Thursday, January 7, 2016

Why Making a Murderer is More Important than Church

It's normal for us to be up most nights until midnight, but when 1:00 am rolled around, we were legitimately concerned. At 2:00 am we swore we'd make it up for church in the morning, no matter what. At 3:00 am, we fell into bed pretending we hadn't been lying to ourselves for hours.

For two nights running we had tucked the kids in at the stroke of their somewhat loose "bedtimes" in order to jump headlong into hours of despair, the kind that clings to your soul like a stain, the kind that makes you dream about strangers and thank God, finally, for defense attorneys. If it sounds like an odd thing to choose or look forward to, it's only because you haven't watched the Netflix documentary series Making a Murderer yet. In the show, Steven Avery, a Wisconsin man, was imprisoned for a rape he did not commit (DNA evidence freed him after 18 years of incarceration) and soon after his release, was arrested for a subsequent murder of another local woman. The show primarily follows his trial for the murder, which many believe he did not commit and for which he unswervingly maintains his innocence.

I've thought a lot about this.

I've texted friends and emailed colleagues. I showed up five minutes late to a coffee date yesterday then got caught up in conversation with a different friend while grabbing my Earl Grey from the window. "I'm so sorry!" I told my date. "We were talking about Making A Murderer." She understood, because she'd sat with us in a circle of chairs at our Bible study Monday evening, where discussion was repeatedly derailed by Steven Avery commentary. We didn't mean for it to happen, but someone suggested we read from Hebrews 1 and it only took one line, "You love justice and hate evil." (v 9) 

Coming off my general Christmas disillusionment, coupled with reading The New Jim Crow and all that happened after that, the show felt strangely, vitally important. We sat glued to the screen, taking necessary mental health breaks to mindlessly scroll Instagram between episodes, our snack plan slowly devolving each night from hot tea and fruit to Cheez-Its and hard cider. 

The show isn't gory or terrifying. It's basically an extended Dateline Mystery, minus the Keith Morrison voice-overs. With each hour, it was increasingly hard to ignore the fist of poverty closed around the Avery family. They were despised and rejected by almost everyone. They were regarded as sub-human and as deserving of whatever trouble came their way.

The mom, Dolores Avery, was particularly difficult to watch. Lined by years and trauma, her face told the rest of the story, the most meaningful parts, but also the parts that made me want to shut it all down and pretend I hadn't seen her standing in her cramped kitchen in a fruit-patterned smock, frying dinner for her lost-soul family who somehow manage to survive in spite of everything else.

I'm sure they're not perfect. Casting judgment on those who aren't already under the microscope is damaging business, and I'm not interested. These are real people, ravaged by a system that is slow to offer justice to the poor. To quote Steve, "Poor people lose all the time."

This is true. And if it took a Netflix documentary for more people to see the craters in the system or even to recognize their own brokenness, well, God has moved in far weirder ways. 

I don't know if Steven Avery did it or not.

But I do know that many of us keep asking the question, "What can I do?" about things like inequality and lives lived at the boot-end of justice. The world is crying out for a better way, and it will require much of us. But "much" often starts quite small. We can watch this show, walking toward pain when we'd rather turn around and look into our middle-class lives, largely untainted or untested by outside forces. We can lean in to the reality that the poor and under-educated are fed the scraps of what privileged folks like us rightly believe we're entitled to. My family, and particularly Cory, sees this played out on a loop, but Making A Murderer makes it available to the masses. It's not at all the same as watching a friend go down in real time, but compassion begins with leaning our own humanity against another's. Ten hours of screen-time has a way of making the humanity of the Avery family searingly accessible.

I'm not here to talk about the ways our criminal justice system gets things right. The burden of proof falls heavy on them. Of course they do many things well, but what about the rest of the time? What can be done about people who don't know their rights? People unable to afford an attorney? Young men pleading guilty on the advice of an overworked, underpaid public defender whom they met for the first time moments before the hearing? What about that glaring remnant who views the poor as disposable, and preys upon their vulnerability? What will it take to believe this is our problem?

I guarantee, you'll want to turn it off. You'll think it's too much. You'll cuss at your television. You'll inch closer to whomever shares the couch with you. You'll distract yourself with unwise snack combinations. You'll tell yourself your tender heart can't bear the contact burns.You'll skip church the next morning.

It's worthy of all of this, to be saddled with just a sliver of the pain and confusion facing people across our zipcodes.

