I went to see Selma last night, the first time I have paid full price in a long time for a movie (oh my law, is it expensive these days). I would have loved to go on Monday but at least I still got to squeeze it in at some point during MLK week. I had an interesting conversation with my ESOL students about why we had a holiday. What they knew about MLK and America was fascinating--they were able to articulate the inequalities from the past (different busses, different schools, different drinking fountains) and talk about how MLK made it so much better--but that there were still so many problems in America. I could do nothing but nod my head in agreement.
In a way, they are lucky. You know what I remember being the first thing I learned about MLK? That he was an adulterer. That piece of information stuck in my craw and colored everything I learned subsequently, and it has only been in recent years that the true humility and inspiration of his life have been able to seep into my bones. Watching Selma was a reminder of how many of our patriarchs especially are flawed, broken people who God chooses to use anyway.
And God is all throughout Selma. It is a God that I am beginning to recognize more and more in my own life as the one that I love and want to serve for the rest of my life. It is a faith in a God who sees injustice and who is the first to cry for all the brown lives broken and battered and taken much too soon. A God of courageous non-violence, of cunning, of infinite patience and hope; a God who drives out despair and hatred; a God committed to reconciling all things in heaven and earth unto Himself. A God who forever is on the side of the oppressed.
There is a small part of me which watches something like Selma and says: there it is. That is the only God I could ever follow, the one of my wildest dreams, the one who is better than what I currently know. I take these glimpses of my God where I can get them, and I hold on to them for dear life, even as they cut me to the core with their demands for obedience. A God who cares about the oppressed is also infinitely interested in how I have been a part of the systems and institutions which say some people matter more than others. He is very concerned with insidious theologies which paint entire ethnicities as having inferior morality or lack of conviction. He is concerned with our predilections for feel-good charity over the long slog of relationship building. He is concerned with our ever-present desires to gain more power--to use it for good, mind!--instead of voluntarily giving it up, moving in, and laying our bodies down. This God, who I recognize so clearly as being on the side of so many in my world, also seems to be demanding so much from me. And the two go hand in hand.
I have seen these glimpses in a few other places these days. Tim Otto wrote a book on homosexuality and the church called Oriented to Faith which might be the best book ever written on the subject. Both traditionalists and affirming positions (his terms) will find equal grounds for thought in his book, which is more interested in discussing humility and a call towards Christian community than he is in parsing the 7 passages of Scripture which talk about homosexuality. In the end, Otto calls us all towards a position of saying: What is God up to? How can He use this conversation, this conflict, for good? How is the Spirit reaching out to our world transforming the church through this time? Again, this God that Otto speaks about is one that I recognize in my very core, one who is committed to the health of the entire community, and a God who asks for the laying down of individual rights for the sake of the spread of news that is truly good for all.
I read another book, called Wanted, in which a young man named Chris Hoke tells stories of his life as a prison chaplain with Latino gangsters in the pacific NW. Raised in a Christian home like myself, he is electrified to discover what happens to his own faith as he starts to pray and read the Bible with those at the bottom of the totem pole in America. He slowly starts to orient his entire life to pursuing these flashes of a very good God, one who speaks affirmations to schizophrenics, who heals murderers, who blesses and loves people seemingly beyond repair. When he talks about this God, as revealed through Christ Jesus, something within my soul leaps up. There is it. That's the God I have been slowly changing my life around to pursue as well. And any tiny little glimpse I get, every flash of gold in my gray world, cracks my heart open a little more.
I had the experience this week of being with a family, one which has been shattered by war and hatred half the world away, one that is continually bludgeoned by poverty here in America. The lack of choices and options available seemed to stare me in the face, my pitiful attempts at relationship (pizza and coloring books and driving lessons, sitting down in the couch-less living room and watching PBS kids at top volume) so lacking in any real and tangible changes that it made me want to weep. It is so tiring, these complications and trials in our world piling up, little children with mentally ill parents, teenagers who have to work to keep the lights on, grandmother's who cannot read or write or drive trying keep everyone together and fed and clothed. I drive back to my house, and I am tempted to despair.
That is why I need Selma and Oriented to Faith and Wanted. I am in love with God that they show. He is the only one who both wounds and binds up the world. He is the only one with the eyes to see the world as it ought to be, the only one with the faith to keep us moving forward in pursuit of it. He is the only one who can forgive and redeem and raise us up out of the ashes of the lives we have been programmed to believe are what we deserve. And even as I thrill to these places where I see him, there is a sense of crushing disappointment in all of the seemingly sacred places in our world where this God seems to be absent. This, however, is a theme as Old as the first testament, the truth that God so often is not found in the temples or places of power, but is at the edges of the camp, inviting all the lost ones in.
For a long time now I have had the feeling of being at the edges of something, a restlessness pointed in the direction heading outwards. And for every step away from safety and security, I have been gifted with the presence of faith. I have been lavished in the knowledge of his love. I know now that He is the first one to weep, and He is the first one to laugh. Even when I am too tired of looking, even when I am constantly looking over my shoulder at all that I used to know, I keep finding Him everywhere. He will not let us go.