Crash June 23, 2014

Crash is one of my favorite movies. It addresses the themes of objectification and fragmentation surrounding racial tensions in Los Angeles. The movie opens with a car crash involving two police detectives. One of the L.A. detectives (played by Don Cheadle) sits in a stationery car and reflects out loud upon how people in L.A. are always living behind glass and metal. As a result, they miss the touch of others; and so, they crash into one another so as to feel a sense of connection.

At least in the movie version of L.A., people of diverse ethnicities crash into one another. In other places real or make-believe, the racial tensions often appear far more subtle. Tim Wise talks about “Minnesota Nice.” In Portland, where I spend most of my time, we find what my friend Emily Rice calls “Portland Cool.” We prize our racial and spiritual tolerance, but tolerance can often function simply as a cover for indifference.

I am so thankful that John 3:16 does not say “For God so tolerated the world that he chose not to send his Son.” God so loved the world that he sent his Son to die for it and free it from bondage to self-love. Jesus died for a world that does not love God, but that hates God. Love is far greater and more powerful than hate and tolerance. Unlike hate, love is proactive and redemptive, not reactive and retributive. Unlike tolerance, love is tenacious, not complacent or distant. Love breaks through divisions bound up with the objectification of others that so readily fragment our society.

Still, the divisions exist. They vary based on ideology and geography. Here are a few examples (from the past?) that have been brought home to me. One memorable though troubling quote on White racism reads: “In the South, they don’t care how close one gets, but how high one gets. In the North, they don’t care how high one gets, but how close one gets.” Still another statement reads, “In the South, they love the person, but hate the race. In the North, they love the race, but hate the person.” In other words, racism shows up in various guises. We need to ask if the Jim Crow era is really dead. What has often happened in the midst of racial tensions bound up with economic exploitation is that either Blacks will turn on Blacks as they are locked up in the pressure cookers of urban plight and/or the society locks them up in ordinate numbers behind prison walls and makes a profit from it—Jim Crow reborn.

Jesus does not put us in pressure cookers or make a profit from us. He does not crash into others or stand apart and aloof from them. Rather, he comes close and touches them. Jesus is the Word who became flesh and blood and moves into the neighborhood to share life with us (See The Message translation of John 1:14). Jesus does not lock us out or lock us up. How can we who confess Christ return the favor to Jesus? Not by promoting the homogeneous church, but by turning toward one another of different backgrounds in close proximity. Not to crash and burn or hide behind sweet niceties and cool aloofness, but to come close and touch by sharing life with people of different backgrounds up close and personal. Sure there will be challenges; but one thing’s for certain: in the long run, shared life will lower our accident insurance in cities like Los Angeles and lower our heating bills in Northern winters.

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