Twenty-ten, here we come.
On New Year’s Eve night we did what a lot of old people do: we went to a movie. After a great meal with some friends, we headed to the Rave to see The Blind Side with everyone’s favorite biker girl, Sandra Bullock (and who would have guessed that Faith Hill’s husband was turning into a real actor?).
The hit film is based on the true story of Baltimore Raven Michael Oher’s “rags-to-NFL” journey and has taken in a hefty $209 million and change. It’s a heartwarming story, but it leaves me a little flummoxed. Don’t get me wrong: it’s a feel-good, inspirational movie. Quentin Tarantino it’s not. And it’s dealing with real issues: racism, social classes and poverty. But here’s the deal: the audience was totally white…and will always be. Uh, big deal, Dave. Did you see who went to Narnia?
But here’s what makes me uncomfortable: the subtext is racial reconciliation, yet I wouldn’t invite any of my African-American friends to see it. It’s one more movie about white people rescuing hopeless and helpless black people. I know it’s done earnestly, but if you’re reading this and you’re white, try putting yourself in someone else’s shoes that has years of generational cultural minority baggage and abuse: how would you feel? Would you take your kid to see it? Sometimes the meta-message is bigger than the intended meaning.
And that’s the funny thing about the level of reconciliation that’s needed in the Church between the races. One would think that this movie is about the main character (Sandra Bullock, unlike the book it’s based on) having her perception of African-Americans turned upside-down. She responds to her friend’s statement, “You’re changing that boy’s life,” with “No, he’s changing mine.”
So why would I be uncomfortable inviting my friends to see it? That alone should give me a clue to part of the problem
Reconciliation is the core of Christianity: God reconciling us to Himself. He did this by slipping into the skin and sympathizing with the weaknesses of those who were powerless. That’s the incarnation. Paul sums it up in the hallmark scripture we used during the Christmas series: Your attitude should be the kind that was shown us by Jesus Christ, who, though he was God, did not demand and cling to his rights as God, but laid aside his mighty power and glory, taking the disguise of a slave and becoming like men. And he humbled himself even further, going so far as actually to die a criminal’s death on a cross. (Philippians. 2:5-8 Living Bible)
Jesus had all the power and all the privilege and rights with His Father, they were one in the same. But something remarkable happened because of love. He slipped into the skin of a slave. He knows what it’s like because He did the unthinkable: He became one of us. That’s the responsibility of the one with the power.
Incarnational Christianity is what I believe each one of us is called to do—to slip into the skin of someone else, to feel what they feel and see what they see, and so love them to the fullest. That’s the real thing. That’s why it says in 2 Corinthians: You know how full of love and kindness our Lord Jesus was: though he was so very rich, yet to help you he became so very poor…. (2 Corinthians 8:9a Living Bible). It goes beyond the power of empathy. In the early centuries, it was the Christians that stayed behind in natural disasters, famines and diseases to take care of the ones left behind.
Here’s the theological principle: Reconciliation is the responsibility of the people in power. Understand this: in the Kingdom of God, African-American believers must extend forgiveness to me, their white brother. King Jesus demands it. But there’s something vitally missing in that for me. If I don’t ask for forgiveness and show fruits of repentance by seeking systemic and individual justice, then I’m going to miss the transformational power of love in my life. It is always the responsibility of the people of privilege and power to seek reconciliation, not the other way around. That’s what Jesus did: left the privileges of heaven to reconcile the world to Himself, became a servant.
That’s incarnational Christianity. It’s all about real love. And when I make any attempt to see the world through my black brother’s eyes, then I let go of all claims, defenses and power, and become one with him…reconciled.
Years ago after one of our large scale outreaches, we reconvened in the Atrium with about a hundred of us to tell stories of what happened. I noticed one African-American couple with their little boy of about six or seven years old in a sea of white faces. The second person on the microphone told how excited they were to “talk to a black homeless guy”. She was earnest and sincere. But as I stood there, I wondered what was going on in the head of the husband of the couple who had brought their little son to do an outreach: Would he have to process what was said? Was the meta-message here that what this church does is help “black people” and the people who do that are white? And even more, if you want to grow up and be a leader here, you really need to be white…because that’s how it looked that afternoon. I wondered what it must be like to be a black father who wants to raise his child to be proud of his culture and his heritage, love the heart of the church he’s in, but have to wrestle with what’s between the lines of every conversation and communiqué.
Reconciliation is a little more complex than we who have the power probably think. And as my friend Ray McMillian once said, “I can’t take another foot washing.”
So isn’t reconciliation what Sandra Bullock did in the movie? Yes. But stop and think: the theatre is filled with white people. Maybe if we thought about that more—and the “why” behind it—it would do more for reconciliation than anything.