Just Another Late Night in Washington, DC

This one comes to us from Jim Moore. Sometimes life in America turns into one […]

This one comes to us from Jim Moore.

Sometimes life in America turns into one giant discourse on the work of the Law and the work of the Gospel. That’s how I felt tonight watching Emma Thompson star in Mindy Kaling’s movie Late Night. The movie revolves around an acerbic, cantankerous late-night comedian who has made a living by mocking and demeaning the things she considers unacceptable in society. Her sign off tag line is, “I hope I have earned the privilege of your time.” Which is what the the movie is about: what happens to people who seek to earn love, respect, and a sense of belonging in modern American society.

You really should see this movie, so I won’t spoil it except to say that the movie features multiple instances of failure to meet the standards the characters themselves set. Followed by penalties, recriminations, and banishment to the “secular hell” of the irredeemable. Again and again redemption comes in the form of someone saying essentially, “Yes you did that, but you are not the thing you did.”

But for me the movie slammed into real life literally as the end credits started to role. I pulled my phone out of my pocket to see a text from a friend who works for a major cable news network. The text was two words, “Biden’s Dead.” Attached to it was a link to a New York Times article reporting that Biden opposed some busing initiatives in the 1970s. And so, the man who famously told African Americans in 2012 that Mitt Romney would “put you all back in chains” by unleashing Wall Street is now adjudged to be guilty of the same crimes he has accused others of. When my friend said “Biden’s Dead,” it wasn’t said with joy. It was merely a statement of fact that we live at a time when any moral failing can destroy a person in an instant, especially if the person has attacked others for their moral failures in the political realm.

This cycle of earning, failing, confessing, forgiving, and reconciling was demonstrated so well in Kaling’s Late Night, and it is needed so much in our world today. We stand on the eve of another season of political destruction for sport and gain. Right now, reporters and opposition researchers are toiling away to find the nuggets they will use this winter to destroy your faith in the people who are running for office to serve you. I know this is true because exactly 20 years ago today I was one of those people.

As you leave this movie you will be more convinced than ever that it isn’t our striving for excellence or moral uprightness that will save us. You can pick whichever “Use of the Law” you like to explain why you are striving to fulfill it (again). But no matter how you approach it, the Law always exposes our sin, failure, and fecklessness. What the law of our own culture, not to mention the literal Law of God, demands is perfection. There is no evolving. There is no growth. There is only right and wrong, and we carry every failure forward even as we try to point out the failings of those we adjudge to be our moral inferiors.

But grace changes everything. The more we rest in the gracious works of Christ, the more we are transformed by those works. This is why the moment of the Passing of Peace is my favorite moment in the Anglican liturgy. Not the moment where we confess our sins and humbly repent. Not the moment the Priest solemnly intones the absolution. Those moments matter. But after I do my job of confession and the priest does his job of announcing Christ’s forgiveness, the Church then rises as one and announces to each other, one by one, “Peace be with you.” And until that happens, grace’s work of changing us is merely a matter of intellectual assent. I sometimes think the only reason the Church exists in the world is so that we can pass the peace.

In Mindy Kaling’s fictional world all is resolved and the peace is passed from one member of the community to the other by the end of the movie. But in the real world we inhabit, “Biden’s Dead.” Or maybe if he survives it will be because we adjudge all of his opponents to be deader than he is. And we will call this moral slaughter good—on all sides—and claim that the ends justify the memes.

But what would our world look like if the Church moved amongst the writhing political slaughter that will soon engulf us and announced to those we deplore “God’s peace be with you”?

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4 responses to “Just Another Late Night in Washington, DC”

  1. Josh Retterer says:

    Love it! I think this has the makings of a breakout session!

  2. Pierre says:

    This is so good! Thank you. It really complements the Jeff Mallinson video just posted from the NYC conference. I am increasingly convinced that this kind of grace-filled forgiveness and peace is the most precious gift that the church has to offer people at this particular moment in American history.

  3. So true, especially on the ever accusing power of the law

  4. Kate says:

    Just watched this movie and came back to read this article – spot on, and love the picture of grace when it’s not deserved.

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