The Ethics of Breaking Bad

If there’s one thing that the creators of some of the best shows on tv right now have appeared to agree on it’s this: The black and white, pure good guy vs. pure bad guy plot lines are over. Case in point: Vince Gilligan’s Breaking Bad.

For those of you who don’t know about Breaking Bad, two things. 1) Watch it. It’s on Netflix Instant. Just, please, watch it. 2) Just for the sake of this post, here’s the gist. Walter, a high school chemistry teacher gets diagnosed with cancer. He decides to start cooking meth with a former student, Jesse, to help set up his family with all kinds of cash in the wake of his pending death. Cartels get involved. There’s an unfortunate incident with a box cutter. Mayhem essentially ensues.

Here’s the thing about Walter. Initially his motives are pure, even if the actions he takes in response are not. This is the crux of many ethical dilemmas.

Are a person’s intentions or the result the thing that decides where someone is good or evil?

If someone has good intentions, but the results end terribly, is that person evil? Or if someone has bad intentions, but the situation ends up not harming anyone, what do you make of that person? In seemingly every episode each character has the opportunity to make a choice that effects their course of action. As Walter is the main character (I refrain from using protagonist or antagonist because, depending on the episode, he’s both — sometimes simultaneously) he seems to have these decisions come up more often than others.

And that’s why I think Walter is one of the most curious cases of ethics on television today.

There are a number of opportunities for him to get out of the business — at least one each episode. And yet he continues. At least Dexter has the opt-out of him being born the way he is. The survivors in The Walking Dead are trying to survive a zombie apocalypse. Every character in The Wire is just trying to survive life in the game. These characters are evil by biology or circumstance respectively. Walter is evil by choice. And that’s the crux of the show.

Take a normal, innocent man. Have a situation come up that has the potential to make him as dark of a villain as there is — not because of his circumstance or biology, but because of his actions. Follow him down that spiral into Hell and then let each viewer decide when he reaches the point of no return.

What’s your take on Breaking Bad? What do you think of Walter? In your opinion, where was his point of no return? Drop a comment in the comments section and let’s have a conversation. [Probably safe to throw out a spoiler alert for the comments section as I plan on giving my take as well. All are forewarned.]

Cheers,
Eric

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New Beginnings & A New Name: Jesus Goes Pop

So things will be moving in a [slightly] different direction around here. I have been feeling like this is getting pretty random lately and so I am making an effort to focus this in a little bit more on the things I’m passionate about, namely the intersection of where faith meets the media we consume — the music, movies, books, and television that we listen to, watch, and read.

I’m still going to post frequently and keep up with the awesome content, but it’s just going to be more intentional and focused about what I’m posting on here.

Here’s what I have on the docket to post in the next week or two:

“The Odd Gospel of Timothy Green”

“The Avett Brothers & The Carpenter”

“The Ethics of Breaking Bad” (this one could be a whole website in and of itself)

“Away from the World: A Theological Review of Dave Matthews Band’s New Album”

Unholy Night: A Book Review”

I’m excited for this new direction and think it’ll be a great thing.

I hope you’ll join me.

Cheers,
Eric

The Dark Knight Rises & The Power of Silence

Remember that silence is sometimes the best answer.” – The Dalai Lama

Christopher Nolan is one of my favorite living film directors. He’s done MementoThe PrestigeInception, and the three newest Batmans. His movies always make me think, leave me in suspense, and freak me the heck out. The more I think about it, the things that freak me out most in his movies is the use of silence. In some of the suspenseful, crescendoing scenes in movies, we have been conditioned to expect the music to build up along with the anticipation. But what Chris Nolan does is he often uses silence to do that build up for him.

And it’s terrifying.

For those of you who have seen Dark Knight Rises [and if you haven’t, this won’t be too much of a spoiler] but when Bane is about to come out onto the football field, when he’s walking through the tunnel, don’t you expect some kind of chaotic build up to the frenzy that would take place when he enters the field? Instead, literally all we hear is the voice of a little boy beautifully singing the Star-Spangled Banner. I’ll save the lecture on nationalism in the face of imminent destruction for another day.

The point is, whenever destruction happens, we flock to sounds and chaos and noise. Whenever I’m home alone and scared, I turn on the television just so there’s some background noise going around. Anything but silence.

And when something as terrible as the shooting in Aurora happens, we hurry to make noise. We blame parents. We  blame the media, the internet, rap music. We blame the shooter’s parents, we blame this generation’s parents, we blame all parents. My particular brand of noise was against guns. But we make noise all the same. Anything but silence.

