outside the norms

I read mysteries for fun,
and on a recent reading spree involving several trips to the library
in a relatively short span of time,
it struck me that a number of the authors whose series I enjoy reading
share a common theme:
a protagonist with a friend—
which friend provides the protagonist with
not only the normal resources of friendship,
nor just, in some cases, financial resources,
but, and in each case primarily, violence as a resource.

Whether that’s C.J. Box’s Joe Pickett and Nate Romanowski
or Robert Crais’ Elvis Cole and Joe Pike,
Harlan Coben’s Myron Bolitar and Windsor Horne Lockwood
or Robert B. Parker’s Spenser and Hawk,
the protagonist moves more or less comfortably
in and through circles by-and-large accepted within society,
while the friend exists outside the acceptable norms—
having chosen, for whatever reason,
to live on the very periphery of cultural existence.

Because these friends are located outside the system,
the expectations of the system don’t apply in the same way,
so when, within the system, we have those who don’t play by the rules—
who thus raise our anxiety, exploit our fear, and provoke our anger,
these friends are called in to function as wild cards thrown into the mix—jokers.
And it is precisely the friends’ more flexible approach to the law,
their more casual sense of the value of some lives,
their experience with, expertise in and willingness to employ violence
(it is, in fact, their reflection of the very ones they confront),
that not only ameliorates the protagonists’ own violence
but also serves to justify violence as satisfying resolution—
as if the truth of our world is that we need those to do what we can’t or won’t.

Now, those friends are supposed to be us—
us as followers of God in the way of Jesus—
living by choice outside the system,
playing by a different set of rules,
but constituting not a resource for violence, but grace—
called in as wild cards—jokers—not to kill but to transform—
because of our more flexible approach to expectation,
our more casual sense of what most deem valuable,
our experience with, expertise in and willingness to employ love—
called to reflect not those we confront, but God—
as if the truth of our world is that we need those to do what we can’t or won’t.


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