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Have you encountered two types of Christian readers and movie-goers? Christian No. 1 won’t read or watch a novel or film that contains any violence or especially any sex. Christian No. 2 will put up with some of that if he sees compensating virtues—or what the Supreme Court in Miller v. California 40 years ago called “redeeming social value.”
Each type could lord it over the other. Christian No. 1 could say, “I’m pure, never touching what lesser Christians tolerate.” Christian No. 2 could say, “I’m mature, able to eat meat while others need milk.”
Each could claim Paul. Christian No. 1 could quote the wonderful passage in Chapter 4 of Philippians: Think about what’s true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, commendable, praiseworthy. Christian No. 2 could note that Paul, in walking around Athens, Corinth, and other idolatrous and decadent towns, couldn’t help wallowing in muck.
Having witnessed these debates over the years, I hope we are all willing to make this one of those times when we agree to disagree. Instead of pointing fingers we might examine our own motives. If I’m Christian No. 1, am I hiding from reality? If I’m Christian No. 2, am I enjoying evil?
Most of my reviews are of books that Christian No. 1 will happily read. But my life these days, with a wife and calling I love, with a home and fellow Worldlings I like, is pretty pleasant. In editing WORLD and tracking the news I read about evil, my tendency when things are personally pleasant is to downplay our desperate need for Christ. Hardboiled detective novels remind me of that.
So this review is for No. 2 Christians: If you’re No. 1, do not read books by author Dennis Lehane. They have evocative titles like Sacred, but also violence and sex, and Lehane shows no awareness of Christ overcoming evil. I wish he did, but I can supply that sense myself. Lehane does remind me of the reality of evil. (And maybe I also like his work because it’s set in the Boston area, where I grew up and was a newspaper reporter.)
Lehane shows in novels like Darkness, Take My Hand—how’s that for a title evoking evil?—the ability to describe: “After my last company suffered a coronary on a bleak, forgotten street in Roxbury, I found this ’86 nut brown Crown Victoria at a police auction. … I spent money on everything under the hood and I had it outfitted with top-of-the-line tires, but I left the interior the way I’d found it—roof and seats yellowed by the previous owner’s cheap cigars, back seats torn and spilling foam rubber, broken radio. Both rear doors were sharply dented, as if they’d been squeezed by forceps.”
He shows the ability to portray people, as in this paragraph about a college student: “Jason led a pretty lively existence, but once you got the gist of it—wake, eat, class, sex, study, eat, drink, sex, sleep—it got old pretty quick. … There was something lonely and sad about Jason and his partners. They bobbed through their existence like plastic ducks on hot water, tipping over occasionally, waiting as long as it took for someone to right them, and then back to more of the same bobbing.”
Characters like Jason don’t realize it, but they need the gospel. One of Lehane’s private investigators tells another, “I’m tired of dealing with psychotics and deadbeats and scumbags and liars on a continual basis. … We’re still young enough to change if we want. We’re young enough to get clean again.” The second whispers: “Can we get clean, though?” (The novel cries out for a third member of that conversation who will whisper, “That’s why Jesus died.”)
And at the end of Darkness, Take My Hand, Lehane’s protagonist hears a radio broadcast about a new gun control measure that will help Boston “be as safe as Eden before the fall. … The city, the announcer assured us, was holding its breath.”