Tuesday’s in the Chapel
April 6, 2010
William Hurlbut when he was on campus for the Veritas Forum shared his notion that: “The central challenge of our age becomes the search for an integrated understanding of human life that draws on both our scientific knowledge and our spiritual traditions while providing the foundation for progress, global cooperation and the defense of human dignity.”
In my own way I have been grappling with that challenge for as long as I can remember and Hollywood has once again come through by helping me understand what I have been struggling with. The other day I finally watched The Blind Side with my daughter and wife. I had not wanted to see the film convinced that the movie would not do justice to the book. Besides, I thought Sandra Bullock was a light weight as an actress. I was wrong on both counts. Bullock deserved her Oscar and the movie is a good film. It finished a story begun for me long ago and in so doing answered a question that has long haunted me.
Let me tell you the story. In 1945 my family moved to Memphis; we lasted only a few months and I never went to school there. That happened because of a church business meeting. My grandfather was the minister of a large, downtown church and at a business meeting of the church the issue of the janitor’s house came up. It was infested with rats and the business meeting concluded that it was good enough for niggers. Dad concluded that was not good enough. He did not want his children to grow up in such an environment and we returned to California. I have always been grateful.
The Blind Side helped me learn how the story turned out. Michael Oher, the central figure in the movie, is a casualty of the Memphis School System. That system was decimated by the good Christian people of Memphis who created the segregationist academies profiled in the movie. Good people can do terrible things when the only thing they feel is fear. Christians ought to be able to surmount their fear, but often they cannot. In Memphis they couldn’t. The Blind Side is inspirational if your God is football and the money that can be made playing sports. Otherwise it is an unvarnished tragedy.
I grew up thinking that the influence of Christians in a community would make the environment better. The Blind Side reminds me that that is not necessarily so. Certainly the Tuohy family made a difference in Michael’s life, but their Christianity is muted at best. The only overt appeal to Christian values is made by the football coach who is really concerned with his own job and his football team. The Tuohy family made their contributions because they were able and willing to go against the system. “.... the children of this age are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than are the children of light.” (Luke 16:8)
I may be naïve, but I still hope that the presence of values, values that put people first, values that commit us to the long term good of society and not the short term ends of the moment, will prevail. I take heart in the recent health care debate, not because a flawed bill was passed, but because I like to see our leaders do what is right even when it is not popular. I say that knowing that some will argue that that is what W did when he invaded Iraq and I will counter by arguing that war is always easier to wage than peace. What I wish for the future is that we can find the courage to wage peace and I am grateful to Hollywood for reminding us all what happens when we lack courage.
Chaplain to the Institute