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.