Saturday, January 21, 2012

Spies Like Us

Intrigue is everywhere. In the workplace, schemes to rise in the ranks and pull others down proliferate. Alliances form and dissolve based the current authority or who seems to be rising in power.

Many families are mine fields of buried grudges never far below the surface and fingers ready on the trigger to respond to new insults. Sadly, the church often is not a stranger to intrigue. Power plays in the church often take place outside of the power of the Spirit.

The prevalence of intrigue may account for the ongoing interest in spy stories. I’m not writing about the spy stories of Ian Fleming/James Bond variety which feature a handsome hero versus a campy villain with plenty of beautiful women, science fiction gadgets, car chases, and explosions (which can be cool, I’ll be line for Daniel Craig in “Skyfall” in November.) Rather I’m talking about the more subtle spy stories of John le CarrĂ©.

“Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy”, a 2011 film release in an adaptation of one of a le CarrĂ© novel that features an anti-Bond spy, George Smiley. Played with charming blandness by Gary Oldman, Smiley is quiet, middle-aged bureaucrat who relies on shrewdness and experience rather than his good looks (nonexistent) and gun (at the ready but not used.)

At the beginning of the film, Smiley has been forced to retire. But one last assignment comes his way. There is a double agent in the upper management of British intelligence service (“the Circus”) and Smiley is asked to root out the Soviet mole. Of course, he finds that nothing is as it seems and long established relationships cannot be trusted.

Some may the film slow, and my daughter, Jill, had trouble distinguishing between some characters because they are all, in her words, “so very British”. I loved the very British cast, with some of the best of the young and old to be found on the BBC (John Hurt, Colin Hurt, Tom Hardy and the wonderfully named Benedict Cumberbatch among many.) If you enjoy keeping track of the clues and red herrings in a good mystery, you’ll probably enjoy director Tomas Alfredson’s tale, which does a good job of fitting a complex, 400 page novel into two hours.

But after the film, I wondered, should the Christian life reflect the life of a spy in anyway? There are spies in Scripture, of course. Moses sent out Joshua and Caleb as spies to observe the Promised Land, and they were honored for their work. But spying necessarily involves deception which is contrary to Scripture’s devotion to truth.

The search for a mole in the film led me to think of a parable of Jesus told that can be found in Matthew 13: 24 – 30. A farmer sowed good seed in a field and his enemy sowed weed in the field at night. The farmer’s servants ask him whether they should pull out the weeds, and the farmer says that because some good seed may be lost, it was best to wait for the harvest.

Of course, in the church there are some who are in the words of the parable, weeds, or in the words of the film, moles; people who aren’t truly followers of Christ. But Jesus didn’t give us the job of figuring out who in the church is genuine and who is not. Unlike the spies in the film, we are not to look for opportunities to put a knife in the back, but rather to treat every other person with love.

But there is a way we should be like the spies of the film. The spies in the film are constantly in search of good information (or “treasure” in the film). To know whether information is good or not in the world of intelligence requires knowing the source of the information and requires comparing it to what is known to be true.

In the church, we need to compare all teaching to Scripture, our true treasure.

(“Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy” is rated R for language, sexual situations, nudity and violence.)

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