What is 'Line of Duty' doing to us?
As we await the third episode of Line of Duty, I regret not taking notes during the first four series. The genius of Jed Mercurio’s writing is not just the twists and turns, the occasional bombshell but the references, often nuanced, to the previous four series. For those of you who live on another planet Line of Duty follows the unrelenting investigations of AC-12, an anti-corruption squad in some regional constabulary. As the series progresses, we discover that this police service is not only bedevilled with innumerable acronyms but contains a network of corrupt officers with links to OCGs. The two main characters, DC Kate Fleming and DS Steve Arnott, brilliantly played by Vicky McClure and Martin Compston, find themselves continually in perplexing situations and often acute personal danger. In this they are supervised by the avuncular but lonely Superintendent Ted Hastings, wonderfully played by Adrian Dunbar. I wonder if the real life exploits of members of AC-12 are as unpredictable and hi-octane as those in Line of Duty. Probably not, because AC-12 does not actually exist. However, what does exist over the country are Professional Standards Departments. However, the title PSD does not quite have the glamour of AC-12. It’s as if the number 12 is saying something meaningful. My guess is that we would fall asleep watching the everyday workload of the standard PSD officer. In fact, former Detective Superintendent Graham Satchwell, himself investigated and cleared by several internal inquiries, recalls that “the abiding memory of those who investigated me is of incompetence and stupidity.” Hardly exciting. I recall once talking to a young doctor who confided that she had chosen pathology as her career path because (at least in the 1980’s) she would not have to meet any patients. As jobs go being a pathologist would have been mundane and predictable, boring even. So how did the BBC make twenty-two series of Silent Witness featuring the exploits of a team of pathologists? Just think how many adventures they have undertaken over some 23 years? I can tell you the answer, I've just consulted Wikipedia. 192! Had my friend realised that she was entering a career averaging eight nail-biting adventures every year, I’m sure she would have gone into A&E for a quieter life. The sad fact is that if we are going to sit down and watch sixty minutes of television we want to be excited. Certainly in this day and age, we need constant excitement. Working nine-to-five is no longer seen as a steady job but as lifetime of boredom and routine. This need for continual excitement is prevalent, sad to say, in the CofE. Here I paste from the website of a Diocese I know very well: “The Diocese of (NAME) is an exciting, challenging and rewarding place to be.” Notice the word order: exciting, challenging, rewarding. Alternatively: “Welcome to your ministry in the Diocese of (NAME). Curacy in the diocese is exciting and innovative, and places on our programme are in high demand.” How about this, from this same diocese? “Take a huge step forward in nurturing planned giving by joining the new and exciting Parish Giving Scheme.” How can anyone in their right mind find a parish giving scheme exciting? Meaningful: yes. Important: of course. But exciting? Our constant need for excitement may well undermine God’s purpose for our lives. The apostle Paul certainly had his fair share of excitement. He lists some for his incredulous readers in Corinth: “Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was pelted with stones, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea.” (1 Corinthians 11:24). And that’s just a truncated quote. If this is what excitement is, I guess most of us would opt for a quieter life in the college library. But for Paul, this was not the heart of his ministry. His purpose was in building the church of Jesus Christ and to that end he would strive wherever he found himself. And often he found himself in a prison cell. This was where many of his letters, now part of the New Testament, were written. One job advert caught my eye many years ago, was for a position in the Anglican church in Portugal. Basically it was asking for a servant of Christ who could work in a forgotten corner of the Anglican church purposely without any acclaim but with many discouragements. No excitement there, just getting on with serving Jesus. Whoever responded could say with the apostle Paul: “Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day—and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing.” (2 Timothy 4:6) We need to watch our need for excitement. Otherwise we may find ourselves agreeing with celebrity chief Martin Yan who mused “When I retire or pass away, I will be able to look back and say that this has been an exciting life. That's all that matters.”