House of Cards vs West Wing: Life is a Battle between the Two Sides of Me

House of Cards vs West Wing: Life is a Battle between the Two Sides of Me

I’m tired its been a big week and this morning I went out for a really nice cooked breakfast with friends. I came home to an empty house, which is not a normal thing for me, and I was faced with the question of how I would spend the morning.

ht_house_of_cards_nt_130211_wgI’ve just started watching House of Cards on Netflix and this morning I thought that before I did anything I would watch an episode. I have discovered that, although I don’t watch a lot of television, when I get onto a particular series I can be a bit compulsive. My favourite television show is the West Wing, I have seen every episode at least seven times.

House of Cards is the antithesis of West Wing. West Wing is mythical, portraying a brand of politics that is ultimately noble and committed to the greater good. House of Cards portrays a politics that is grubby and committed to self interest. At the end of an episode of the West Wing, I often felt more “together”, like somehow in watching the screenplay I had come to understand more of myself. At the end of a House of Cards episode I find myself feeling a bit more fragmented and suspicious.


I’m interested to see the way that in House of Cards, people have to work hard to suppress their goodness in order to be in politics. I am interested to see whether, as the series develops, whether people are actually able to do that, or whether a sub plot will be the redemption of any of the main characters. In many ways the drama of the show is the attempt to suppress goodness. So far in House of Cards, evil constantly wins the battle despite the humanity of the characters, but I keep holding out hope. It’s certainly not one to watch if you are easily offended.

In the West Wing, the characters had to continually work to suppress their doubts, fears and self interest, and it was the constant battle with themselves as individuals and collectively that created the drama in the West Wing. Ultimately in the West Wing, good won the battle despite the fragility of the characters.

I was interested in a quote from Aaron Sorkin, the writer of the West Wing, that seems to sum up almost all the main characters in the screenplays he writes:

“Develop your own compass, and trust it. Take risks, dare to fail, remember the first person through the wall always gets hurt.”

The stories of the West Wing are almost all about an attempt to hold on to the compass in the middle of an internal and external battle. The stories of House of Cards seem to be about to what extent it is possible to pretend the compass doesn’t exist.

What I appreciate about both series is the depiction of the battle.

I experience life as a battle between two sides of me. I was interested this morning to be able to watch myself and realise that I could have quite happily just watched television all day and pretended that the challenges of life didn’t exist. I could have run away from the battle and hidden the compass. 

I appreciate that both television shows, show people wrestling with both sides of themselves, just as the Apostle Paul did:

Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me. For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me. (Romans 7:21-23)

I’m interested in a strange contradiction that seems to happen amongst us Christians. We seem quick to talk about sin in the world, in others, and even in ourselves before we discovered Jesus, but somehow after we become Christians we are supposed to have it “together.” We stop admitting to each other that life is a battle.

I was reminded this morning of a something that Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote:

He who is alone with his evil is utterly alone….. The final breakthrough to community does not occur precisely because they enjoy community with one another as pious believers, but not with one another as those lacking piety, as sinners. For the pious community permits no one to be a sinner. Hence all have to conceal their sins from themselves and from the community. We are not allowed to be sinners. Many Christians would be unimaginably horrified if a real sinner were suddenly to turn up among the pious. So we remain alone with our sin, trapped in lies an hypocrisy, for we are in fact sinners.

I wonder whether we try to avoid the battle of good versus evil by pretending it doesn’t exist? We look removed from reality because we are, we live life in a safe and sterile bubble of people who know how to talk the right way, listen to the right music and avoid certain topics unless they relate to the people we don’t like very much.

This morning I was roused from my fixation on the television by my daughter coming home from school for lunch. As she came through the door, I realised I needed to focus on someone else than myself, and I saw more clearly the selfish part of me that wanted to shut out the world.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer spoke about the kind of Christianity that fails to confront the battle. He called it cheap grace. He wrote:

Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, Communion without confession, absolution without personal confession. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate.

He contrasted cheap grace with costly grace. He says:

Costly grace is the gospel which must be sought again and again and again, the gift which must be asked for, the door at which a man must knock.

Such grace is costly because it calls us to follow, and it is grace because it calls us to follow Jesus Christ. It is costly because it costs a man his life, and it is grace because it gives a man the only true life.

I realised afresh this morning that I am in a battle, but its not a battle that is “out there”, it is a battle inside of me, a battle between the part of me that wants to be the centre of a universe that has no pain and only feels good, and the part of me that wants to experience life.

Roused from the couch, I came downstairs to my computer to start the days work for which I had no appetite earlier, and found that I still had no appetite.

Then it dawned on me… this morning’s breakfast had disrupted my usual routine of my quiet time.

I’m increasingly understanding just how important my quiet time is for me. Each morning I make my coffee and trudge downstairs to my reading arm chair, where I start my time by praying a prayer that I picked up from John Wesley’s prayer room in London (You can read it here), followed by a short daily devotion from Rick Warren (from, a thought from Dietrich Bonhoeffer (from a collection of his writing) and a bible study from N.T. Wright. (Matthew for everyone) I then journal and spend time in prayer. I normally have only one devotional but this year it just seemed like I needed the three different voices, and they have been all pretty helpful. What I noticed again this morning is that my quiet time is important because it diminishes the selfish side of me and strengthens the part of me that actually wants to love God and live life for more than myself.

I also realised that it is not a battle I can win in my own strength. I am not strong enough to hold the my selfishness away with my bare hands. There are  times when I am so full of myself that I forget there is even another side. The reason I need my quiet times every morning is that on my own, I’m dangerous. I lose sight of the compass.

I am loving engaging deeply with the book of Ephesisans, and one of the messages that keeps coming through is that this is not a battle that is ours to win. Our compass is not us, its Him,  and without Him the other side tends to win a lot more than it loses.

I'd love to hear what you think...

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