In their music video to The Killers’ recent hit, “Shot At The Night,” a creative and comely young woman who works as a hotel maid dreams of glory and finds a wonderful night with a handsome guy through a fortunate set of accidents and then all too quickly has to go back to her job, while treasuring the memories of her magical evening . The lyrics of the song, though, cast a somewhat darker gleam on the spectacle of Las Vegas, which is not too surprising given that the band itself is from the city and has long explored its seedy underbelly in their music . At one point of the song, Justin Flowers, the lead singer of The Killers, sings: “Once in a lifetime, we’re breaking all the rules / To find that our home, has long been out grown .” In nearly every human society there is a place and/or a time where the rules are loosened and where people act as if all of the normal and strict rules of their existence do not apply.
Las Vegas is one of the places where the ordinary rules of society do not apply, but if one has watched enough episodes of police-related reality television, one will know that at least some of the ordinary rules apply, unbeknownst to many of the unwary travelers who go there to break all the rules and then return to their homes in the Midwest and elsewhere. The same is true of places like Tampa, or Los Angeles, or Dubai, or Ko Phuket or Pattaya, or New Orleans (during Mardi Gras) or Rio de Janeiro (for Carnival). I remember one time where I was visiting my father’s family farm in Western Pennsylvania and watching “The Jerry Springer Show” during some boring afternoon, where they were having some sort of town meeting in the town of Schenectady, New York. One of the fellows on the show was making some strong moral points, until his reputation as a morally upright person was destroyed because someone else cried out that he went to Tampa for vacation, and no one who spent a lot of time in Tampa could be a morally upright person according to the dim moral universe of “The Jerry Springer Show.” This concerned me rather greatly, seeing as I had recently moved there from a small country town, and considered myself to be at least a moderately decent person in terms of my behavior and moral standards. I still do.
Why is it that societies have times like Mardi Gras or May Day  or Halloween and its related events  have period times where the rules are suspended at least in part? There are at least a couple of reasons for this. The most obvious reason is that people simply aren’t very good. It is at least somewhat feasible for people to go through the ascetic self-denial of Lent if they have at least “earned” their penance as a result of a wild night of fun. Likewise, those who deny themselves through diets tend to binge afterward because the way that they live is not sustainable over the long term. We can only be “good” for so long, if that goodness depends on our own efforts and we do not receive help and encouragement from others. So long as we depend on our own efforts and our own strength, limited as it is, there will be moments of weakness where we will undo the gains that we have made during our weeks or months or years of good behavior, and threaten our lives with possibly dangerous complications, which may include lasting injury to ourselves or our relationships, or even criminal behavior with the consequences that can come from that.
Once we acquire a reputation for breaking all the rules, whether that reputation is in social circles or whether it is with the criminal justice system, our problems become much more complicated. Someone who has committed a crime, for example, may have to pay for their crime through prison time and/or fines, but will not return to a zero state because the past actions will put someone under more scrutiny because they are already “in the system” and will also often lead to increased vulnerability as well as surveillance for a period of time. While a person who is not subject to such scrutiny may break the rules often without difficulty, once one has been caught and punished once, everything that person does will face a much higher degree of judgment because they are on the radar of those who are suspicious and wary. Once this happens, there is very little one can do but endure and seek all the encouragement possible to rebuild one’s reputation from less than zero and to avoid building a reputation for evildoing that may ruin one’s ability to do anything useful ever again in certain ways. This is not an easy or particularly pleasant task.
How then are we to live? We know, if we are students of the Bible, that God’s ways are uniform and universal over space and time, and that there is nowhere where we can escape from God’s oversight (witness, of course, David’s comments in Psalm 139:7-12: “Where can I go from Your Spirit? Or where can I flee from Your presence? If I ascend into heaven, You are there; if I make my bed in hell, behold, You are there. If I take the wings of the morning, and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, even there Your hand shall lead me, and Your right hand shall hold me. If I say, “Surely the darkness shall fall on me,” even the night shall be light about me; indeed, the darkness shall not hide from You, but the night shines as the day; the darkness and the light are both alike to You.” We may want a shot at the night, for the glamor and for the disguise of ourselves and our identities, but what happens in Vegas, or New Orleans, will not stay there, as we will have witnesses of our deeds, potential repercussions for them, and of course, the reality of future judgment if we manage to avoid having to wrestle with those concerns here and now.
What then are we to do? We cannot depend on our own strength and on seeking to earn enough merit to earn a good reputation, as just about everything that we do can be interpreted the wrong way if someone is so inclined. Not only that, if we depend on our own strength and wisdom we will find situations and occurrences when those fail and leave us vulnerable to serious error. If we wish to live lives that are godly, therefore, we cannot live these lives in isolation, but must rather live them as part of a family and community of faith where all of us give encouragement and also provide accountability and a sounding board, so that we may live wiser lives than any of us can live on our own. We cannot wipe out, on our own efforts, that which we have done in the past, but all the same, we can find a better and more sustainable future, if we find a place within a godly environment and help to build others up even as we are built up in our term.
A variant of the song lyrics states the following: “Once in a lifetime, the breaking of the roof / To find that our home, has long been a throne.” See, for example: http://www.musicsonglyrics.com/shot-at-the-night-lyrics-killers.html. This particular variant points to the music video and the way in which the shy maid breaks through the limitations of her role and enjoys the sort of evening that tourists tend to enjoy, and not those who serve them. This point is also an important one. After all, most of the places that are known to be places where people can be free from ordinary rules are those where this freedom depends on the servitude of others to strict rules in order to provide a context where that freedom can be found, and this exploitation can be economic or sexual in nature. Sadly, for people to be free to sin, others must suffer the consequences of that “freedom.”