It reminds me of a passage from the Book of Job. After the initial round of sufferings against Job — call it evil’s shock and awe campaign — three of Job’s friends come to him and see that he’s in terrible distress and sadness. Here’s what they do:

12When they saw him from a distance, they did not recognize him, and they raised their voices and wept aloud; they tore their robes and threw dust in the air upon their head. 13They sat with him on the ground seven days and seven nights, and no one spoke a word to him, for they saw that his suffering was very great.

Initially, they make noise. But then they settle into silence. This is the response of the faithful. Immediately after the tragedy in Aurora, a pastor made sweeping declarations that all non-Christians who were killed in that theater are going to hell. I wish he would have just kept silent. That kind of noise is despicable on top of incredibly insensitive.

Why can’t we simply do as Job’s friends did? See people who are suffering and sit down and weep with them? 

We don’t have to explain away their problems, or get them to laugh to escape their pain.

People yelling louder won’t change the fact that 12 people went to a movie to be entertained, and didn’t come out of the theater alive. Dozens more came out injured.

Lest we forget the shooter. We forget that someone became so broken and jaded against the world that he felt the only thing to do was to take tear gas and guns into something as innocent as a movie theater and start shooting.

Certainly as more details emerge, and more evidence comes to light, these conversations need to happen. We need to talk about available mental health resources. We need to talk about why this kind of thing happens.

But for now… we need to recognize, as Chris Nolan does, that there is power in silence. We need to learn to sit with victims of senseless violence and say that it’s terrible and senseless and appalling.

And weep with those who weep.

Cheers,
Eric

Jesus, Kanye, & LeBron: A Sermon on Mark 6

He left that place and came to his home town, and his disciples followed him. On the sabbath he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were astounded. They said, ‘Where did this man get all this? What is this wisdom that has been given to him? What deeds of power are being done by his hands! Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon, and are not his sisters here with us?’ And they took offence at him. Then Jesus said to them, ‘Prophets are not without honor, except in their home town, and among their own kin, and in their own house.’ And he could do no deed of power there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and cured them. And he was amazed at their unbelief. Then he went about among the villages teaching. He called the twelve and began to send them out two by two, and gave them authority over the unclean spirits. He ordered them to take nothing for their journey except a staff; no bread, no bag, no money in their belts; but to wear sandals and not to put on two tunics. He said to them, ‘Wherever you enter a house, stay there until you leave the place. If any place will not welcome you and they refuse to hear you, as you leave, shake off the dust that is on your feet as a testimony against them.’ So they went out and proclaimed that all should repent. They cast out many demons, and anointed with oil many who were sick and cured them. – Mark 6:1-13

Dear friends in Christ, grace, mercy and peace to you from God our Creator and from our Lord Jesus who is the Christ. Amen.

I heard a story a couple weeks ago about an elderly woman who lived down the street from a young Neil Armstrong. She described him as quite the troublemaker — sort of an Eddie Haskell type character. So when she saw on her television that little Neil Armstrong from down the street was the first man to step foot on the moon, she refused to believe it. There’s no way that bratty kid from down the street could possibly become the first man to walk in space.

This is kind of like when Jesus comes back to teach in his hometown. Initially the crowds were astounded. But then they started wondering where little Jesus from down the village pathway could become such an astounding teacher and prophet. Listen to their words: “Is this not the carpenter, the son of Mary?” This is a total dig on Jesus. The lowly carpenter from the single-parent family? How could he possibly be teaching like this?

And it makes sense too. 3 chapters earlier — in Mark 3 — Jesus pretty much disowned his family. “Who is my mother? Who are my brothers?” This is kind of like the equivalent of LeBron James jet-setting back to Cleveland to show off his brand new championship ring. The people of Cleveland would riot in the streets if something like that would happen. The people who were listening to Jesus consider this an insult to his hometown and so his neighbors are rightfully pissed.

Then Jesus comes in with “Prophets are not without honor, except in their hometown.” I’ve been listening to a song lately called “No Church in the Wild.”  It’s by a couple of guys named Kanye West and Jay-Z. The hook of the song starts out by comparing power dynamics. “What’s a mob to a king? What’s a king to a God? What’s a God to a non-believer?” The question we could ask Jesus in Mark’s gospel today is “What’s a prophet to people who won’t listen?” So we get a hint that something is about to change. There’s about to be a major shift in Mark’s story.

