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Storage Wars: How a Cable Show Resembles the Kingdom of Heaven

GAITHERSBURG - With a few exceptions, there is currently very little wholesome and enjoyable programming on network television these days that a Christian family can enjoy. We'll have to see what the new fall lineup offers but I'm not holding my breath. Personally, most of the TV programs that I look forward to seeing are on cable – specifically A&E, Discovery and the History channels respectively.

In particular, there is a genre of reality-based series on those channels that are “must-see-TV” and they are American Pickers, Pawn Stars and Storage Wars where the basic premise is treasure hunting yet it's handled differently on each show. 

Interestingly, what each of the shows has in common is that they seem to be a quasi-hybrid between PBS’s Antiques Roadshow and Monty Hall’s Let’s Make a Deal - bottom line it’s great TV.

As a believer, that idea of treasure hunting resonates with me and it has a scriptural basis in the New Testament.

Matthew 13:44-46 "The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field. Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls. When he found one of great value, he went away and sold everything he had and bought it."

This heavenly vision of buried treasure, which anyone can find if you know what you're looking for, captures the imagination and allows viewers to live vicariously through the programs' various characters. It should be noted that the three aforementioned shows represent some of the most highly-rated programming on cable television. Simply said, there's an audience for treasure.

The most recent addition to my weekly DVR viewing is Storage Wars, which according to the A&E web site will end its second season on Wednesday September 14th, 2011. This particular program follows four different thrift shop owners in the greater Los Angeles area who bid against each other for the contents of storage units that come up for auction.

The units are usually crammed with stuff that the previous owners have abandoned from defaulting on the storage units’ rent for several months. As such, the “landlord” of the storage facility holds auctions to empty the units and make storage room for paying customers.

What’s interesting about this particular show is that the bidders are not allowed to step into the unit, touch any of the goods and can only visually scan the unit for 2 minutes before the auction begins.

So the Storage War bidders have to have a good eye and gutsy instincts to quickly estimate the value of the goods so they can acquire the prospective inventory at the right price that they can then resell for a profit at their respective stores. The show has risk, reward, drama, conflict and memorable characters.

Sometimes it even offers profound insight.

I saw such insight in a Storage Wars repeat from the show's first season that happened to be on recently. The newest member of the show was a 20-something shop owner named Jarrod who had lost several auctions to the other veteran bidders on this particular episode – and Jarrod vowed to win the next storage unit up for bid. When the unit was opened for a visual scan, there were a few random cardboard boxes, some newspapers and old bottles as well as an old-looking, large combination safe in the middle of the floor 

Jarrod wanted the safe because he fictionalized in his head that it was "likely" filled with gems, gold bars, bearer bonds, land deeds and a host of other concocted riches. After some frenetic hand-wringing and bidding by Jarrod, he won the gamble with a hefty bid of nearly $1,500. Unfortunately, when Jarrod paid and entered the storage unit to see what he purchased - he was crushed when he opened the safe and found it was completely empty.

Understandably, Jarrod was forlorn and carried on a bit not only regretting that he'd seemingly wasted $1,500 on an empty safe, but also dreading the fact that he would ultimately have to explain his loss to his surly newlywed wife and business partner.

But here’s the profound insight.

One of the competing, veteran store owners named David immediately came over to Jarrod and tried to console him. David told Jarrod not to worry about the money spent on the deal, because even though there wasn’t actual treasure inside the combination vault per se, the actual safe itself was a Diebold turn-of-the-century, single-door floor vault with all its original parts in working order - making it a highly collectible antique.

Ultimately Jared sold the antique safe for nearly $3,000.

This revelation had a profound impact on me and lingered with me for several days because it challenged me to reevaluate the areas of my life or people in my life that I mistakenly overvalue or undervalue on a daily basis. I was convicted by this simple episode guilty pleasure TV as much, if not more, than any Sunday message I heard in church.

But much like a church service, these treasure hunting shows aren't burdened with unnecessary sex, violence, anti-Christian stereotypes or substance abuse imagery. The only caution about Storage Wars or others within this genre would be the random curse words that must occasionally get bleeped out - however it's difficult to escape that televised reality unless you only watch TBN or the 700 Club.

I guess the real reason why I like this treasure hunting genre is because the pickers, pawn store owners and auction buyers all see value in seemingly worthless junk. These shows remind me that Jesus may have been the ultimate picker when he came to earth to redeem us and transform our empty lives into something of profound worth. That reminder is worth watching.

Tor Constantino is a former journalist and current public relations professional with more than 20 years of communications experience who has worked for CBS Radio Network, Clear Channel Communications as well as ABC and CBS television affiliates. His first nonfiction book, A Question of Faith, will be available in November 2011, and he posts regularly at www.torconbooks.com.