My sixteen year old daughter had surgery last week for a torn ACL. While she was recuperating, we found ourselves watching a variety of movies. One of them was “Woodlawn” (2015) based on the true story of Tony Nathan a gifted, black, high school football player, who attended Woodlawn High School in Birmingham, Alabama, 1973. Woodlawn experienced federally mandated busing to enforce integration. The film opens with black and white news footage of buses burning, President John Kennedy speaking, personal stories from black people on the devastating impact of segregation and shots of the huge crowds at Billy Graham revivals. There is also footage of Alabama Governor George Wallace, a Democrat, (demonstrating that idiocy and meanness have no party boundaries) proclaiming, “I draw the line in the dust and toss the gauntlet before the feet of tyranny, and I say segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever.”
The premise of the story is that forced integration was not going well at the school until Hank Erin, a total outsider, converts nearly the entire football team, black and white, to Christ. The team’s spiritual conversion subsequently transforms the coach, the school and the community. Mr. Erin was part of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, an international non-profit Christian sports ministry based in Kansas City, Missouri. The unseen star of the movie is Christ. The finger pointing up in the movie posters does not symbolize “We’re number one!” as I always thought but “Our Power comes from the one above!”
The narrator of movie, the Woodlawn team’s coach, describes Woodlawn as a miracle.
After watching the movie, I starting thinking about when over the past couple of weeks have I seen God show up. I pray every day, go to church on Sundays but I am somewhat of a doubting Thomas. I believe in God but am also frequently asking where is He? Upon reflection, I have seen a recent very public instance of God on earth.
Pope Francis denouncing Presidential candidate, Donald Trump’s policies on immigration as “not Christian” is a triumph for social justice. Trump’s harsh campaign promises to deport more illegal immigrants and build a wall along the border, may resonate with an angry populous. Remember, George Wallace’s line in the sand on segregation got him elected 4-times. But political rhetoric and Christianity are not the same. Trump immediately fired back that the Pope is “Disgraceful”. I believe the opposite. Pope Francis represents— grace in action. He cares for the poor, washes the feet of prisoners and speaks out on issues of social justice.
No reasonable person could think hunting down and routing out Hispanics from their homes at night, loading up truck loads of Mexicans at gun point in a military maneuvers, breaking up families since children born to illegal residents in America are U. S. citizens, could be seen as Christian acts. The logistics of financing, building, and maintaining a massive wall along the Mexican border are ludicrous.
Trump is a brilliant man. He knows the challenges of putting these proposals into action. Trumpism is an effort to capitalize on the anger many Americans feel about the course of our country.
This same anger was around in the early seventies with start of desegregation. Status threat is a sociological concept with real life consequences. When people’s lives are not going as they hope economically they feel threatened, angry and find someone to blame and lash out at. The targets of their anger may be minorities, homeless, refugees, but almost always the target is someone less powerful. Current economic inequalities are further complicated by global terrorism. We have become a nation of avengers, security zealots, and foreigner-phobes. Trumpism provides a constant, shrill message to rally the masses rising to a crescendo on Election Day. I am not a political forecaster. I do not know if his tactics will be successful. They have certainly gained him international attention.
I do know that Trump’s America is not one of Christ-like service to our neighbors and community. I am not a Catholic. But with the selection of Pope Francis, Christians throughout the world have had the opportunity to see God’s boots on the ground on a regular basis.
I realize now that I started this blog with the wrong question. God is always there. The right question is, “What happens when Christians show up? The answer is miracles!