 2012 and believe anything’s different? And even if our church culture remains the same (or just as lukewarm and just as ineffectual), must you and I remain the same, too?

On Last Resort, Captain Chaplin reached his breaking point. At that moment, everything changed. Only a fool would think that he would ever be able to return to the status quo after the actions he’s taken. And you know what? He just might make a difference?

Now, what about us? What about believers in 2012? If you have not yet reached your breaking point, then I pray that God brings you to that point. If you have, then I’m going to give you some very clear directives from Scripture regarding what to do next. First, begin investing spiritually in lives. Invest in the lives of those who don’t know Christ, show them His love, pray that the Holy Spirit will give you an opportunity to share the gospel with them and be ready when that opportunity comes. This is why you’re here. Second, continue to invest spiritually in people by making disciples. If you’re unsure how to make disciples, there are four Gospels that share Jesus’ methods. Find a believer who needs guidance and guide them. Live life together. Show them how to follow Christ. Based on the statistics above, corralling people like cattle into large group meetings and preaching at them isn’t quite so effective as we would like to think. So go back to the methods of the Master. He made disciples. He commanded you to do so. Now do it.

Once you start 1) investing in unbelievers and 2) investing in believers, I encourage you to take a look at your life and learn to slow down to really see others. There are needs everywhere. Meet them in the name of Jesus Christ. What if you made a commitment to stop the car every time you see someone pulled over by the side of the road? Maybe they need some gas, maybe they need a jump. When they thank you for your help, make sure they know that you’re doing this to show them the love of Jesus. If that opens a door to share more, take it. If not, know that the Holy Spirit will use your obedience and your servant’s heart regardless. Do you think such a commitment would be in line with Scripture’s commands to love our neighbors as ourselves (Luke 10:27)? Do you think Jesus might make that commitment? Do you think Paul would turn a blind eye, or stop and help? If so, then shouldn’t you?

We need to live the lives we were saved to live. We need to use our time on this earth to make an impact for the life to come, the only life that actually matters. We will regret it if we don’t. I certainly don’t want to go to heaven empty-handed. And I hope that thought brings you to the breaking point.

Unfortunately, ABC pretty much hates you.
And ice cream.
And puppies.
And. . .oh. So, I just saw the news that ABC had canceled Last Resort. Well, that’s very disappointing.
But, alas, television is a business and quality counts for very little if not enough eyeballs (ahem, according to antiquated Nielsen voodoo) are watching. I suppose it’s not the worst news in the world. After all, you and I generally have more important work to do than watching TV, don’t we?