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Racism has reared its ugly head in the last few weeks. I was recently in Atlanta, and when people found out I was from Virginia, they wanted to talk about the events in Charlottesville.
The sin of racism is hanging over our heads.
These are conversations that we need to be having. In airports. At conferences. In Ubers.
Especially in the church.
Franklin McCallie grew up in the segregated South. He was taught that as a white person, he was better than any black person. Now, in his 70’s, McCallie shares how he was able to shed racism.
After the stunning events of DC REBIRTH, the world is left without Superman! Luckily, there is another Man of Steel to fill his shoes: the pre-Flashpoint Kal-El! However, can this new Superman protect the world while raising a super-son with his wife, Lois Lane? And should they help their boy use his new and rapidly increasing abilities, or hide them from the world?
Rebirth honors the richest history in comics, while continuing to look towards the future. These are the most innovative and modern stories featuring the world’s greatest superheroes, told by some of the finest storytellers in the business.
Honoring the past, protecting our present, and looking towards the future. This is the next chapter in the ongoing saga of the DC Universe. The legacy continues.
“Stir up the spark of grace which is now in you, and God will give you more grace.” (John Wesley)
Through prevenient grace we are made aware of our sinfulness and our need for divine grace. Along with that awareness comes an invitation which we can choose to respond to or not. When we do respond to the invitation, we experience the second shade, or movement, of grace: justifying grace.
Justifying grace pardons us of our sins and makes us right with God. Again, God acts. This time through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. It is because of what God did through Jesus out of a great love for us that we have this amazing grace. Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross is considered the ground of justification. It is the basis or foundation of our salvation.
Salvation is by grace alone through faith alone. Grace is the unmerited, undeserved gift given to us. Theologian Randy Maddox refers to grace in the Wesleyan understanding as responsible grace. What he means by that is that God’s grace gives us the ability to respond. Faith is the response on our part to that gift of grace. To claim faith is to do two things: repent and believe. John the Baptist began his ministry with just such a call to repentance and believing. Jesus summarizes the gospel in this way, “Now is the time! Here comes God’s kingdom! Change your hearts and lives, and trust this good news!” (Mark 1:15). Paul, throughout Acts and his epistles, preached a similar message.
In the New Testament, which was written in Greek, the word for repent means “to turn around.” In other words, we make a U-Turn, we change the direction we are headed in. John Wesley called repentance, “a change of heart from all sin to all holiness.” All sin is lack of acknowledgement of and separation from God, while all holiness is being fully aware and fully acknowledging God.
The younger son in the Parable of the Prodigal Son in Luke 15 provides a good example of what repenting change looks like. In the parable, the younger son leaves his father, claiming his inheritance early. He parties it away and ends up with a job feeding pigs more food than he can afford. This experience led to a new self-understanding for the son, which lead to a conviction that what he had sinned and he should return home.
When we repent, the change we undergo involves a new self-understanding of who we are as sinners and the need for us to return home. This is what it means to make a U-Turn back to God.
While repenting is the first act, belief is the second act. Belief is more than memorizing scripture and reciting creeds. Belief is putting and having full trust in God’s mercy and forgiveness. John Wesley wrote, “To believe in God implies, to trust in him as our strength, without whom we can do nothing . . . . as our help, our only help in time of trouble.” Our minds understand that Christ died for our sins, and our hearts commit to living in Christ.
Wesley would save that once we claim the gift of faith, we gain a sixth sense. And not the “I see dead people,” sixth sense. Our eyes are opened and we see the world differently. We are awakened to a spiritual reality, and we see ourselves, others, and the world through that reality. This awakening leads us to respond to faith by doing good. We feed the hungry, we clothe the naked, we visit the sick, we love as Christ has loved us.
The United Methodist Book of Discipline says this about faith and works:
Both faith and good works belong within all all-encompassing theology of grace, since they stem from God’s gracious love “shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Spirit.”
Of course, this does not mean that we will never sin again. Justification cancels sin. When we repent we turn back to God and accept the gift of faith. In justification, we still have the chance to respond. Too often Christians think that salvation is sealed in a single moment. Wesley would add that in that moment we begin a journey. This process of being cleansed and freed from sin is called sanctification. We will look at sanctifying grace in the next post.
This is an incredible film from writer Danny Strong (who you may remember as one third of The Trio in Buffy, the Vampire Slayer) and director Lee Daniels (The Paperboy, Precious). It is a great story of a butler, a father, a son, and a movement.
The film is based on the true story of White House butler Eugene Allen, who is deceased now. Allen started his service in 1952 with the Truman administration and ended it in 1986 during the Reagan administration. His service as a butler in the White House parallels the Civil Rights movement, which is the basis of this film.
