The upside to getting emails on your cell phone is that while you’re waiting for something, like your turn in line, you can stay caught up with your mail.  The downside is that you can wind up spoiling your wait time.  That happened for me last week in conjunction with a penny find.

I’d stopped at Starbucks in the face of a long afternoon feeling the need for more caffeine.  While waiting for my turn at the counter I saw an email from my Dad come in that I thought might be fun to read.  He’s in Alaska this summer and his daily updates are very amusing.  I like the idea of my Dad and his wife Joan mushing around town finding the best spot for reindeer pizza.  He’s a great storyteller so his emails are a nice break from whatever I might be doing.

This update, however, sent my head spinning.  He’d written about a crime in Nome the night before that was nothing short of gruesome.  A murdered woman’s body found behind the Catholic Church mutilated.  Images from the movie, “Angels and Demons” started floating through my head.  It was awful.  His point in sharing the story wasn’t to highlight the crime, but to comment on how acclimated the community has become to violence.   Apparently things like this happen enough that it wasn’t newsworthy.  The local paper had not reported on it.  This thought increased the sudden wave of emotional nausea that hit me.  When it was finally my turn to order I stepped up to the register feeling sick.

As I turned toward the pick-up side of the counter I spotted a penny on the bar that someone had left.  It felt like it was staring at me daring me to come over and pick it up.  I didn’t want to.  I wanted to grab my coffee and go, leaving it for someone else but that’s not the way the penny finding works.  After five years and 15,000 plus pennies you can’t just ignore one because you feel sick and shaky.  Reluctantly I reached for it.

I came home with my hot coffee in the middle of a blistering day and felt as cold as ice.  I wrapped up in a blanket, put the dog in my lap, and turned on the TV because I wanted to put some other picture in my mind than the one from my Dad’s message.  I don’t know whether it’s a blessing or curse to be so empathetic but at the moment it felt really bad and I wanted to re-group.  Why I thought TV would help is beyond me? What followed was a barrage of commercials about all the of the new crime dramas debuting this fall.  Prime Time has become Crime Time and more new shows have been created to feed America’s obsession with resolving crime.

On any given night of the week, if you’re interested, you could watch at least three shows in this genre.  It’s not NCIS anymore, it’s NCIS LA, Miami, and before you know it Nome.  Just the titles bother me – Criminal Minds, Person of Interest, Prime Suspect, Body of Proof, Bones, and the newest and most hyped, “Revenge” completely puts me over the top.  Are you kidding me, a one hour drama about revenge?  That was the last straw.

Completely disgusted I turned off the TV more upset then when I sat down.  New policy going forward, don’t read emails in the Starbucks line and stick with Food Network exclusively.  My inability to disassociate from these kinds of things has always been a problem.  As a child I foolishly picked up a copy of the book, “Helter Skelter” sitting on my Dad’s desk and flipped through it one day.  I was plagued by nightmares about The Manson Family for years after that.  From books to movies to the newspaper, if the wrong image gets plugged into my subconscious it’s hard for me to shake it.  A friend who is an abuse survivor always says, “I’ve seen the dark side and it’s not pretty.  Why people find it entertaining to go there only shows how little they really know about evil.”

The penny in my pocket now felt like a thorn.  My empathy receptors were on overdrive.  I kept asking myself how it is that evil has become so entertaining to people?  When the Bible says to love God is to hate evil I wonder if the millions of Americans so enthralled by crime dramas have completely lost their senses?  Is it like the metaphorical boiling frog story?  The one that says if you put a frog in a pot of boiling water he’ll jump out immediately but if you put him in a pot of cold water and slowly increase the heat he won’t perceive danger and be cooked to death.

No, please say that isn’t so.  Is evil so prevalent in the world today that we think nothing of inviting it into our homes every night to entertain us?  Are we so desperate to understand and resolve it that we spend hours watching television shows that do, because we can’t?  Are we so angry that we’ll take justice any way we can get it even if it’s through fictional characters?  Or, are we so afraid of being victimized that we somehow feel smarter and safer because we’ve educated ourselves on how the criminal mind works?