We're commanded by God to take up the cause for marginalized people, but we cannot care about what we do not know about. In a society that largely values its churches as me-centric, staying up too late to witness the tenuous inner-workings of an entire family on the margins is guaranteed to propel you more towards the good news of Jesus, who spoke their names at his death and who rose up to reclaim them as his own, than church often does.

If you are a pray-er, continue to pray.
If you are a dreamer, continue to dream.
If you are a hoper, please, help the rest of us to hope with you.

But no matter who you are, find a way to do an actual thing. 
Even if it begins with something as small as turning on your television.
  

*Amazon affiliate link

36 comments:

  1. Well goodnight. Now I finally get a glimpse of why people can't stop watching it or talking about it. This was so good.

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    1. I find it hard to believe this was more convincing than yesterday's twitter banter. :)
      Thanks, LJ. Miss you.

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    2. You probably get a bajillion(not a word but what I was going for) people messaging you but I think we are soul sisters. The raw and truthful way you write is powerful and I'm deeply thankful for it. Praying I find the balance of living where I Am planted and uprooting some things to grow in areas for the kingdom and not myself. Basically you rock and thanks.

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  3. My husband and I binged this over Christmas break. I think about it everyday. I'm bothered. But I don't know what to "do."

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  4. Much t pray about in the world...I guess its a reminder that the world's standards of justice are so different from God's.

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  5. My husband and I are just seething through this show every night. It is wrecking us in all the ways.

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  6. Shannon, thank you for putting words to what I have been struggling with and haunted by, now a week after we finished the show. Innocent or guilty, my heart aches for the Avery family and all those who get beaten by the systems. Thank you for your challenge to DO something.

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  7. I'm a first time commenter. My husband a public defender here in WY. His work is something we, as a family, take very seriously and find so very important. We get asked, constantly, how he can stand to do this type of work and our standard response is, how can we not do this work. Oh, the stories of triumph and heartbreak we could tell. I love him and the brave path he walks and ever night I try my hardest to be present and listen as he unburdened himself. Thank you for your dialogue. It is so needed and much appreciated.

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    1. Thank you for this comment. I'm ashamed to say I used to ask those same questions. I see the other side now and am so grateful for men and women who defend the weak/guilty/oppressed/fill-in-the-blank.

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  8. i tried to watch it right before i read this but i stopped 5 minutes in. maybe i'm just not in the mood at the moment or maybe i knew pressing play was saying yes to more contact burns. seems to be a lot of opportunity for those kind of burns these days and it is hard to know what to do with those.

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    1. I think it's somewhat irrelevant where you get burned, as long as your skin ends up raw. :)

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  9. I've not seen this... but I've lived it somewhat.... my brother was arrested for murder over 30 years ago. acquitted.... but oh, my Lord....it was a cop and an ex-cop who accused him of murder and it was only because my parents and other family members were willing to part with life savings to pay for a good lawyer that he was not found guilty and possibly executed. The DA was determined to win an election and it really didn't matter whether the the person on trial of this high profile case was guilty or not... I've started writing a book about it at least a dozen times but it is so painful to relive I can't seem to finish it. One day! One day I will say it all. In the meantime... what I know is until you've been inside it, you think you know.. but you don't know...

    Thanks so much for this recommendation and this incredible review... It could be the inspiration I need to muster up the energy it's going to take to finish telling my family's story. - Cindy

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  10. We started it last week, now its time to jump in fully. I love these eye openers.

    I know I've said this to you before, but you HAVE to read Just Mercy. I mean, I know the plate's been full...

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    1. Who is the author? When I search on Amazon, there are two Just Mercy books. One by Bryan Stevenson and one by Dorothy Van Soest

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  11. Don't agree with the title, but I enjoyed the post. Thing is, we need the church to be even more the church, convicted by Jesus' heart for the oppressed.

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  12. My husband and I binged on this New Year's Day. The entire time we couldn't wait to find out what happened on the next episode. It was definitely heart breaking and like you, I don't know if he did or didn't do it. I do know they didn't show all the evidence which points to him actually doing it, so...... It's sad that our justice system that says "innocent until proven guilty" vilified a man based on his economic status when they should be doing the duty they swore when they took their legal oath. I'm talking about the prosecutors and judges. I think the defense attorney's did a fantastic job and tried their best that it still haunts them to this day they couldn't do more.

