at the refuge’s february film & discussion night this past friday we watched a time for burning, a documentary shot in 1967 depicting conversations around a white lutheran’s pastor desire to organize a social gathering with a local african-american lutheran church in omaha, nebraska. here’s all he wanted to do: offer a reconciliatory gesture toward his african-american fellow lutherans at the church down the street by having 10 white families have dinner with 10 african-american families to get to know each other. the film is a very raw 58 minute look into these conversations from both sides, and i have to say, it has lingered in a pretty powerful way. in fact, i believe it is a must-see for everyone who is passionate about change in the kingdom and has a desire to fight against the church’s tendency toward exclusivity.
here’s what’s scary: 3 years ago, i observed–literally–the same conversations when it came to talking about intentionally making our old church safe and accessible for the marginalized, hurting, and oppressed. i stood on the tables advocating that “if we make it safe for the most desperate, we make it safe for everyone” while if we only make it safe for the neat and tidies, it will never be safe for the broken, hurting, and marginalized. some very key leaders expressed that they were sick of hearing the words “desperate, broken & messy” and wanted more of “the Word” and traditional small group ministry to make the average christian (as in: look good, have a steady income & know how to tithe) feel more comfortable. no need to get into all of that in this moment, but i will say that during the entire film i was chuckling at how almost 40 years later the conversations were nearly identical.
the theme of this movie goes far past a black-white integration issue. you could plug in any underrepresented group of people into the same conversation, anyone marginalized, oppressed, segregated, ostracized, thought of as “less than” by those in power. people of different color, sex, socio-economics, life experience, faith experience, lack of faith experience, sexual orientation, you name it. it is about people on the “in” not willing to allow people on the “out” into their lives, experience, churches.
here are some of my favorite quotes of the movie, lots of good food for thought when it comes to social justice & missional communities:
“Christ never hesitated to take a position on a moral issue no matter who opposed him.” – from ernie chambers, the african-american barber activist in 1967 (who later became a nebraska senator).
“we’re fighting ignorance in the place there should be the most enlightenment–the church” – an african american student
“we haven’t got the guts to take the first step” – an elder who sided with the white pastor
“we don’t know them as human beings. if we did, that would change everything.” – an elder who admitted that he had never had contact with an african-american in his life.
“people will leave…what if they leave?” – an elder opposed to pastor youngdahl’s idea
“pastor, i want them to have everything i have. i want God to bless them as much as he blesses me. but, i just can’t be in the same room with them. it bothers me.” – a white parishoner of augustana lutheran church.
“the gospel is not about an air-conditioned building and stained-glass, it is a place where men reach for justice, love, and understanding.” – bill youngdahl, the white pastor who lost his job over this simple request. i have an overwhelming amount of respect for him and his heart to try to do the right thing.
lots to think about. worth seeing. makes for a great conversation.
ps: just today an interesting tidbit about how discrimination is alive and well in the year 2008, especially in our side of the US toward hispanics. my husband’s parents immigrated here from el salvador when jose was 4. my father-in-law called our cell phone company a few weeks ago to point out a mistake in billing. he speaks english but prefers to use the spanish-speaking line. they wouldn’t budge on reversing the charges even though it was the company’s mistake. my husband called, spoke in english, it was a piece of cake to change and he was treated with respect. then, ironically, they didn’t fix it so my father-in-law called back. he encountered the same thing–they said he was completely responsible for their $200 mistake. my husband called again and in a matter of minutes the problem was resolved. it makes me so mad.