Jumbled reactions to “12 Years a Slave” movie (3)

27 11 2013

I see a parallel  between the movies “The Passion of the Christ” and “12 Years a Slave.” I do a lot of thinking about Jesus’ suffering, the “Passion” as it is called. It was a surrender in Gethsemane. It as a death on Golgotha. Then follows a burial — a time of loss, grieving, waiting and hope. Finally comes resurrection, the return of life in a new kind of glory.

slave 1I believe the slavery era was, for Africans brought here against their consent, split permanently from family, history, culture and future–was a kind of Golgotha. Don’t cite me for comparing any human suffering (even slavery, even the holocaust) to that of the Son of God bearing the sin of all mankind; that’s not what I am saying. But the unjust torture of a people, the crippling of an entire culture that promised so much vitality, has been perpetrated.  As for resurrection, I do not see that it has come to African-Americans.  Life with a new kind of glory is still a reverend’s dream. A sampling have made it — and they have oftentimes (perhaps) left their community for better digs. So this seems to be a time of burial for blacks — a long season of waiting, grieving, mourning the losses, but still grasping at hope.

The main part of the gospel story that is missing for the African peoples that were brought here, and the African-American community that exists with the abiding results, is Gethsemane. Jesus had the chance to face His fate, to wrestle with the Father about its necessity, its absolute inviolable necessity. And Father and Son worked it out in those agonizing garden prayers. The Father honored the prayer, yet Jesus agreed that the path to the cross was the right one to take. His crucifixion was ultimately and eternally the best choice. So He surrendered. One thing I don’t see in history is the privilege of Africans to face that decision. They were given no choice. That is the ultimate indignity.

Trafficking in human bodies is trafficking in human souls. Human souls, according to Scripture, are all made in the image of God (Genesis 1:26-27). Of all that such a phrase means, I believe the bottom line is this. As distinct from the animal world, humanity was created with the capacity to know, worship and serve the living God. Every human being is given this ability by the God who desires relationship. No matter how marred the divine image, no one should be bought and sold by another.

How does God stomach the crime of slavery? How is He tolerating human trafficking today? A friend of mine recently returned from a ministry trip to the Philippines, learning about efforts to halt sex trafficking in that country. He said that most all the trafficking is confined to a focused area. You can tell, he told me, by the young girls standing alongside the road every few meters. These “supply side” human beings have been forced out of the lives they should enjoy as teens by greedy brokers of human flesh. The other indicator is the “demand side” — white males from the west who have come there for no other reason than pornography and prostitution (which they suppose comes without consequences, or lust has driven them to not care).

God’s ways are beyond me. Satan was defeated at the cross, yet inspires evil such as slavery, the holocaust, Darfur, and trafficking today. Is it on us to defeat the foe whom Jesus has defeated? Has God tossed the ball into our court? Are we to be faulted for not doing more to take control of these evil kingdoms?

We may blame God. But should we be looking at ourselves for giving satan and evil men and women such freedom to operate? Is God thinking of us this way: “I can’t understand how they tolerate such evil among them! I’ve given them the mandate to have dominion over the earth, to love others and not hate, to protect the innocent ones. Why aren’t they doing more to stop these evils rather than theologizing about what I’m supposed to be doing?”

On that note I will close this rambling confession. Our prime mandate is to make disciples. Have we forgotten that the One we are learning of and obeying came to set prisoners free (Luke 4)? The disciples we make should look like the Master we have brought them to — the One whose calling was to bring salvation, to help the poor, to restore sight to the blind, to heal the sick, and to set captives free.

Jumbled reactions to “12 Years a Slave” movie (2)

25 11 2013

This movie is rated R, because, based on what I saw, slavery was in no way PG-13. Don’t take your kids to this one. Just try to live as if you got its message.
slave 2
My ideal follow-up would be to watch the movie with a blend of cultures and then have a frank discussion in a living room about the issues it raised. I would love to hear true feelings from black brothers and sisters (or would I?). I would love to hear that God is just and will do justly, not just in the end but now. I would love to see resolve to work together for equality, that there are concrete things we can do today to build mutual respect. But many people don’t want to discuss these things. Even some of my black friends don’t want to go back there, back to that subject.

