America, the Ignorant

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By now, most of us have probably seen, or at least heard about the (for some stupid reason) controversial new Coke commercial…

The media seems to do their best to keep the majority of its viewers ignorant of truly important issues, but we as a society seem to be perfectly capable of remaining willfully ignorant and distracting ourselves without too much help from the “news.” After all, Samuel Coolridge (1772 -1834) predicted that in the future, the West would suffer from a culture wide phenomenon of ‘idiocy of the will.’ It appears that Mr. Coolridge was pretty spot on in his prediction.

One of the most recent incidences of mass idiocy was the harsh, wide-spread racist reaction to the Coca-Cola commercial that ran during this year’s Super Bowl. In the midst of this mess, I think there are people who are racist, and then I think there are people who are just ignorant. Not to say that racist people aren’t ignorant. But there are people who are racist who aren’t quite sure why they are, or where exactly that came from. They have been taught, brought up, and discipled poorly. It’s not entirely their heart; they just haven’t been informed.

Article after article was shared about the responses on social media: HuffPost, NY Daily, Business Insider, Buzzfeed, USA Today, CNN, etc…

As Christians, we believe that Jesus Christ has broken down the walls of hostility, has restored and established peace, and there is now one race; not two, or three, or four, etc. However, there is still widespread racism in this country, and it isn’t all Anglo… there is even intra-race racism still prevalent today. It’s this silly, “I am better than you. I am more valuable than you. I have more worth than you” idea. It is a dehumanization of another person and another group of people. That’s the essence of racism. In fact, every genocide that has ever occurred, almost all injustice that has ever been wrought, has been birthed out of this idea: “We are superior to… we are better than… we are more deserving… by birth.” What did you do? You were born. You contributed, you earned nothing. How does that make you superior? Simply that you were born?

It is very foolish to go on pretending that we are all born with equal footing, and if we would just exert the same amount of energy we could all end up at the same place. You are not viewing the world correctly if that’s how you see it. I’m sorry if that comes as a shock, but if you believe you’ve gotten to where you are because of your hard work and unearned privileges didn’t play a significant role in it, you’re not seeing the world correctly. This in no way discredits your hard work, skillful planning, and diligent effort in achieving goals you’ve set, but we must all admit that a great deal of our opportunities came about regardless of ourselves.

We really need to stop deluding ourselves into believing we are better than anyone else by some kind of birth-right. Can anyone honestly say that they devised how their frame would be formed in the womb? If they’d grow up to be big, strong, and athletic? If they’d be inclined towards having good health? Has anyone decided at the moment of conception if they’d be raised in a palace, or in poverty? Did anyone reading this decide as an embryo whether their parents would love them well and provide for them? Did any of us choose the place or the hour of where we were born? Anybody work really hard to control or influence any of these factors? Think with me then, what can any of us truly claim? Not a thing really. We didn’t even choose our own name! Really, just consider this: can any of us recall a single thing that is not a gift in this life? When we honestly give credit where credit is due, we see that everything is grace after all. Our skin tone, hair and eye color, height, age, language(s) learned, nationality, etc. is honesty all outside of our complete control. We are all beggars, called to be good stewards of what we have been given by grace.

Something else that specifically Christians need to understand is that God, as the triune three-in-one Being, created humans in His image as persons-in-relation; forever confronted with differences among them. Widespread sameness, the failure to recognize differences, therefore does not capture God’s heart for creation and His communitarian nature. Diversity is at the core of a relational creation that glorifies God. Differences honor God in that they make for better relationships – and better humans.

As humans create culture – filling, subduing, and ruling the world according to God’s Genesis mandate, they form social groups around cultural commonalities. Like the value-laden work involved in male-female relationships, crossing cultural barriers not only sharpens but also beautifies. God’s creativity explodes in and through cultural expression. Diversity, in all its forms, not only makes people more like God in developing relationships but also opens up a life of joy and worship. So we should appreciate many beautiful and redemptive things about this Coca-Cola commercial, and not respond ignorantly by exploding with hateful cultural-homogeneous desiring ridiculousness.

