October 21, 2008 § 3 Comments

Last evening Katherine and I saw The Express, the compelling story of Ernie Davis, the first African American ever to win College Football’s Heisman Trophy.  I highly recommend the film.  The imagery and dialogue were as painful and saddening as they were riveting.  You’ll have to see the movie to get the details (I’m famous for ruining many a storyline in my sermons – all under the category of, ‘will use anything and ruin any life to illustrate a single point’).

In a nutshell, the movie centers on the horrid underbelly of racism in America during the late 50’s and into the 60’s in the area of collegiate athletics, and how it affected the nation, college campuses, football teams, friendships, families and individuals.  If it weren’t verifiably true it would be hard to believe that such hatred filled the country during those days.  It was even more difficult to fathom that the events chronicled in the film took place during my lifetime.

One scene in particular took me back to my growing years.  In the film, Davis was playing in a local Optimist football league.  He was one of only two African-Americans on the team, and though the team didn’t have an official uniform for his friend and him, he was the star.  I was reminded of Continental Park in Miami where as a boy I was on a team.  If memory serves, we were called the Cougars.  Our jerseys were yellow – somewhere I have a black and white team picture (it used to hang on our wall in Miami – if we can find it I’ll post it here) – a group of smelly, smiley boys, each on one knee, proudly wearing those early part-rubber, part-canvass black cleats, grinning from ear to ear, holding ancient helmets with minimal face protection.

We too had only one African-American player on our team.  His first name was Tyrone and he was our star.

What struck me last evening was that I was clueless to anything Tyrone might have experienced back then – clueless to what the coaches and the parents might have thought about him – and mostly, clueless to the very real possibility that Tyrone lived with an inordinate amount of private and public sorrow in the racially charged world we lived in.  I just didn’t know.  For us kids, he was Tyrone – one of us – a fellow Cougar.  In a sense that team enabled us to step out of the greater reality of our society at the time.  When we put on our uniforms we were no longer black or white – we were Cougars.

Movies like The Express and others like it have a powerful effect on me.  Tears fill my eyes and I am blown away at the idea or thought that such loathing and cruelty could ever have existed in the world – but they did and they do – and in this life they always will.  On earth we never will quite get it ‘right.’  There will always be injustice and oppressed people.

Last night these thoughts took me to the Gospel where one day in eternity we will enjoy the New Heavens and the New Earth – no longer ‘classed’ or ‘segregated.’  Until then, however, God has called this flawed and deeply imperfect community of people – the Church – to ‘practice’ heaven until Jesus returns and takes us home to the Feast where, “a multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language” (Revelation 7) will stand before the throne of God – as one new people.

I guess it hit me hard – how important the Church is – how Jesus has left a community to speak and live His message out loud – and to demonstrate a love that sees something deeper, sweeter and more lovely before a world that longs for a jersey, a team and unconditional love.

Go Cougars!


§ 3 Responses to Tyrone

  • This really struck home for me, perhaps more than it would have a year ago. Where we now live, Qatar, is perhaps one of the most class-segregated cultures I have ever seen. It’s very clear that the color of your skin and where you are from determines everything – from how much money you make to where you can spend it. Shopping malls refuse entrance to those of the wrong skin color. It’s horrible to watch and fills me with anger and, strangely, guilt at being one of the privileged class.

    Thanks for the reminder that this is part of the fall and that God ultimately has a plan to solve the problem. We are blessed that our local church here is very multi-cultural and I pray that that will be a witness to those who are brave enough to look at us.

  • unfinished1 says:

    Wow – Powerful words, Lori – Thanks for this – and for deeper cause to pray for you all – and your fine church

  • Cindy Simpson says:

    It is genuinely amazing that in my short lifetime I have seen and lived in an area where hatred and oppression of the black race was so horrible that I have trouble sharing what I witnessed.

    It is overwhelming and unbelievable that our country has elected a black president. All politics aside, this is truly a God inspired event. God created all man and all of his skin colors.

    I grew up in a strange home. I had a father who was raised in Tennessee by his grandfather, an active member of the KKK. So, naturally my father was very outspoken about his views. And as a young man was a participator in KKK activities when he was visiting at home with his family. My mother was a strong woman who believed all people were created equal. I now marvel that my mother had the strength to share her views and to teach them to her children.

    She believed in desegregation. So, in 1976 my mother allowed my brother and me to be bused to the wrong side of town for school. I was 7 and my brother was 10. We both had fair complexions, flaming red hair and to top it off we wore coke bottle type glasses.
    The first day of school we were pinched and touched by the black students. I still remember it hurting. They wanted to feel our hair and they were very outspoken-they thought we looked funny and were ugly.

    That entire year my brother ran for the bus every day. He was literally running for his life because if he got caught after school gangs of students would beat him up. My mother would encourage him daily and tell him it was the right thing to do. She would tell him to tough it out and change would eventually happen. She encouraged him to make friends and bring them home.

    I was a second grader, with only two white kids in the classroom (when desegregation happened all the white families put their kids in private school). The teacher hated me. As a young child I didn’t understand why. But now I think it was because I came to her very advanced compared to the other students. (The books in this school were my old school’s discarded books. There were no supplies, balls for the playground ect.) My clothes were new and clean. Although my family wasn’t rich, we clearly had more. She never called on me or used my name and tried to ignore me completely. Corporal punishment was a norm in the classroom (I had not experienced this in the other school). I remember her grabbing my ear and yanking me out of my chair for day dreaming.

    I wanted to be her friend. So I tried to share with her some of my experiences as very small child. I had witnessed a cross burning and a beating of a black woman in front of her children. I wanted her to know that I hurt for them and wanted to help them but was unable. I wanted her to know I felt responsible for the woman’s death because I didn’t stop it. Because of that event, I felt I could relate to her. I was on her side.

    Sadly and understandably, she wanted nothing to do with me. She gave me a harsh paddling and told me to never tell the story and claimed that I was lying. As an adult I understand her fear. My father was the KKK.

    My mother is a remarkable woman. She held both my brother and I to a higher standard. Even though she never knew my brother and I had witnessed such a horrible event, her beliefs empowered us to make real change. It was worth it. We needed to go thru desegregation- someone had to be willing to pay the price for everyone’s freedom.

    So many times we call for change or righteousness but are unwilling to personally pay the price.

    I feel like God called my Mother, brother and I help pave the way to tolerance and change.

    No one goes thru the above story unscarred. But God even has plans for healing and provided many special people in my adult life to help me heal so that I can rejoice in our progression towards equality for everyone. And to occasionally tell this story in hopes that we never repeat our mistakes again.

    Like I said before, all politics aside, we have truly come a long way in 30 short years towards equality, peace, healing and tolerance.

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