So what should I do? Anything? I lead a ministry focused on calling the church to greater mission involvement in and beyond the USA. Many of the mission pastors I talk to say that real mission is in the 10-40 window. With satisfaction they say that such and such a percentage of their budget goes to missions, and they make sure I hear that it is to “real mission” overseas, you know, to the unreached!  Then I interact with church planters who are wanting to get that Sunday service or missional community going, to attract those “millennials” or those “nones” (who indicate they have no religion) who have given up on the church. Concerns of racism seem off the radar screen.

Oh, and then I go to a conference on multi-ethnic church and the folks there are talking about breaking the 20% minority barrier; then we’re multi-ethnic, they say. But it’s hard to keep people by talking about tough subjects –doesn’t help the attendance. Diversity, yes. Talk about power-holding? Uh, well…

But then my mind hearkens back to Jesus’ prayer in John 17 where He asked that all his disciples down through the ages be one, as He and the Father are one. And I cringe to think of the wrath of God at those white slavers; how in the fat did God restrain Himself from destroying the New World?  And I reflect on the Apostle Paul writing in First Corinthians 13 about the primacy of love, of thinking the best of others, and I shudder at the ability of the fleshly, selfish nature to obscure truth in order to sustain a lifestyle of ease. Oh friend, I die inside to consider how I may be doing the same today. O God, what am I excusing in myself, what sinful attitudes am I granting myself in the name of scriptures I choose to highlight over the grave of those I have quietly buried!


Jumbled reactions to “12 Years a Slave” movie (1)

24 11 2013

I felt surreal, ill-at-ease, sitting in a comfortable heated theater in cushioned seat, watching one of the most unspeakable crimes against humanity in American historyslave 3.  I’m so glad I didn’t have popcorn and a Coke! Seriously, how do you watch something so vile as the mistreatment of the powerful against the powerless? It is not entertainment, and that is not what I went there for. And it is certainly not what I got. I got education. Heaviness of heart. Confusion as to what can be done, what I should do, if there is anything to be done.

The theology I have often thought, if not written, that there is no difference between what God allows and what He intends — it rings so hollow. So wrong. I cannot stomach the possibility that God allowed slavery and therefore purposed it.

I credit the script with its attempt to represent various characters and viewpoints surrounding the slavery tragedy.

  • the ‘nigger’ ignorant of his rights,carried along by the violence perpetrated against him
  • the educated and talented black, kidnapped and sold, dehumanized into acting and even thinking like an animal just to survive (this is the main character)
  • the wretched Christians (at least nominally) who read scripture to their slaves on Sundays, and used Scripture to bolster their ownership of other humans
  • a negro woman who allowed her white master sexual favors as a ticket into favors and eventually marriage to jump up into the privileged class
  • a white who saw the wrong in slavery, felt helpless to do anything, but did so against odds and at some personal risk
  • whites who trafficked in human flesh for personal profit
  • an owner who felt the injustice of slavery, but went along with the system (to preserve lifestyle?), only to pass responsibility by selling his slave to another white slaver
  • white wives being equal in the abuse, even bringing down greater wrath out of jealousy on slave girls whom their white husbands were screwing

I saw something of the theft of spirit which slavery perpetrated against thousands. In one scene, the slave stood up to his “master’s” deception and was lynched; he barely lived as he clung to life on the rope. But there he hung, slowly dying on the rope (till rescued by a sympathetic owner). What struck me was the other slave men and women walking in the background, going about their chores, unable to intervene for fear of facing the same rope. 1619-1865 is a long time to have the soul and strength sucked out of your people.

Individuals, white, black or otherwise who today say that slavery is over, that racism is a thing of the past, have not given much thought to the question: what are the long-term effects of a people being stepped on and crushed and dehumanized for 250 years? I’ve talked to many whites and even some blacks who say that it is over, quit looking back. And then I walk the streets of urban St Louis and I see the dilapidation, the aimless youth finding belonging in gangs that they can’t find in their fatherless or non-existent families, and I wonder how fair it is to say that we weren’t there when it happened so have no responsibility to do anything about it now.