We should embrace, respect, and celebrate the truth spoken by Katie Bayne, president of North America Brands, Coca-Cola, when she said, “With ‘It’s Beautiful,’ we are simply showing that America is beautiful, and Coke is for everyone…. ‘It’s Beautiful’ is exactly what Coca-Cola is all about: celebrating the diversity that makes this country great and the fact that anyone can thrive here and be happy. We hope the ad gets people talking and thinking about what it means to be proud to be American.” (Bayne’s quotes were taken from the Coca-Cola Company article on the ad: ‘It’s Beautiful’: Coke Debuts Inspiring Ad During Super Bowl)

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Recommended Sermon:

Prayer (Part 3) – Racial Reconciliation by Matt Chandler

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12 Years a Slave

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I don’t normally write film reviews. Never have actually… but this film was just exceptional enough to inspire me to want to write something. As anyone will say, this was not the easiest movie to watch, not in the least bit. However, I’ll begin discussing it by stating that it is one of the best movies of the year and one of the greatest stories ever told on screen.

Again, the movie isn’t easy to watch, and it shouldn’t be; because it’s one man’s immense tragedy, and it’s also the tragedy of countless thousands of other souls beaten down, literally and metaphorically. The film, which is based on a memoir written by Solomon Northup after his 12-year ordeal, begins with a glimpse of the Northup family’s happy life in New York, where he was a musician, craftsman, and a free man. Those beautiful moments with his family are over quickly, as a pair of low-life scam artists pull off the wicked guise of hiring Northup to play for a party out of town, the pair of crooks drug him, kidnap him, and then turn him over to a slave trader (played by Paul Giamatti). Soon after that Northup, along with other would-be slaves stand naked in a grandiose home’s parlor, as customers are invited to inspect the “property for sale” at their leisure.

12 Years a Slave wouldn’t be as effective in its delivery on the big screen if it weren’t perfectly cast (with Chiwetel Elijofor, Michael Fassbender, Brad Pitt, Paul Giamatti, Benedict Cumberbatch, Paul Dano, Sarah Paulson, Lupita Nyong’o) performed with searing honesty, smoothly written (by John Ridley, from Northup’s own memoir), and unflinchingly filmed without holding back the disgusting depravity of the era; you’ll want to look away, particularly during a sequence involving Patsey near the end, but you won’t. You will painfully watch and feel your heart being broken for these men and women. It’s a chapter in American history that’s still seen too little screen time, too little honesty, and it will haunt you long afterward.

“I don’t want to survive,” says Solomon Northup early on, refusing to accept his horrific change in circumstances after he has been tricked and sold into slavery. “I want to live!”

Some critics seemed to have gotten too caught up in the character of Samuel Bass having come into the picture abruptly (and even more distracted by Brad Pitt starring in the role), that they seem to neglect taking the time to reflect on all the truth that was spoken during the scenes involving Bass. Truth is truth, no matter who is saying it. The Bible even tells us that God once spoke through a donkey (Numbers 22:22-41)… so we should probably still reflect on the profound truth being uttered by Brad Pitt’s character, Samuel Bass.

One comes away from watching 12 Years a Slave, which ends with Northup restored to happiness and liberty, filled with some joy for his eventual return to his family, but also with a surpassing sorrow for all that he had to endure. It seems simply incredible that any man could endure even one day a slave, much less that the human mind could pass through such an ordeal for 12 years and emerge not only intact but capable of generous, lucid, and occasionally artful prose. Though the film adaptation ends at the same place the book memoir does (with Northup reunited with his family in New York) the film strikes a decidedly different note. When Ejiofor’s Northup, now dressed in a freeman’s clothes as he had been before his ordeal, walks through the door of his home and is greeted by his family dressed in their Sunday best, his face appears similar to what Job’s must have looked like when he was presented with his new, replacement family. The sensation is no longer one of amazement that a man’s mind could survive such an ordeal intact, but the hard realization that in some ways it cannot.

It should be noted that I viewed this movie through the lens of a particular worldview and left the theater deeply moved. In the end, we must cling to the promises of God, and the hope that for those who love God all things really do work together for good, for those who are called according to His purpose.** Because some day, things that look like broken glass to us here will make sense… as small parts of a beautiful stained glass picture of God’s redemptive work throughout history.

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Movie Trailer for 12 Years a Slave.