Warning: Potential Spoliers of first two episodes below
In the early 90’s, I loved playing Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego? I really liked the deduction based game play mixed with real investigating. The game came with a world atlas and looking up information in the book was required for success. Over a couple of years I caught a lot of agents of V.I.L.E. At the same time I would watch the game show, and have the theme song performed by the Rockapellas stuck in my head for most of the week. Eventually, the show was canceled and I moved on to other games. However, Carmen Sandiego was very much in the “nostalgic favorites” category me.
For this reason I was excited when I learned that the character was getting a Netflix reboot. I watched the first episode with my kid’s and I hated it. In my knee jerk reaction I thought Carmen Sandiego is supposed to be the bad guy. She is meant to be the arch-villain that the noble investigators seek to foil. Yet, in this show she is the main character and protagonist of the story. This ran completely counter to my expectations, and I wanted nothing to do with it. My kids however, loved the show. So I still ended up finding out that in this take on the character Carmen is an inherently good person (very much chaotic good on the alignment spectrum). The plot of the Netflix series is how Carmen uses her superior thieving skills to combat V.I.L.E. She operates outside of the law, but she does so for a greater good. My kids really liked the espionage/spy vibe the show has, and my daughter especially loved the portrayal of the Carmen Sandiego character.
The show did not meet my pre-conceived notion of what I thought it should be, and I am somewhat ashamed to say I did not give it much of a chance. Upon reflection, my foolish rejection of the show helped illuminate an area of scripture. Much like I did not give the Carmen Sandiego reboot much of a chance, Paul was met with skepticism after his conversion.
The story of Paul is recorded in the book of Acts. It is a story of how a zealous persecutor of Christians has a literal come to Jesus moment, and then goes on to be the apostle to the Gentiles. After his conversion though, other believers are hesitant to view him as one of the good guys. Acts 9:26 records this tension: “When he came to Jerusalem he tried to join the disciples, but they were all afraid of him, not believing that he was really a disciple.”
On one hand there prudence was understandable. However, it could be argued their reluctance to accept Paul was a lack of trust in God. Essentially the disciples were communicating that not even God’s grace could change the heart of this guy. They had assumed that Paul was going to always be their enemy, and one of the bad guys. They had assumed God’s grace could not have applied to someone like him.
Unfortunately, that is the same attitude I approached the new Netflix series with. In my mind Carmen Sandiego was a villain and she could not be anything but a villain. Even more unfortunate, is this attitude can still be present today. When someone repents a life of sin and accepts Jesus, sadly other followers of Christ can be slow to accept that. There are too many stories of broken hearts and defeated souls, where a new convert only finds judgement in a church because of their past life choices. In the same way far too many churches have litmus tests for behaviors and beliefs of what makes a “true Christian”. Not passing that test can mean a person is seen as not truly one of the good guys (or a “backslider”).
These kinds of judgmental attitudes do not belong among the people of God, because God’s grace can renew any heart and transform any life. Instead of letting someone’s past dictate how they are treated in the future, we should trust that God’s grace can work miracles in their life. The stories of Paul are testimony that God can transform any life and make them a source of good in the world. That is true even for a thief like Carmen Sandiego.