Boyd Crowder: Justified or Apostate?

images-2You can gain wisdom from a lot of sources. Now and then a script writer for a television show actually speaks truth more powerfully than many of the children of the light. (I have no idea about the faith of the script writer so do not assume I am making a specific statement about someone else here!) Let me explain what I mean.

I watch very little television these days. I watch some national news, which amounts now and then to the CBS Evening News. I watch a bit of the local Chicago news, preferring to watch my favorite anchor Alan Krashesky, a friend who is a solid Christian and a fair journalist. I also watch PBS news and enjoy a lot of the Frontline episodes. I get most of my news on the web.

When I do watch television I watch less and less drama. I have tried several of the popular new series in early 2013 and have already quit on them. The new drama series featuring Kevin Bacon – The Following – is just too violent. There have to be at least five to ten murders per episode, and I’ve seen only the first three programs. These episodes are genuinely gruesome and far too mind-numbing. I am concerned about psychopaths seeing this kind of graphic violence on mainstream television. Leave it to Fox to once again shock us with a series based on murder plots and scenarios rooted in Edgar Allen Poe’s fiction and now brought to the screen with vivid detail.

I confess that baseball and college football remain a passion for me. I will watch some baseball during the season and quite a bit more college football. (I watched all of ten minutes of the Super Bowl, in contrast!) As you can guess I never miss an Alabama Crimson Tide game unless I have to record it (I am thankful for my DVR) for later viewing.

Having said all this about my viewing habits I do have a favorite television drama series that has its fair share of killing in it but it does not graphically portray murder like The Following. (It has a bit of sexual content, which is another issue, so I would never recommend this series to children or to adults who are strongly repelled by such themes in film.) My favorite current television series is called Justified. It is presently in the fourth season and airs on Tuesday nights on the FX channel.

Justified was developed by Canadian film maker, Graham Yost.  It is based on Elmore Leonard’s novels Pronto and Riding the Gap as well as his short story “Fire in the Hole.” Its main character is deputy U. S Marshall Raylan Givens. The series is set in and around the city of Lexington, Kentucky, and the hill country of Harlan County. images-1Actor Timothy Olyphant portrays Givens, a tough federal lawman, who has superb talent. Givens, whose dad is a complete bum (he is in prison in the fourth season), has his own brand of justice and is a fearless, throwback lawman.

Justified has been nominated for seven Primetime Emmy Awards as of 2012, with two wins for Margo Martindale’s performance as Mags Bennett and Jeremy Davies’ performance as Dickie Bennett, two very compelling mountain characters  who ran afoul of the law routinely.

The most compelling character in Justified, besides Marshall Raylan Givens, is a man named Boyd Crowder. In season one Boyd Crowder, the son of Bo Crowder who runs the drug trade in Harlan County, seeks to create a faith-based recovery program and deal with his family’s historical heritage as thieves and law-breakers. He undergoes a “conversion” experience that is quite real in the script and the images used in the show. (My brother and I had an ongoing dialogue about whether this conversion would last. I won.) In season two Boyd Crowder clashes with a rival clan, the Bennett’s. By this point in the story Boyd has left his faith behind and now follows drugs, not Jesus. Again, the story lines are remarkably thick and compelling. By season three Boyd Crowder becomes the “big” man in Harlan and controls much of what goes on in the illegal drug world.

This brings me to season four, the current episodes. Again some of the finest script material on cultural religion, at least that in mountain culture, occurs in Justified. A Pentecostal itinerant preacher, who has a tent mission and does nightly evangelistic meetings in Harlan, begins to eat into Boyd Crowder’s business through the conversion of some of Boyd’s clients.  When one of Boyd’s prostitutes gets “saved” all hell breaks loose. Boyd sets a trap to force the preacher out of Harlan. He first bribes him but the offer is not big enough. He then finds out that the snakes the preacher handles have been “doctored” so they cannot harm the evangelist even if they bite him. (The preacher is unaware that this has been done since his sister did it secretly to protect him.) Boyd creates a dare scenario in which he appears at a tent meeting and offers a new snake to the preacher. The episode is aptly titled: “Truth or Consequences.”

As the snake handling evangelist is about to pick up the deadly rattlesnake Boyd urges him to put it down. He has already tried to use Scripture (which Boyd knows very well) to try and persuade him that he is a false prophet and that he had best withdraw from this nonsense sooner than later. The preacher then hears these words from the erstwhile backwoods preacher turned to drug-dealer:

You know what son, I once stood where you’re standing now, mistaking my own hubris for God’s touch but that ain’t religion son. That’s called self glorification. Best you’d leave this one alone. Put it down.

The preacher chooses to pick up the snake and as he does Boyd calls out from the congregation: “Don’t do it son, you’ve got nothing to be ashamed of.”

The preacher will not listen and you can guess what happens.

As I watched this episode, and stopped the DVR to write down these lines above, I was struck again at how close the story of Boyd Crowder is to reality. This is a man who once professed the faith and knows his Bible better than most preachers. But he refuses to practice what he knows even though he knows it so well. True religion is not in hubris, which is self-glorification. What a line that is. I wish more Christians understood this fact, including many who preach. Boyd’s counsel is good, “Best you’d leave this one alone. Put it down.” Sometimes we need to “put it down” if we would be true to what God says.

It is amazing how enjoying a television series can bring such wisdom at the same time.

 

 

 

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