A couple of weeks ago, the Wizard of Netflix recommended the Spike TV (home of all things faux-masculine) reality series Coal. It seemed riveting because it followed two shifts of coal miners down where it is “dark as a dungeon” (Merle Travis)… and it was. I was unprepared, however, for the explosion of Gospel insight. For this reason, I drank deeply from the series, finishing the first season (and only… so far) in three days.
A bit of background: Cobalt Coal Company (the focus of the show) is a small coal company that operates in Westchester, West Virginia which is home to a high-grade coal seam. As small as they are, they have the usual cash flow problems. Cobalt works two shifts of crews so they can mine 24 hours a day.
There are two insights that jump out at me and I would like to share them with you in as many parts. The first is that of imputed righteousness. Here’s how it goes:
The day shift includes a father/son team. Their names are Andy Christian, Sr. and Andy Christian, Jr. Andy, Sr. is known as “The Legend” and is heralded to be the best miner operator in West Virginia. This means he is one responsible for finding the coal seam and directing the mechanized miner to it in the most efficient and effective manner. It seems he is born for the job. As cash flow problems manifest and production is needed in the mine to cover them, Andy, Sr. comes through and saves the mine from bankruptcy time and time again.
His son, Andy, Jr., is the miner helper. He gets paid to help his dad. Andy the Younger seems to be in his early twenties and displays some of the characteristics of that age. While clearly close to his father (the subject of the next post), he exhibits some youthful hot-headedness (although, on the whole, he is a fine worker… more on this later, too). He even exhibits some open contempt for his bosses when he is temporarily taken away from his father and assigned another duty.
The tension is high in this episode but there is no way he would be fired. Why? Because his father is holding the place together. Without Andy, Sr., Cobalt Coal would be a distant memory. The company hired the son when it hired the father and they are inseparable. So, in a way, Andy, Jr. is simul iustus et peccator, simultaneously hot-headed and safe.
If this were not perfect enough (in a culturally theological way), there is another worker about the same age as Andy, Jr. He doesn’t have a father there and he also displays youthful hot-headedness and contempt. He gets fired in dramatic fashion. One young man has been objectively justified and one has not. One young man’s family name (Christian!) is his salvation and the other can claim no such justification. So powerful!