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Orange is the New Black taught me about working together, despite differences
My friend Zach was right when he told me he had to wade through the latest season of Orange Is The New Black. I can’t say I recommend it. And because I don’t, I feel free to offer spoilers. Nevertheless, you’ve been warned.
Anyway, as we watched the show’s finale, I was pleasantly surprised. Teamwork ensued. The inmates overcame sociological barriers that divide them up. These are barriers that the prison officials exploit and use against the inmates. It’s a microcosm of the lives of proletariats intersected to death by horizontal hostility in late capitalism, exploited by the rich oligarchs that run the show.
Here’s the setting: Litchfield Penitentiary, a women’s prison privately run by a corporation set on cutting costs and making money (In real life, Obama, by the way, outlawed private prisons and then Trump reversed the decision). One of the poorly trained correction officers kills an inmate, sparking a protest and a riot, and the prisoners seize the prison. Brutal circumstances, enough not to watch the show if you don’t have a stomach for these things.
So the whole prison’s prison economy is emboldened. And at some point in the affair, the women start a latte bar (the dark comedy here is pretty hilarious). The Latina women and the skinhead white supremacists run the shop, and suffice it to say, they don’t get along. Late capitalism has a way of not exactly getting us to cooperate.
But at the final stage of the conflict when the prison is being ambushed by security guards, the skinheads and the Latina women team up to try to take them down. They fail, naturally. But there’s a moment of hope, when they drop their differences for a second to work together for a common cause. It was beautiful, once you mute the horrific setting.
This might be a stretch, but I think we need to use everything we can to fight for the sake of the Gospel and for spreading the Good News. And for me, that means finding a theme in support of the Gospel even in a show trying not to get cancelled. If Good News is really good news than it must be shared. I love how James Cone puts it:
The church is fundamentally founded in the reception of the Holy Spirit, and the commitment to reveal the Spirit through actions; preaching the Gospel is liberation, and God proclaims his gospel through Jesus and “the outpouring of his Holy Spirit.” The church is compelled to tell the whole world about the good news of freedom—keeping it to one’s self is not an option. The Great Commission is about freeing the oppressed from slavery and moving the oppressors to rid themselves of their chains. The church also needs to participate in the “liberation struggle,” yearning for the last to be first and the first last. Finally, our fellowship needs to be a “visible manifestation that the gospel is reality.” "If the church isn’t free, if it is a distorted representation of God’s kingdom, if it lives according to the old order (and it usually has), then no one will believe its message.” The future eschatological hope of resurrection must be expressed in the present day. “Something can be done about this world."
Something can be done about this world and we need to work together to accomplish it. Jesus is reconciling the whole world unto himself, and we need to work together to help that happen. Our unity and solidarity is not the end, in and of itself, but it is means to an end. Our commonality and unity help get us on the same mission and going toward a common cause.
The classic Marxist critique of the hegemony of the bourgeoisie is that the proletariat will never rise because they have so much hostility amongst themselves. I’m not very interested in a Marxist revolution (as if one won through violence won’t give us the same problems that the last moral elite regime did), but I do like the idea of people in the church working together for a common cause.
I don’t think our unity should come at the cost of personal conviction and integrity. That’s why we have a covenant in Circle of Hope, one that focuses on being and doing. But sometimes I think the horizontal hostility among many of my friends is a little against our movement.
I am reminded of this profound article from a queer philosopher. The author incisively points out the pitfalls of antagonism and hostility. “I want to spend less time antagonizing and more time crafting alternative futures where we don’t have to fight each other for resources and care.” I was inspired by the quote.
I don’t want to fight each other, when we have bigger fish to fry. I think we can keep sharpening each other, like iron sharpens iron, but in a loving and encouraging way. Not in a “call out,” and cutting way. Cutting down your friend who may be as well-versed in intersectional vernacular is less useful than gently encouraging and correcting him or her. But even spending too much time to make sure the workers are perfect, stifles the revolution. Part of the reason you want one is because of the educational disparity that often results in the chasm we try to aggressively fill with hostility.
I’m learning how crucial it is to work together for the sake of Jesus and the Gospel even across boundaries and barriers. Sometimes even working together when things aren’t perfect or everyone agrees with me. Our mission isn’t just about making sure everyone’s perfect, but helping me relate to Jesus’ liberation movement. Perfection not necessary.
After all, the guards are ambushing us, and we only have each other. So we either divide ourselves up, or work together. Even the worlds-apart women on Orange got that.