Speechless. That is how the film “Selma” left me. The horror of the hate and the violence…speechless. The awe of the man that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was…speechless. The talent of the film’s director, Ava DuVernay, and the performance of the man who wore King’s shoes, David Oyelowo…speechless. The weight of a struggle that, as a white man from a predominantly white, rural area of Southwestern PA, I will never fully understand…speechless.
What “Selma” also did, however, was remind me that as a follower of Jesus, in the face of the strife of my brothers and sisters, I am not able to remain speechless. I must, then, attempt to understand. How is this accomplished, though? Luckily, “Selma” also answers that question.
We must enter the lives of people who are different from us. We must be in community, community driven by love, love that is not exclusive. When we are in community we must then open our ears and listen. Listen to people like author and Senior Director of Mobilizing for Sojourners, Lisa Sharon Harper, who said in a piece called “The Other Lie” that followed the events in Ferguson,
“Every human being on the face of the earth…every person on the street, and every single person in Ferguson—is made in the image of God. That means, all things being equal, every single person on earth was created with the command and the capacity to exercise Genesis 1:26-27 dominion, which means to steward or in modern terms, to exercise agency or lead. To diminish the ability of humans to exercise dominion, is to diminish the image of God in them—and to diminish God’s image on earth. And the fastest and surest way to diminish the ability of humans to exercise agency, to lead, is through poverty or oppression.”
We must listen to people like my colleague and friend, Cole Arthur, who struck an important nerve as she cried through her keyboard,
“I tell myself that the last thing the world needs is another black voice telling it to pay attention to black voices. So I read every other voice I can find. And I cry. And I pray. And I theatrically punch my headboard. And I keep my voice tucked deep between the lies that I don’t matter and nothing will change.
But as I lay here trying to tuck that voice a little deeper, a little farther back, it begins to scream. Like nothing you’ve ever heard because it’s like nothing I’ve ever felt. Because Eric Garner… and I can’t breathe. And Trayvon Martin and I have a little brother and I can’t breathe. And he had his hands up and I’m typing with mine, and no one can breathe– no one can think– no one can live if, despite all our best efforts, at the end of the day, the color of my skin ignites so much fear in a person, that they’d rather kill me than speak words to me.”
As your ears, eyes, and heart are open to the struggle that these women are describing you will realize that you do not have to fully understand this struggle the way that your brothers and sisters do to love them, to sit next to them, to advocate for them, to affirm the dignity they are given as living, breathing children of God.
Oh what it must have been like to be in the presence of Dr. King. It becomes very easy for him to become a video clip or a sound byte to us, but “Selma” never lets him be that. He is Dr. King, a Nobel Prize winning, well educated preacher, but he is also Martin. He was a man, an imperfect man, but a man that spent years of his life leading like very few can. He had to be on every minute of every day.
The events that happened in Selma seem like they should be foreign to us, a distant memory, but as the film unfolded I heard the echoes of these tragedies all around me. Specifically, a moment when a young, black man is slain by a point blank shot from an Alabama State trooper, and my mind travelled to a little over a year ago when I watched another movie called, “Fruitvale Station (worth looking up if you haven’t seen it).”
In “Selma,” Dr. King visits that slain young man’s grandfather and assured him that as much as he’s cried for his grandchild that was taken far too soon, “God was the first to cry.” A reminder that on top of being a Nobel laureate, leader, academic, and husband, Dr. King was also a pastor. My prayer is that those words will supply comfort and peace to my friends and I want them to know that I am behind God in that line ready to cry with you.