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Jesus and The Wire

I spent last week at a conference/retreat with about 15 other colleagues from my Annual Conference.  As my wife can attest, I am a strong introvert from a Myers-Briggs standpoint so I spent most of the evenings by myself in my room.  On the first night I purchased the pilot episode of the HBO series The Wire because I had read some pretty good reviews of it.  Then I bought another episode.  And another until I had the entire first season on iTunes.  If you haven’t seen the series, you’ll have to bear with me for a moment.  It is set in modern Baltimore and, at least through season one, centers around some detectives from both the homicide and narcotics units who are trying to bring down a heroin kingpen.  The writing for The Wire is fantastic and while there are many reasons to like this show, what really sticks out is how real the series seems.  Problems don’t magically go away and character flaws don’t disappear overnight.  Your favorite characters are flawed people and sometimes make flawed decisions.  It’s like real life.

One of those flawed characters I like and for whom I feel a great amount of empathy is Bubbles.


Bubbles is a heroin-addicted fellow who does two things I admire in the course of season one.  He helps the cops after finding his best friend nearly beaten to death by some drug dealers and Bubbles makes an attempt to “get clean” from his heroin addiction.  (I have only seen season one, so no one spoil the whole series for me in the comments!)  I like Bubbles.  In spite of his addiction he has a good heart and you can see him wrestle in his flip-flopping when it comes to that addiction and the actions he takes in order to get those drugs.

The other thing I like about Bubble’s character is that he has forced me to think a lot about how I feel about the poor, about substance abusers, and about how I respond to people in need.  Since the screen of my computer separates me from most my sensory potential, I can’t smell Bubbles, I can’t see very clearly his rotting teeth or his spotted skin.  I can’t even properly hear his mumbling.  I have, however, encountered Bubbles in many ways during my life.  He was asking for money on the banks of the Mississippi River in St. Louis when I was fifteen.  He was asking me for help on Union Ave. in Memphis when I was 21.  He was trying to get me to put him up in a motel room for the night as a 26 year old, newbie pastor.  Each of those times I responded curtly and with fear.  I didn’t know how to act or how to respond with anything but fear.  I wonder how many times over the years I have missed opportunities to be like Jesus and act out of mercy and compassion.

I’m teaching the Gospel of Mark to about 15 people on Sunday mornings and one of the things I’m learning is how Jesus had compassion upon those who came to him with requests.  They wanted help.  They wanted to be healed and Jesus healed.  They wanted food and Jesus had the disciples give out a miraculous amount of bread and fish.  They wanted to be forgiven and Jesus became the prodigal poster boy.  Jesus called me to be like him and I fall down every single time.

It’s easy to have compassion on a likably flawed character in a television show, but one of the things Bubbles has caused me to question is how I would treat a human being on the streets who asked for help.  Would I act in compassion?  Would I seek the easy way out by dropping a few dollars on the guy and then move on?  Or would I actually try and help the person standing in front of me, no less a creation in God’s image than I am?  What would it take for me to treat a real-life version of Bubbles with love and dignity rather than a smelly annoyance?  The answer is greater than I am, but what I’m learning is that there is a great amount of surrender and death to self involved.  It’s almost as if I am as addicted to my safety and comfort as Bubbles is to his heroin.  It’s pretty clear we both need to get clean.

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  1. December 12, 2008 at 6:49 pm

    hey, it’s great to see that there are some other Christians out there who think that The Wire has something to offer us. You wouldn’t find it in the movie reviews of Christianity Today Magazine, but I just recently wrote a Christian review of The Wire –


    – but then some other Christian friends told me that it wasn’t Godly for us to watch the show. I think that, on the contrary, trying to learn the lessons that The Wire is trying to teach us is not only morally acceptable, but almost a moral duty. How many Christians lead lives completely sheltered from the lives that other Americans live in the big city? We should not only be made aware, but we should be ready and willing to do something about it if ever given the chance.

    Thanks for the post.

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