Tuesday, July 23, 2013

The Black, The White, and the Gray

By some definitions, I almost fit into the baby boomer generation.  On some lists, I am one of the first GenX’ers.   That really doesn’t mean a whole lot to me, but it does mean that when it comes to television and movies, I have some wonderful memories.   I loved the “Brady Bunch” and the “Andy Griffith Show”.  I loved “Happy Days”, the “Mary Tyler-Moore Show”, the “Bob Newhart Show”, and Carol Burnett.  I watched the “Big Valley” and “Gunsmoke”.   I saw all the Disney movies at the theater – “Herbie”, “The Shaggy Dog”, and “The Computer that Wore Tennis Shoes”.  I also remember seeing “Star Wars” for the first time in the theater.  “Star Wars” has been described as “Western” set in space.  I can see that.  There are the good guys and the bad guys.   There were gun fights and a little romance.  One of the things that we loved about these shows is the clear distinction between the good and the bad guys.  Good guys wore white hats and bad guys wore black.  Luke and Leia wore white, Darth Vader wore black.  It was easy to identify those on the side of right (truth, freedom, goodness) and those on the side of wrong (deception, control, and pain).  We could cheer for victory of good over bad and we loved when the villain was ultimately defeated.

In recent months, I have been watching shows like “Justified” and “Banshee”.  In these shows, the main protagonist would wear more of a “gray” hat.  Raylan Givens in Justified is a Federal Marshall and while he is supposedly on the side of “good”, he is known for pushing the limits of legality to get the so called bad guys.  In the show, Raylan’s arch nemesis is Boyd Crowder, who is an unapologetic lawless opportunist who demonstrates anti-social traits, but somehow manages to win the support of the audience with his intellect, wit, and occasional demonstration of sensitivity (not to mention his distorted view of justice.)  In “Banshee”, the new sheriff in the fictional town of Banshee is known as “Lucas Hood”, but is in fact a violent ex-con who was recently released from 15 years in prison.  The local sheriff’s deputies often try to run the town “by the book”, but the new sheriff is often doing seemingly impulsive things that violate protocol, but provide a kind of vigilante sense of justice.  As the series progresses, we realize that Sheriff Hood has had to reap consequences for double-crossing a crime boss years ago, but has suffered so much that he now seems to function as much out of unconscious flashbacks of PTSD as from meditated action.  There are other “bad guys” in the show, but it is sometimes difficult to distinguish between the actions of the “bad guys” from the actions of protagonist.

In this “post-modern” world where there are now very few absolute truths, the line between right and wrong has become blurry.  For those of us who prefer the clarity of black and white the gray of the post-modern hero can be frustrating or disorienting.  As I want to complain about how “gray” the world has become, I open my Bible.  I read story after story of the great biblical heroes that had moments of frailty, moments of weakness, and moments of devastation.  Just this past Sunday, my pastor preached about David, his life, and his legacy.  I recognize in David my own struggles.  Maybe not my exact struggles, but the humanity of seeking to follow God, but often falling short of my intentions.   I identify with the words of Paul in Romans 7:19 that the good I want to do I do not do and the evil I do not want to do, I find myself doing.

David is remembered as a man after God’s own heart and he has a great legacy.  However, he is not remembered without his faults.  He is remembered with them.  The existence of his faults does not wipe out his good.  Too often we look at people as all good or all bad.  We long for a day when people could be categorized into white hats and black hats, but the reality is that each of us has white hat and a black hat we can wear.  While it can be frustrating and disorienting at times, perhaps the post-modern ideas are not as foreign as I had once thought.   I would love for there to be clear-cut good and bad guys sometime and I think there is value in having true heroes that inspire us to be better versions of ourselves.  However, I realize that human beings in the real world are rarely so clearly defined.  We must live with the ambiguity.  We live with the mystery and seek to be our best and encourage the best in others.  We offer love and grace to one another in the struggle.  We should not be complacent with the gray, but we cannot avoid the human reality.