He calls the disciples to him and begins to send them out 2 by 2 to go into the homes and preach repentance and drive out unclean spirits. This 2 by 2 thing isn’t new to us with Bible stories, is it? We remember Noah. Except, in Mark, this is just turning Noah’s command on its head.

In Genesis, Noah essentially calls out that all creatures should come to him 2 by 2 or they would die in the flood.

In Mark, Jesus sends the disciples out 2 by 2 so that there may be life.

In John 10, the gospel writer says that Jesus has come that we may have life and have it abundantly. God has come down with a love so overflowing that it not only fills us, but it breaks out of our homes and our lives. It breaks out of every boundary we try to put on it and explodes out into the world. We’re sent out to live like this love matters.

We’re sent out to live loved.

When that happens, when we love people as we have been loved, there is healing. Hearts that have been broken, heels that are bruised from being dug in the ground against our family and friends — all of these wounds that we have are healed in love. Demons are cast out and those have fallen ill are anointed. So our job is to go out!

Live the precious life that you have been given knowing that there is not a single thing you can do to separate us from the love of God. Amen.

Cheers,
Eric

The Dangers of Comparing Sinatra to Bieber

My friend Holly had an excellent post yesterday about this graphic that has been all over Facebook news feeds lately. By comparing Frank Sinatra to Justin Bieber, the poster essentially gets at something that “us young people” hear all the time. Not only was life better back when the Baby Boomers were growing up, but the music, literature, food, and just about everything else was better too! Ok, that may have been a slight exaggeration, but it’s not far off. There’s something implicit (or explicit depending on how deeply you think about this graphic) that hints that we were better off as a society back then. This same line of thought says that music now-a-days is more shallow than ever.

I couldn’t agree less with these sentiments.

Here’s the thing about music. There has always been good music, if you look for it. And conversely, there has always been terrible music, if you look for it. Comparing the two, throughout any generation, is bound to bring up discrepancies. Take for instance Chubby Checker’s “Let’s Do the Twist” — yep, I’m going there.

Come on let’s twist again,
like we did last summer!
Yeaaah, let’s twist again,
like we did last year!

Do you remember when,
things were really hummin’,
Yeaaaah, let’s twist again,
twistin’ time is here!

Now can you honestly tell me that these lyrics are a far cry from “shake it like a polaroid picture”? It’s the same thing, just translated through to the culture. Which brings me to my main point…

The invention of popular music as a genre fundamentally changed the way we relate to music.

Think about the genres of music. There are some genres that have an element of timelessness to them. Chopin composed music 170 years ago and still has some of the most moving music I’ve ever heard. Genres like jazz, blues, and classical all have an element of timelessness to them. Ray Charles’ “Georgia on my Mind” and John Coltrane’s “A Love Supreme” still pack the same punch now that they did back then.

But pop music is different. Pop music is set in a time and a place — which is exactly why there is a category called 80’s music. This is why VH1’s nostalgia pieces work so well. I love the 80’s, 90’s and 2000’s use the pop music of the day to bring us back to those times in our lives. And some of these pop pieces have been less than incendiary to say the least. Comparing Frank Sinatra to Justin Bieber is like comparing apples to month-old milk. You just can’t do it.

If you’re going to compare Frank’s lyrics to some modern music, here are 3 songs you could try — all released in the last year. All with great wonderful lyrics (and no, Bon Iver’s “Holocene” does not make an appearance, although it could).

1) “Poison & Wine” by The Civil Wars

I wish you’d hold me when I turn my back
The less I give the more I get back
Oh your hands can heal, your hands can bruise
I don’t have a choice but I’d still choose you

Oh I don’t love you but I always will
Oh I don’t love you but I always will
Oh I don’t love you but I always will

2) “Helplessness Blues by The Fleet Foxes

What’s my name, what’s my station, oh, just tell me what I should do
I don’t need to be kind to the armies of night that would do such injustice to you
Or bow down and be grateful and say “sure, take all that you see”
To the men who move only in dimly-lit halls and determine my future for me

And I don’t, I don’t know who to believe
I’ll get back to you someday soon you will see

3) “Someone Like You” by Adele

I hate to turn up out of the blue uninvited
But I couldn’t stay away, I couldn’t fight it.
I’d hoped you’d see my face and that you’d be reminded
That for me it isn’t over.

Never mind, I’ll find someone like you
I wish nothing but the best for you too
Don’t forget me, I beg
I remember you said,
“Sometimes it lasts in love but sometimes it hurts instead.”

What songs would you add to this list? What are some more recent songs that stir in you?

Cheers,
Eric

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