It's MLK weekend! Which means it's a perfect time to go see the newly released movie "Selma," which chronicles Martin Luther King Jr.'s campaign to secure equal voting rights during the Civil Rights era of the 1960's.
We took some RUF students to see it a few nights ago, and it was nothing short of amazing.
I'd guess that if you're like me, you enjoy the holiday, but you may not know much about the man. I was probably in middle school the last time I was taught anything about Martin Luther King. (or "MLKJ" as Caroline calls him sometimes... ha!) I knew he gave the famous "I Have a Dream" speech. I knew he was a leader during the Civil Rights Era. I knew there are alot of streets named after him.
And that's about it.
But with Jameson entering our world, we've thrown ourselves into the business of learning and embracing african american history and culture very intentionally. And suddenly all the scenes of this movie aren't so "historic" anymore. They're personal.
As I watched the historical account of "Selma" on the screen, it raised so many questions in my mind as to how the issue of race could be such a blind spot to the southern evangelical church. How could the very people burning crosses in people's yards on Saturday night be teaching Sunday School at church the next morning? How could churches be SO orthodox theologically and yet miss the very oppression and hatred they were supporting by barring people from their doors?
If the message of the Bible is about a Christ who comes to reconcile us to God and to one another (Jew and Gentile) and graft together people groups that typically hate one another, how did that not have implications to our white brothers and sisters? If a founding belief in our country was "all men are created equal," how could blacks and women be denied the right to vote? Or even the right to drink from the same water fountain? Why did white clergy in the north flock to help MLK's march from Selma to Montgomery (a very touching scene in the movie), but yet white clergy in the south were absent? Where were the white southern evangelicals? What Gospel were they preaching?
So many questions my heart grapples with. Of course, it all seems so clear and ridiculous now, 50 years later, doesn't it? But it makes me take pause and wonder what are the blind spots of our evangelical culture today? Where are we "missing it"? What will be clearer in 50 more years about the church's attitudes and behaviors of this day?
I also can't help but wonder why most of our churches today continue to remain so divided along racial lines, almost as if Jim Crow is still in existence. It is said the most segregated hour of the week is Sunday morning. We know from Scripture the people of God are made up of every tribe and every nation. The Gospel unites Jew, Gentile, black, white, old, young, rich and poor. Why do our churches often look like just one tribe? Do we desire to see them look more like the diverse people of God?
Marc and I were running late for the movie. For several days, our facebook newsfeeds had been lighting up with people RAVING about this movie "Selma," and with all the great reviews we were seeing from our friends online, we feared it might be sold out. Thankfully, we had bought our tickets online just to be sure our seats would be secure. So we scuffled into the theater... only to find about 15 people there! (and more than half of those were our RUF students...) Now, I know you can't judge a movie's success or interest simply by the attendance of a single showing, but it did disappoint me that out of all those people lining up for movies outside, very few were coming to this one.
I guess I'm consistently surprised at how little my own white culture seems to interact or overlap with our black brothers and sisters. We're so isolated. I recently read a study that showed the average white person's facebook newsfeed is over 90% white, while the average minority's newsfeed was far more diverse. It's a sad reality how physically isolated and socially isolated whites are (whether by choice or natural circumstances) from minorities. And it's honestly our loss.
I think the movie, along with recent events in our nation, shows how far we've come in some ways, (thank goodness!) and how things really haven't changed in others. We still have a ways to go. While on the surface, we may have learned a few things from the absurdities of Jim Crow, etc, I know that racism is a deep-rooted sin issue our hearts must continue to struggle against. In Christians' fight with sin, this one often gets ignored. We're quick to defend ourselves-- "I'm not racist, I have black friends"-- but not so quick to confess our struggles in this area, too.
After the movie, Marc and the students left the theater and I stayed back to wait on someone who had run to the restroom. I was standing in the hallway, reflecting upon the movie, when a middle-aged black gentleman came up to me.
"What did you think of the movie?" he asked me.
At first, I was confused. I hadn't seen him come from the theater we just left, so I wasn't sure if we were talking about the same movie.
"Oh, did you see Selma?" I clarified.
"Yes! And what did you think of it?" he asked me again.
And just how do I communicate the depth of my emotions in this moment to you, sir? Like, can we just sit down and talk, for say... the next 2 hours???
"It was great," I think I said. Sometimes I wish eloquent, intelligent words would immediately leave my lips. Instead, the next words that popped out of my mouth were, "My son is black." (ha ha!)
"What's that?" he quickly responded as he leaned his ear down as close to my mouth as he possibly could just to make sure he heard me right. I'm sure he wasn't expecting that one!...
"My son is black. We adopted him," I started speaking so fast, "And it's so important for me to learn about his heritage and feel much more apart of it." Just keep your mouth shut, Amy. I'm such an idiot sometimes.
But what the man said next was as if God Himself was speaking directly to my heart in that moment.
The man stood back up, looked at me with a warm smile and all the graciousness in the world, and said, "You know, it's not about the problems of our people. It's an American problem. That was the point of the movie, you know?"
"Yeah," I nodded and smiled, taking his words to heart.
You see, I don't need to care about this young preacher Martin Luther King Jr. or black history and culture just because my son is black. I need to care about it because I'm an American.
We all do. It's our story together, and in order to move forward, we need to know where we've been.
In hindsight, I wish I'd have shut my mouth and asked him what the movie meant to him instead of rambling about my own black son and such. I would've loved to have heard his answer. There was no doubt God's hand directed him to speak to me. And he so poignantly brought it all home.
Maybe you're not black, and maybe MLK day doesn't seem to touch you. It certainly does to me now, because without MLK, regardless of all his personal struggles with sin, I wouldn't have my beautiful son.
But if you're an American, MLK is part of your story, too. Your country and your culture have been shaped by the efforts of this man to stand up against injustice and resist acts of hatred with acts of non-violence and love.
"In the final analysis the weakness of Black Power is its failure to see that the black man needs the white man and the white man needs the black man. However much we may try to romanticize the slogan, there is no separate black path to power and fulfillment that does not intersect white paths, and there is no separate white path to power and fulfillment, short of social disaster, that does not share that power with black aspirations for freedom and human dignity. We are bound together in a single garment of destiny." -Martin Luther King Jr.
Happy MLK weekend! Go see that movie!