The Gaines family is a fictional family, with Cecil Gaines (Forest Whitaker) as the butler. The film opens in a cotton field in the south. “It was hard work,” Cecil narrates as the film unfolds. Cecil is a small boy working alongside his father. These opening scenes are incredibly important, because they set the tone for the rest of the film.
While Cecil is working along side his father, Thomas Westfall (Alex Pettyfer) enters the field and demands Cecil’s mother (Mariah Carey) to meet him in the shed. Cecil watches his father watch his wife leave the field to do as the white man says. Cecil and the other field workers try to continue their work, despite the cries and screams coming from the shed.
As Thomas leaves the shed and is struggling to buckle his overhaul’s back, Cecil’s father, though silent at first, speaks up. Thomas takes a gun out of his overhauls, points it at Cecil’s father, and pulls the trigger.
Young Cecil learns two lessons on this day that will shape the man he will become. The first is the value of silence and the second is better to be alive than to speak up. The memories of this day will haunt Cecil throughout the rest of the film. Even though he doesn’t speak of it hardly at all during the film, the way Forest Whitaker portrays Cecil you can tell he is remembering.
It is by understanding this opening scene in the cotton field that we get a fuller picture of who Cecil is as the Civil Rights movement starts. And who Cecil is as a father during these difficult times. Cecil’s life is shaped by this early tragedy in his life that he never speaks of, which makes it difficult for his eldest son, Lewis, to understand him.
Lewis is the prodigal son, leaving home to gain his own life experiences. Even in high school, Lewis showed signs of disagreeing with his father. Lewis would go to Tennessee for college and would join the Freedom Riders. To capture the sense of what this time was like, the film blends in news footage of young African-Americans being beaten and arrested for sitting at white only counters or for riding the freedom buses. Lewis would eventually join the Black Panthers.
Director Lee Daniels creates a visual treasure of sorts as he draws a parallel between Lewis’ involvement with the Freedom Riders and Black Panthers alongside his father’s serving in the White House. Lewis is the rebellious young adult whose actions are wrapped in the need for change. Cecil, on the other hand, is the speechless, unquestioning, servant. It is the parallel between keeping silent and speaking out.
In the meantime, Gloria Gaines, who is brillanitlly portrayed by Oprah Winfrey (dare I suggest an Academy Award nomination?), deals with her loneliness by turning to the bottle. Cecil’s silence was not only reserved for the White House. In fact, there is so much unspoken tension between the couple. It is a rare occasion to see him be affection with Gloria. We mostly see Gloria at home, but not in the traditional the wife-stays-at-home role. She is most often the hostess for other families. They gather in the Gaines home for parties and for dialogue. Even here, in this setting, Cecil seems to blend in with the wallpaper. He remains silent on the issues, even when it comes to Lewis’ involvement, other than that he thinks Lewis should not be involved.
Oprah Winfrey gives a commanding performance in this film. Gloria does not have any moving monologues, just a few seemingly generic lines. In an interview with Charlie Rose, Winfrey gives Danny Strong credit for writing those words. But, as Strong points out, Winfrey gives those lines life. That combined with her simple actions creates meaningful scenes.
Charlie, the younger brother, sees the world differently from his rebellious older brother and from his silent, servant father. He joins the armed forces and goes to Vietnam. “You fight against your country,” Charlie says to his brother, “I want to fight for my country.” Charlie represents yet another perspective to the Civil Rights era. Is there one this is more right than the others? Gloria, in a dramatic scene where Cecil throws Lewis out of the house, slaps her son and tells him that if it was not for the butler, he wouldn’t be where he is now. Gloria’s action implies that maybe more than one perspective is needed.
In writing about the about the parable of the prodigal son (Luke 15), Fred Craddock observes that the parable should really be referred to as the parable of the forgiving father. It is this image that I see in Cecil Gaines. There are so many converting moments in the film, or as Oprah would say, “ah-ha moments.” One was when Cecil and Gloria were invited by Nancy Reagan (Jane Fonda) to the State Dinner. “I got all confused after that,” Cecil recalls. As Cecil reflects on what it was like to be on the other side of the serving, he concludes:
Lewis was never a criminal. He was a hero fighting to save the soul of the country.
He resigns after a long career as a butler, and leaves the White House and joins Lewis. Lewis is curious as to why his father is there. “I came here to protest.” The next scene is Cecil and Lewis in a jail cell together. This jail cell scene, with father and son laughing and smiling, represents the forgiveness that resides between them.
A forgiveness that humanity as a whole has yet to reach.