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  13. I haven't watched the show, and I think it's in part because I'm not sure what to do with this. Among my friends and family who are talking about it, it's the white, conservative ones who also criticize the black lives matter movement and downplay racism. They identify with Stephen Avery--their husbands or brothers or coworkers could be him. But they fail to see the broader picture, that being poor is one form of oppression, but it's not the only one. These are my people and I know it's my responsibility to share this perspective, and I'm thinking of how best to do this.

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  14. You always push me... often in new or uncomfortable directions, but always to see the good. I will try to watch this. Thanks friend. <3

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  15. I just finished reading Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson. It's about the same issue and it is powerful.

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  16. I'm a public defender and love the attention that this and Just Mercy are bringing to the injustices faced by poor and minority people in our country every day. If you want ideas for practical ways you can respond, check out this action agenda written by Brendan Dassey's attorneys at Northwestern's Center on Wrongful Convictions:

    http://www.law.northwestern.edu/legalclinic/wrongfulconvictionsyouth/resources/publications/documents/ACTION%20AGENDA%20FOR%20MAKING%20A%20MURDERER%20WATCHERS.pdf

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  17. Does not anybody remember that the dead girl's body was found in the burning barrel at the convicted person's home, and also, that her phone was in the trash can there. This young lady needs justice, and I think the courts did there job in proving guilt. I would like the family of the deceased girl, come forward, but nobody seems to care about them, and that this girl was murdered. Who is really at fault? I think justice has been served, and a "movie" if you can call it that, has no idea or more evidence than the courts in the very beginning of this horrible crime. Remember people....a young lady is dead...lets worry more about that, don't you think??? Being poor does not make anybody innocent.

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    1. I agree, Bonnie... My heart goes out to the Halbach family, who lost a beautiful daughter to a savage, evil murderer. There's a name for a documentary that leaves out evidence...it's call "fiction", and we all need to use a little critical thinking when we watch movies.
      I dare everyone who is crying for Avery to read this: http://www.rightwisconsin.com/perspectives/Ex-Prosecutor-No-Steven-Avery-Is-Guilty-of-Murder-364260151.html
      Here are a couple of excerpts:
      "Also found in the fire pit was Teresa’s tooth (ID’d through dental records), a rivet from the “Daisy Fuentes” jeans she was wearing that day, and the tools used by Avery to chop up her bones during the fire"
      "Avery targeted Teresa. On Oct 31 (8:12 am) he called AutoTrader magazine and asked them to send “that same girl who was here last time.” On Oct 10, Teresa had been to the Avery property when Steve answered the door just wearing a towel. She said she would not go back because she was scared of him (obviously). Avery used a fake name and fake # (his sister’s) giving those to the AutoTrader receptionist, to trick Teresa into coming"
      "Avery’s past incident with a cat was not “goofing around”. He soaked his cat in gasoline or oil, and put it on a fire to watch it suffer."

      I'm sure there are injustices in the system, but this is not one of them.

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    2. You're profoundly missing the point of this post, and quite honestly, highlighting the original problem.

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  18. Your point was taken, convicting, and you are correct: "We're commanded by God to take up the cause for marginalized people, but we cannot care about what we do not know about. In a society that largely values its churches as me-centric, staying up too late to witness the tenuous inner-workings of an entire family on the margins is guaranteed to propel you more towards the good news of Jesus, who spoke their names at his death and who rose up to reclaim them as his own, than church often does."
    My comments were obviously misdirected at your post...they were an emotional reaction based on the frustration I feel at the nationwide outcry for Avery to be pardoned, by a world of people who believe only what they saw in the "documentary" and not on the facts of the case. My apologies to you, I realize this was not the forum for comments regarding this specific case and you are welcome to remove them.

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    1. Hey there. I'm sorry for being to terse in my response. :)
      Your kindness here inspires me and it's always okay if we disagree. Let's just keep being neighbors, sound good?
      xo

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  19. Your post was the best piece I've read on this. Period. I'm so fortunate to have found your blog.

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  20. It's interesting to read about your Making a Murderer experience. My husband and I have watched the first episode, but don't plan to watch any more. The daily news regularly breaks me apart and provides a constant reminder of our desperate need for Jesus. I also feel personally conflicted, that these types of productions are a gray area for me between being informed and being entertained. I want to be made aware of injustices, but I don't want to be entertained by them.

    My husband and I regularly have a (strange) discussion about the fact that if just one person is determined to take a person out--destroy/ hurt/ kill-- the only protection we have is our Lord. Unfortunately, this was the case with Mr. Avery.

