I realize I’m late to the party, but I recently devoured the podcast Serial over the span of six days. (I also recently discovered what podcasts are, that they are free, and that I can use them to drown out the whines of my two children while driving around town–my version of Riding in Cars with Boys.) As the mother of two young children, I’m used to being late to all parties these days, if attending them at all. But I had become clued in to the addictive nature of the Adnan Syed story by inescapable zeitgeist (for me, this consists of Facebook posts and an SNL skit) and I was tired of missing out on watercooler discussions–virtual ones, at least.

I was nevertheless startled by how quickly the narrative, presented in the form of weekly episodes, came to dominate my thought life and free time. I would listen to the show while cooking dinner, driving the kids to Target (sorry, boys–I’ll drop some change in the therapy jar), pretending to watch Little Einsteins with my preschooler but surreptitiously sinking an earbud into my head. Along with Sarah Koenig, I questioned everything and everyone surrounding the event. I questioned my own pre- and misconceptions regarding criminality and deviant behavior, and especially the people accused of committing it. I became one of those annoying people who asks you if you’ve listened to Serial because I NEED TO TALK TO SOMEONE ABOUT MY FEELINGS!

But most of all, I rued the fact that there are unsolvable mysteries and unknowable people in this world. Because that really does not fit into the black-and-white vision of the world that I constantly revert back to–in spite of grace’s introduction of gray schemes.

Here’s the thing: two people can’t give two totally different versions of the same event without one of them lying. And the liar, HE MUST BE PUNISHED. So do I believe Jay, or do I believe Adnan? I went back and forth over this question for hours, turning the entire case into an either/or situation that left no room for nuance, for shades of truth, for complexity. I reduced the case to two men so that one would be left to burn at the stake.

But Serial is twelve episodes long. Each episode runs between thirty and sixty minutes. The sheer amount of enough material indicates that finding a simple solution would be elusive, if not impossible. Still, I did google searches, read articles, pored over interviews. I tried to find inconsistencies and red flags. I became an amateur Koenig without hope for a Peabody, all because…I wanted to figure this thing out? Or I just wanted to pin a guilty sign on the right person for my own sense of closure and justice? What I wanted was to put the right guy in prison scrubs so that I could tie the whole ordeal up in a tidy bow, file it away, and get back to living in a world where right is right and wrong is wrong and each of us is one or the other and there is no in-between. Because in this world, all we have to do is figure out who the Bad People are and stay away from them–then we’re safe, and our lives are orderly and predictable, and no harm can possibly befall us. Never mind that the truth of the matter is that we are the Bad People. And the Good People. And everything in between.


Yesterday, I yelled obscenities out my car window at a fellow driver in front of my children.

Before you call Child Services, allow me to attempt to justify my sin by telling you that she cut off a line of traffic to carry out a last-minute turn and that I’m still amazed that the symphony of slammed brakes didn’t result in a multi-car pileup. My protective instinct over my children–and, not for nothing, my self-righteous outrage over another’s act of injustice–lit a fire that turned to wild-eyed rage that boiled over into venomous screams.

I’m not recapping this because I think it’s cute or because I’m trying to fetishize my sin. I was horrified that I had behaved this way in front of my more-impressionable-by-the-minute kids. (Not entirely horrified that I behaved this way, period, it should be noted.) But mainly, I was just pissed off. The offender had stuck her head out her own window, grinned, and thrown a middle finger into the air while I tried to regain my breath over this close call with danger.

I wanted to hurt her. I entertained fantasies of following her, of calling the cops, of egging her yard. And maybe her face. There was no doubt that she was in the wrong–in my mind I pictured her as a Disney villain (back when they had real ones, before they went and made them all so sympathetic by delving into their tragic childhoods). But there’s always, always, a lag time between our instinctive bursts of street justice and our recall of our own less-than-illustrious history, traffic- or otherwise. To completely condemn someone else, I have to completely exonerate myself. And I do that way too often.

But there are signs of a shifting tide.

aladdinMy husband and I traveled to London recently and saw Les Mis. I’ve loved the music since my first viewing as a high-schooler, but it’s only been over the intervening years that I’ve learned to appreciate the narrative of grace delivered in its lines. Were I to take a Victor Hugo-themed Cosmopolitan quiz at almost any point in my life, I would have turned out to be such a Javert. I mean, sure it was just bread, but rules are rules! Why does everyone always romanticize the rebel, I used to think. My worldview, my view of humanity, allowed for little mercy and even less nuance. Lives were lists, not stories. I was a serial record-keeper. And that bishop who let Valjean off the hook for stealing silver? An idiot.

Then I stole some bread and silver myself, in the modern-day sense, and all of a sudden mercy seemed a much more valuable commodity. So did nuance–after all, I was acting out of…not a tragic childhood, but brokenness nonetheless. And I was shown grace. And the Valjeans of the world started to look less like offenders and more like brothers. And I realized that people are loved, not punished, out of their sins.

Which is why the local church’s marquee on a sermon series about how to “do” the Christian life is growing even more offensive than traffic violations and stolen bread–because this Christian journey, this walk in grace, is not a forgiveness or a life that we have to work at, but one that we receive. There is always one set of footprints, because we always need carrying. We need to be forgiven, yes, even for judging the people who put up that marquee. We don’t need tips, we need a complete overhaul. There is no one-size-fits-all self-improvement technique that lands us in the courts of heaven any more than there is a person who is just one thing.

There is likely one individual who is guilty in the Adnan Syed case, and we may never know who it is. But for those of us listening and living in this not-so-safe or predictable world, the shades of “good” and “bad” that co-mingle into who we are are overshadowed and usurped by a Savior who is One thing while being all things, who is total mystery yet every answer.