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Living on the fringe

Most of us were not violent by nature. Well, we had our problems with authority, but none of us were sociopaths. We came to realize that when you move your life off the social grid, you give up the safety that society provides. On the fringe, blood and bullets are the rule of law, and if you’re a man with convictions, violence is inevitable.

--from an old manuscript, "The life and death of the Sam Crow: How the Sons of Anarchy lost their way" by John Thomas Teller in the "Seeds" episode of FX’s Son of Anarcy.

John Teller is the deceased father of Jax Teller in FX’s Hamlet-tinged motorcycle club series, Sons of Anarchy. Above, Teller is writing about the experience of he and others who chose to form an alternative society called the Sons of Anarchy Motorcycle Club, Redwood Original Charter (SAMCRO, pronounced “Sam Crow”) after the Vietnam War. At the time he wrote the manuscript, Teller was questioning the route SAMCRO had taken. And now, 15 years later, his words are awakening the same in his son Jax, who is himself trying to come to grips with how to deal with and respond to the inevitable violence that comes with living outside of society—individually and as a family and community.

While I understand that Teller is getting at is the kinds of communities and law that form without the normal influence and authority of the general social order, I couldn’t help but think of the truth in the statement when it comes to those who choose to live alternatively to the society and culture around them—in particular, I’m thinking of the church.

Jesus himself was off “the social grid” to some extent; the society of his day consisted of the religious institutions and culture, one that he chose to interact with but to which he offered another Way. His kingdom was a radical, alternative Way that threatened the current culture and powers that be. And “a man with convictions,” he ran into violence. Several times mobs tried to get at him; and he was tortured, beaten and executed. I like how Donald Kraybill gets at this in The Upside-Down Kingdom (see my review here):
Why did Jesus become a threat? His very life and message menaced political and religious authorities. Designating himself a waiter, he criticized the scribes’ pursuit of prestige. He condemned the rich for dominating the poor. By challenging the oral law and purging the temple, he assaulted the citadel of religious power. His appeal to servanthood offered an alternate model of power. He hardly was a politician, but the kingdom he announced had political implications. It was a political movement that promised to reorder social and religious life.

The in-breaking reign of God in the life of Jesus cut the muscles of the reigning powers. The authorities killed him because they couldn’t cope with political instability. . . .

By breaking social norms—Sabbath healings, eating with sinners, talking with women, purging the temple—he heralded a new set of values in a new kingdom. Here was a man with the wisdom of a prophet who violated social custom when it oppressed people and kept them low. Here was a man whose power rested not on coercive threats but in radical obedience to God’s reign. Such allegiance pushed all other gods aside. Jesus wasn’t about to salute another king. It was this utter abandon to the reign of God, even in the face of a cross, that scared the authorities.
As followers of Jesus, we are called into this radical kingdom—a kingdom which will often take us to the margins of and counter to the culture around us. In that way of life, conflict is inevitable as God’s kingdom runs into the laws and authorities of other kingdoms. Struggling with how to deal with that is part of what it means to be human and walk this world as followers of Jesus.

And that struggle is part of what draws me to this series. While I’m still not sure this series has what it takes to keep me interested, I find myself resonating with the characters’ exploration of and attempt to live within an alternative community (and the sense of “family” that creates) apart from the authorities and powers that be, which set the laws and customs by which we are compelled to live. In some ways, this resonates with my own longings for and explorations of the kingdom.

Note: This series deserves its mature rating. It contains violence, bad language and mature and adult themes and situations along with some nudity. Use discretion when deciding what to put on your television screen.

(Images: FX via IMDB) miscctgy