    It makes me think about the what-ifs in the power of just one person who could have changed Mr. Avery's story. What if a neighbor in the Sheriff's neighborhood had shared the Gospel with him and he accepted it into his heart and humbled him in the Lord. What if a Jesus-loving kid at school befriended Stevie and was the example he would follow of the goodness of avoiding sin before he made "young and stupid" choices.

    Thanks for encouraging us to stop and think outside ourselves, Shannan.

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  21. We started watching it based on this post. We are only 2 episodes in, but was he targeted because he was poor or because of law enforcement's pride? It's taking all my will power not to watch more while my husband is at work.

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    1. I wouldn't necessarily say he was targeting because he's poor, but I would say that the poor are easy targets to whatever else is swirling around. If you continue, you will begin to see how the poor are often powerless in the system, particularly when it comes to legal representation and just treatment along the way, while all are supposed to be presumed innocent until proven guilty.

      Thanks for the comment!

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  22. Stayed up late into the night to finish watching. Could not look away. I am left feeling, "What now?" Each episode left me thinking that surely in the next trial, or with the next jury, or the next piece of evidence things would take a turn for the better. Haunted by it, but afraid this will simply fade with some time and distance. Wanting it to leave a lasting mark that will make it impossible to not do something.

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  23. I have spent many more days sitting on a cold wooden courthouse bench supporting someone trying to fight her way through the justice system and agree that, of course, they get things right but also have seen in unbelievable ways how they get it wrong. My heart broke as I sat watching a man who struggled to speak English (with no attorney of course) struggle to understand what the judge was telling him. It all came down to him signing on the wrong line. Thankfully the judge (new, and not jaded as yet)broke with protocol and actually showed him where to sign. I watched another mom surrender her scared and tearful daughter to the biological Dad again because she had no attorney and had not completed the "proper" paperwork. No matter that she had filed child abuse claims with the police and CPS...heartbreaking. My sister and brother in law's experiences (which brought me to the courthouse) are stuff I had previously thought existed only on TV courtroom dramas. Sadly I now know many of these stories were culled from real life...

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  24. I just found your blog (HT: Emily @ Jones Design Co) and I'm enjoying reading through. I've also signed up for updates on your book. I've seen this series on Netflix and have "heard" the chatter in the blogosphere and on Twitter, but don't know whether or not my hubby and I will watch it. We are surrounded by evidence of evil in the world and the constant need for the gospel.

    I know your title was intended to be an attention grabber. I get it. I believe that your goal in writing this post was to pull Christian's heads out of the sand, out of their comfort zone, and see that this world is full of ugliness, injustice, and evil. I agree that many churches fail to recognize and deal with this.

    My encouragement to your readers would be to find a church that unashamedly preaches the gospel, encourages true gospel community, invests itself in the one-anothers daily. This can't be found in a TV show, based-on-truth-or-not. It takes some hard work to find a church like this, a church that does not merely shout "we're authentic!!" but whose leaders model authenticity, accessibility, and gospel living. A church where members unabashedly live, not as those who see Christ as a big part of their lives but, as those who recognize that Christ is their life, both individually and corporately.

    Very few churches (or Christians) have arrived at this point -- have any of us, really? But some are doing a better job of this than others, and some are longing to make this a reality. Find that church in your area, that church that is also faithful to the true gospel (not merely a social gospel) and invest your life there.

    {Stepping down off soapbox now.}

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    1. I totally, totally agree with what you write here and honestly, I appreciate your heart (and tone!) in sharing your thoughts.

      My real point in my admittedly "grabby" title, was that in our case, skipping church that one Sunday was the greater good. :) I'm pro church. God uses it to sanctify us, because it can be hard work to commit and be in community amongst other broken humans. But it is so worth it!

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  25. I just started watching the series. I am heartbroken by the procedures followed when interviewing the nephew. I have a child with Ds. Should anyone try to question him without me present, mama bear will surface and the system will be sued. The nephew clearly has no understanding of what was going on and the questions were completely inappropriate for a child with an IQ of 69 and attending special ed classes. He is 16 and does not know the definition of the word "inconsistent". I will say as I watch, I feel information is missing. Where was the blood if she was stabbed and shot in the home/garage? There are so many layers...poverty, uneducated individuals, corrupt government. Have you read the article about the 4 people Steven Avery presents as possible suspects, yet these were not addressed in the series? As I read that article, it was like reading a script for Dallas or Dynasty but the people are poor. As you said, to be saddled with just a sliver of the pain and confusion facing people across our zipcodes.

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