Tuesday, June 28, 2011

The Ancient Book of Job and Why I Love Friday Night Lights

If you’ve been around me much during the past couple of years, you’ve surely heard me talk about my all-time favorite TV drama, Friday Night Lights. It’s a fantastic show with mostly great acting and mostly wonderful writing. They communicate truth so effectively in nearly all of the issues that they take on, be it sports, family, peer pressure, or racism. And FNL has, in the Taylor household, what I would call the most authentic portrayal of marriage that I’ve ever seen on TV. FNL is, on one level, a show about Texas high school football, but it’s really a show about life in small town America, and it’s reeeeeally just a show about … life. Which is why, I think, it has touched an audience far broader than the football crowd. All of which are reasons I love this show, but not the main reason. Recently, having finally purchased the DVDs and wrapped up our busy spring semester of campus ministry, Erin and I eagerly sat down and began our much-anticipated journey through the fifth and final season. I don’t remember the exact moment, but it was sometime during the first episode that I suddenly realized the key reason why I love this show and identify with it in such a deeply emotional way…

I love Friday Night Lights because the central message of the show is this: IT MATTERS. Stuff MATTERS. Life MATTERS. Your choices and mine – they MATTER.

At the end of the day, it matters how you treat your spouse, your co-workers, your enemies. It matters how you treat those “below” and “above” you in the hierarchies of our culture.

It matters how you raise your daughter. The little things said and done around the dinner table at the end of a stressful day, or over late-night games of ping pong in the garage – they are profoundly important because they are forming a young woman who will one day drive off to college (and maybe come running home from college brokenhearted).

It matters whether or not we take care of our domestic responsibilities – be they treating a spouse with respect, watching out for younger siblings while parents are absent, caring for an aging grandmother, or shepherding a loved one through a difficult time – even though this may mean sacrificing our own desires at times.

It matters that you do your best at your job, that you work hard and have integrity – no matter what that job is.

It matters that we do the work of forgiveness and reconciliation. Running away from relationships and conflict is not an acceptable option. Somehow this messy, difficult stuff is worth the effort in the long run.

Thinks like being thankful, playing by the rules, respecting our opponents, looking beyond someone's culture or the color of their skin, controlling our emotions, taming our tongues, being loyal, sitting down and having tough conversations, and giving grace – these things are important. They matter.

It’s for this reason that a simple TV show has resonated so deeply with me and with so many others. I find this central message – that my life and my choices truly matter – to be true both when I hold it up next to my own life experience AND when I hold it up next to the story and teachings of the Bible.

A recent entry in my daily devo book – an amazing collection of the excerpts from the many writings of Philip Yancey called Grace Notes – drove this point home to me. This is the entry for April 14th, called “The Wager” and taken from a book called Disappointment with God:

‘Is it absurd to believe that one human being, a tiny dot on a tiny planet, can make a difference in the history of the universe? It certainly seemed so to Job’s friends. The opening and closing chapters of Job, however, prove that God was greatly affected by the response of one man and that cosmic issues were at stake. (Later, in a message to the prophet Ezekiel, God would point with pride to Job – along with Daniel and Noah – as one of his three favorites.)
Job’s example, drawn in sharp relief, shows how life on earth affects the universe. I have come to believe that The Wager scene in chapter 1 [in which Satan charges that if times get tough people will quickly abandon God; God accepts the challenge and allows Job to be tested] offers a message of great hope to all of us – perhaps the most powerful and enduring lesson from Job. In the end, The Wager resolved decisively that the faith of a single human being counts for very much indeed. Job affirms that our response to testing matters. The history of mankind – and, in fact, my own individual history of faith – is enclosed within the great drama of the history of the universe.
The Bible rustles with hints that something like The Wager is played out in other believers as well. We are God’s Exhibit A, his demonstration piece to the powers in the unseen world. The apostle Paul pictured himself on public display: “We have been made a spectacle to the whole universe, to angels as well as to men.” And he commented, in an astonishing aside, “Do you not know that we will judge angels?”
We humans inhabit a mere speck of a planet in the outer suburbs of a spiral galaxy that is only one of about a million million such galaxies in the observable universe, but the New Testament insists that what happens among us here will, in fact, help determine the future of that universe. Paul is emphatic: “The whole creation is on tiptoe to see the wonderful sight of the sons of God coming into their own.” Natural creation, “groaning” in travail and decay, can only be set free by the transformation of human beings.’

Some of those phrases – “rustles with hints” of deeper truth – the “travail and decay” of our daily lives – apply so perfectly to this TV show that I’ve come to love. And if ever there were “a tiny dot on a tiny planet”, it’s Dillon, Texas. So while I agree with all of the critical and popular acclaim for Friday Night Lights, I will spare you another gushing ode here about the quality of the writing and acting and instead simply commend the show to you for this main reason: It’s a story, or a tapestry of stories, beautifully told, that line up pretty dang well with THE story of our lives. Somehow, as I am immersed in these fictional stories based around a high school football team and a small town, that same, ancient, ever-true “message of great hope” that Yancey mentions wiggles its way into my heart anew.

We first hear the message in the Bible’s oldest book, and it echoes again and again, even now - even, occasionally, on our TV screens: Who you are, and what you do, and the choices you make, and the life you live – they are important. They matter. Because you matter.

“Clear eyes, full hearts … can’t lose.” (I had to say it.)

“For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” – Ephesians 2:10 (Amen!)

1 comment:

  1. here are a couple of articles about FNL that i enjoyed. also ***spoiler alert*** if you haven't watched the whole series yet.