Whatever the answer I’m sad because it seems that Americans are avoiding the tension evil creates by making it entertainment.  I think this is contrary to what God wants for us.    Not because it’s wrong to get caught up in a compelling story, no writer would ever say that.  I worry because when we try to escape the heartache evil creates we miss out on experiencing the tension God lives with.  To love your creation and be appalled by it at the same time must break His heart.  To know that your gift of free will allows man to make horrible choices has to be sickening.

I don’t like thinking about this though.  I want to think about how God will overcome evil not how we’re free to choose it.  I want to remember that every failure we see again and again on man’s part isn’t final.  Even Satan can be used by God for his transforming purposes.  These are the thoughts I want to meditate on exclusively.  I don’t want to share in God’s sorrow.  I want to go around it just like I wanted to walk past that penny.  I want to avoid the tension of hating evil that loving God creates.

I think a lot of other people feel the same way and that’s why we see so many people glued to the TV.  Its how they channel the anxious, aggressive, angry feelings they have about crime and violence.  To lose yourself, even in a bad story, is better than facing reality – the reality of living in an utterly broken world.

So what do you do when the tension between good and evil hurts your heart?  I think the best way to answer that question is by asking the opposite.  What shouldn’t you do when your heart hurts?  To that I would say, don’t ignore it.  Use it to create new life.  Use your sorrow to love others more by sowing kindness and compassion wherever it’s needed.  Use the pain to light a fire under your efforts to be a light in this dark world.  Let it make you come out shining not hiding at home and NEVER let evil become so familiar to you, that you become unfamiliar with how bad it should make you feel.  Then your spirit runs the risk of being dead without having died. That would never be God’s will.

4 Comments
  1. You know my family history and know that I know evil. Untreated mental illness is evil waiting to happen. That said, I’ve always liked true crime dramas. For example, Ann Rule’s books. I just wanted to know what made those Mansons and Bundys tick. They were not mentally ill, just evil personified.
    This summer I’ve been watching lighter fare on TV thanks to your favorite niece. Big Brother, Jersey Shore, I’m embarrassed to say it, but I get involved! Better than to go to bed with Law and Order and have nightmares.
    Our society is getting more evil. Courtney and Allison being so many years apart makes that evident. Courtney could walk home from elementary school. Allison could not.
    I think a generalized fear sort of follows us around these days. My grandmother never worried about me when I was out at night. Now with cell phones, if I couldn’t get in touch with Allison within an hour duing her years at Vanderbilt, I would panic a little.
    We went on countless road trips when I was growing up without cell phones. Can you believe it?! Times are a-changing.

    • Jan, you have seen the dark side and I appreciate the way that God has increased your compassion and sensitivity through the experiences you’ve been through. To brush up against evil and not come out bitter, angry and resentful is a true work on the Holy Spirit.

  2. I watch crime dramas such as Castle and the Mentalist because of the interaction of the characters and because the good guys usually win. If you watch regular news programs or read the newspaper you can see how depraved humans can be to each other. One of my English Lit professors in college kept stressing “mans inhumanity to man.” I’m afraid he was right. I keep wondering how long God is going to put up with us.

  3. You shared your site with me on Patti Hill’s FB page and I just finally got over here. Interesting time to read your blog for the first time. I seem to watch crime shows all the time and I’m not even sure why. I guess because that’s what’s on all the time and I seem to have the need to have a TV on. I guess part of it has to do with I have tinnitus and having something on means I don’t hear it as much. But then wouldn’t the radio or a CD fulfill the same purpose? Really need to think about what you said here and some time I’ll get back here and read about the whole penny thing. No time right now…our church families’ lives got turned upside down last Thursday with the sudden death of our organist. He leaves a wife and 2 children and 10 grieving siblings (including my daughter’s husband). I’m the pastor’s wife and also do all the printing for the church so have extra work printing up the sermon this week. His brothers are printing the bulletin. Anyway, more than you wanted to know but thanks for giving me something to think about! It really hit home.

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