To Walk Justly and to Love Mercy – or – How Dog the Bounty Hunter Helps Me Make Sense of God

So lately I’ve been depressed (and by lately i mean for the last ten years or so) as I consider the fact that no one seems to share my understanding of Christian faith. With all the various denominations and the myriad churches in the world, I feel like I ought to be able to find a group of people who espouse the faith and understand it exactly the way I do. I’ve visited dozens of churches, participated in numerous bible studies, and read lots of books but nobody’s precise view of faith, it seems, lines up exactly with my own.

Until now.

Last night I watched an episode of ‘Dog the Bounty Hunter’. Dog is a real-life bounty hunter who, with a team of family members, travels the country and gets paid to bring wanted criminals into custody. Dog is a total badass. He looks like Mickey Rourke except about 6 inches taller, 50lbs. heavier, and sporting a platinum blond mullet, the likes of which I’ve never seen paralleled in my 28 years.

Hot on the tail of a particular felon, Dog, his wife, two sons, and a few other team members strap on bulletproof vests and load their black suburbans with guns and other weaponry.  “Let’s go get this asshole,” Dog says (or something to that effect – there are plenty of bleeps in the show).  Then his wife says, “Aren’t you forgetting something?”  When Dog responds with a blank look, his wife says matter-of-factly, “We didn’t pray.”

The family proceeds to circle up, join hands, and Dog prays for blessing and protection upon themselves and their targets.  “In Jesus name, Amen,” Dog says. Then it’s off to get those mother f-ers.

This pre-attack prayer was definitely unsettling, especially if you’ve never seen the show and don’t know that this is how the group routinely operates.  But as the hunt progresses, one gets to witness this seeming paradox in action.

At one point, while Dog is searching an apartment complex for his target, he stumbles upon a couple having a domestic dispute which has worked its way out onto the balcony of the building.  Dog feels it is his duty to intervene.  He questions the couple, the woman holding a 1 year old baby all the while.

“Did he fucking hit you?” he demands.  “Did you fucking hit her?”  He turns to the man.  Then his tone suddenly shifts.  “Don’t you love her?  Isn’t she important to you?  Look at her.  She’s beautiful.  How could you hit a woman like that?”

The discussion goes on for a while and Dog refuses to leave until the couple hug one another and the man vows to give up drinking and never to hit his girlfriend again.  “Cause if you do, I’ll come back and beat the shit out of you,” he concludes.  And he’s serious.  He gives the woman his card so she can call him if her boyfriend gets out of hand.  He vows to personally return and beat the shit out of this man.  But for now, the couple is reconciled.

Dog is by no means inconspicuous.  His crew seems to be as much about style as they are about substance.  This is evidenced most clearly in Dog’s wife, who sports a camo tank-top, leather pants, stiletto heals (in which she is surprisingly agile) and a pair of hot pink handcuffs to top it all off.  The crew role into a housing project 12-strong in shiny, black suburbans and proceed to make a big scene and I wonder how they ever catch anyone being so noisy.

The suspect is not at home.  But they talk to the building’s superintendent who tells them how the man beats his wife and comes home drunk all the time.  The suspect happens to cruise by.  A chase ensues with no success.  Then, finally, on a hunch, Dog decides to lead the entire brigade right back to the housing project, theorizing that the suspect will try and grab some stuff from his apartment before taking it on the lam.

Everyone in his family thinks he’s crazy, but he turns out to be right.  The suspect, along with his battered girlfriend and child are cornered in the parking lot.

Dog’s sons do the dirty work. “Get on the ground! Put your fucking hands in the air!”  And Dog’s wife has a few choice words for the suspect.  Her tirade lasts quite a while but can be summarized as “you are a worthless, wife-beating piece of shit.”

But after all the physical rough-housing and verbal smackdown, everyone sort of calms down.  Dog gives the suspect a cigarette and starts up a conversation, reassuring him that he’s doing the right thing by facing the music.  His wife counsels the suspects girlfriend on places she can go to get help, how she can turn her life around.  And the episode ends with Dog riding in the backseat of the Suburban with his suspect, giving him advice on how to turn his life around and what kinds of jobs he can get when he gets out of prison.  Dog admits that he, himself, is a convicted felon and tells how he was able to make something of himself.

I think that what I like about Dog is that he is so human in so many ways.  He is decidedly Christian and he has the desire to do good in the world.  He talks about how he wants to get at these suspects before the police do because he wants to talk to them.  He has a message to deliver, and it’s that you can be forgiven and you can turn your life around.  At the same time, he has the ability to get really pissed off at people when they do bad stuff.  And he has no qualms giving these people a good thumping if he deems it necessary.  The shift back and forth between these modes is bizarre and unsettling.  One minute he’s pinning someone to the ground calling them a motherfucker. The next minute they’re hugging (you’d be surprised how many people end up getting hugged in this show).

But when I think about it, I can see a lot of Dog in myself.  I am a Christian and as such, I strive to be Christ-like, which means being humble, merciful, forgiving and loving.  But when I read certain unsettling stories in the news such as the story of the kidnapping and 18-year imprisonment of that little girl in California this past week, I am filled with rage. Dog’s foul language seems not to jive with his Christianity, but when I read about these people, the same words leap to my mind.  I want to see those people pay.  I want to see them punished for the evil they’ve done.  Perhaps these dual drives reside in all of us, but unlike most of us, Dog lives them out on a daily basis.

But perhaps, also, this explains something about God.

Personally, I have always struggled to reconcile the God of the Old Testament with the Jesus of the New Testament.  I know a lot of Christians and non-Christians who have also had difficulty with this issue.  They just seem so different.  One is often angered and prone to strike out in wrath.  The suffers humbly and turns other turns the other cheek.  One demands sacrifices for atonement.  The other boldly forgives peoples’ sins. How can they be the same person?

In a way, Dog solves this confusion for me.  Watching him display these conflicting impulses from moment to moment helps personify it, makes it relatable.  And, strangely, it’s comforting for me to think of God as being a lot like Dog.  He cares about us and loves us.  He wants what’s best for us.  But when he sees the horrible crap that we do to each other he gets pissed.  And he has no qualms about laying a righteous beat-down on your stupid ass when you get out of hand.  But, like Dog, he’s always ready to hug us, to welcome us back into the fold, to accept our repentance, give us another chance and love us no matter what.

Published in: on September 4, 2009 at 12:10 pm  Comments (3)  

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3 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. I’m not much given to rage, nor do I dream of meting out justice and setting things right by force. Yet I agree that a prototypical evangelical Christian paradoxically complains about pluralism and moral relativism, worries about the personal values of himself and others, but is unallowed to be angry and discouraged from taking direct action to right wrongs, demuring rather to the official authorities. A politely outraged, socially and politically conservative wimp.

    Now, I can think of few people who’d describe themselves as an evangelical Christian who fit that profile (with the exception of a few pastors) which only bolsters your point: the type of person the church teaches you should act like isn’t something you can relate to.

  2. […] the other day I read the insights of my friend Jon, who was trying to reconcile the same apparent […]

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