Zen And The Art Of A TV Show

“I want a peaceful soul.” – Charlie Crews

Last week, we – my wife and I –  finished Life, a show lasting only two seasons. Charlie Crews (Damien Lewis, Maj. Winters in Band of Brothers) is the central character. He is a police officer. But he is unlike any police officer in any television drama. He – as a cop – was accused of killing his friend and his friend’s family. He spent 12 years in prison and when the show starts he has been made a detective and is living in the lap of luxury after receiving a sizable settlement for being wrongly convicted and receiving a life sentence.. All of this made me very interested in the show. All of this makes the show interesting. But not all that distinctive.

What makes the show different is his interest in Zen.
He listens to cassette tapes of a very peaceful voice whispering Zen teachings through the speakers of his Mazaratti squad car. Every episode is filled with his learning of Zen and the case they are working on somehow represents the teaching he is learning. Throughout he’s working out and working himself into the contradictions of what he is learning and his ‘life.’
A cop learning Zen.
(I wish someone would write about fifty detective novels with Charlie Crews as the principal character. I would read them all. Every one.)
But his partner, Reese, is not all that interested in his Zen. She is jaded. She rarely smiles. She is yin to his yang. Not only in being female. But in every disposition.
Crews: It’s all connected, Reese.
Reese: What is?
Crews: It is.
It’s a serial drama. So every episode is connected. He is trying to find the killer who is responsible for the killings he spent time in prison for and lost his now re-married wife for. Every episode is connected. And it all culminates in the final episode of season two. I won’t give you all the details in case you want to watch it. But there is one scene I cannot get out of my head.
He is in a prison to see a prisoner and get some info. He is severely disappointed in his quest. His friend asks him, “Charlie, what do you want?” Charlie turns away from the prisoner he has been talking to and is now maniacally laughing at him. He stands up. He closes his eyes. He breathes deeply. And he says:
I want a peaceful soul.
Justice. Revenge. Love. Loss. Mercy. Life. Death. Loyalty. Power. Greed. Fear. Hate. Disappointment. 
All of it is converging in the moment. And he has the wherewithal to desire such a thing. It was so foreign and refreshing, I have yet to get out of that scene. Why? I want a peaceful soul. I don’t even comprehend what that means. But I want it more than anything right now. For myself. My family. The souls of my family. I want a peaceful soul.
Maybe I will stop wanting it. Maybe in a few days. But as of now, I want it more than anything, even though I have no idea what it will require. But I assume it will be the convergence of peace and my own soul. Two things, as follower of Jesus I should always be thoughtful of.
So If you ask me why I am doing something. Be prepared to hear me answer, “I want a peaceful soul.”

The Flaming Sword East of Eden

Growing up the son a minister had far more advantages for me than the disadvantages so many associate with such a lot in life. Hide and seek in the sanctuary. Access to the staff breakroom. And knowing everyone really well. A distinct one is familiarity with the holy book. Far from contempt, the longstanding relationship I’ve had with this book has bred a fascination on into middle age. And across the years I have not only been fed by those passages which make up the bone and marrow of knowing God and man but also by those I have sat staring into with wonder.

*      *      *

There are places in the sacred writings I seem to never get at.  They are the door of escape in a dream gone bad or the brass ring, which is always out of reach. These passages cannot be fully grasped and answers never satisfy. One of those places has been a favorite since I was a kid.

He drove out the man, 
and at the east of the garden of Eden he placed the cherubim
and a flaming sword 
that turned every way to guard the way to the tree of life. 
– Genesis 3:24

So Adam and Eve eat the fruit and the pristine relationship between God and the height of his creation is broken, shattered like your grandma’s prized vase on the Linoleum. And so he kicks Adam and Eve out of paradise to keep them away from the tree of life so they won’t live forever. And then, get this…he sets up an angel to guard the tree with a flaming sword. A. Flaming. Sword.

And I just have one question.

Is it still there?

I mean, is there still an angel ready to go all book of revelation on intruders with a flaming sword wherever Eden was…is? I mean, there once was.

There is a part of me hoping so. The 10-year-old in me, who likes to still think in terms of Indiana Jones and likes to stare into the sky and dream of Narnia, wants it to be true. I want the tree of life to still be standing there majestic, unspoiled by the fall and all its hellish effects. And in its shade, one of the mighty and holy cherubim, with no less power and energy than the day he began his charge, standing sentinel to take down any who come close to his keep. He is able to elude all who do not threaten but when no other option is available, the flaming sword is wielded with holy fury. There he is placed till the end of days and the beginning of time undone, reminding us all of what was lost and has been promised to be regained.

*      *      *

Actually, it’s a fairly sad picture, epic though it is. This soldier of the heavens was positioned just there all because the height of God’s creation declared war on God. Did he think it was familiar? Were there whispers of another coup among the heavenly host? This was not the first time God had moved defensively in response to an act of war. So while the boy in me is mesmerized by the idea of an otherworldly being clutching a flaming sword, its presence was…is an echo of the curse that made it all so necessary. Perhaps that is why it sounds so sad when Emmylou Harris sings,

I have seen the flaming swords,
There over east of Eden,
Burning in the eyes of the Maker.

The result of him being on guard there is death. Death was the great punishment for the insurrection in the garden. As it were, death guards life. And does so with fiery ferocity.

So every time we face the final effect of sin in the face, we are looking into a pair of eyes set like a flint on limiting the length of our time here east of Eden. The sharp pain of every sickness threatening future health is the piercing of sharpened steel forged in the fires of eternal intent. Every spouse who looks in the eyes of their beloved after getting the news of cancer is staring down into the unfathomable depths of a sheath emptied in opposition to forever knowing.

For those who believe, death ushers us into the great hall of reversal. A world where the sword has been beaten into a plowshare. A world where sharp-edges bounce off skin and pointed tips are no longer pointed at those who have sinned. Sin is no more. Death is no more.

*      *      *

Maybe it’s a mercy he was situationed there. Adam and Eve and everybody else’s passion to be like God should be squelched as much as possible. Adam and Eve had already procured a knowledge forbidden them, to their great detriment. So as an act of mercy, the severe kind, a sword burns bright. Even now.