On Monday morning, upon recommendation from many folks in the congregation, I went and saw the new movie about Jackie Robinson “42”. My eyes watered through the whole show! It was a powerful movie with an incredibly upfront Christian message about Justice and strength.
The witness of what Jackie Robinson and Mr. Rickey did was incredible and moving. In making these choices, they changed the world. Unfortunately, both also had to pay a heavy price in their lives, and they received regularly terrorizing and threatening letters and actions towards them. However, even with the persecutions both men faced, they found the strength to which we know from the movie was deeply guided by their faith.
As I walked out of the movie, I felt renewed with a hope and the energy that comes with a story so witnessing to the power and presence of God. I felt the call for justice and was asking myself how I can be more just in my life. Unfortunately, that was short lived: I turned on my car and the second bomb in Boston had just gone off, and my heart sank.
As I was driving around listening to the story, I could not help but let my mind drift back to an assembly I went to when I was in Junior High. One of the counselors in our school, who was an avid runner, went to the Boston Marathon, and he was talking about this experience. The focus for us students was what it meant to set a goal and reach it. That can be hard for 12 and 13 year olds!
Interestingly, as he talked about the training, he did to prepare, the time and expense, we were all expecting him to tell us that he won or was one of the best. Nevertheless, he did not go that way with the talk, even though he was in one of the first groups to finish. He said the Marathon was not about winning, rather it was about finishing, and finishing was the greatest feeling in the world. He spoke of the fact that there were people from all over the world, young and old, even some with disabilities, and he said that it was something that anyone who was willing to train for could do.
I hated and still do hate running. I will do it if I have to, but I would rather do anything else. What touched me at that time was the image that when I put my mind to something positive, it might actually come true. In the same light as Norman Vincent Peale’s power of positive thinking, focus, mindfulness, and a goal I wanted I had the power within to achieve! At that time in my life, it was something I needed to hear, because I was being terrorized by a few bullies and made to feel as if I was worthless.
Moreover, there was another teaching that he had, and that was one of sportsmanship. He told us that in sports, we should always try to do the best for ourselves, but we also always want to be supportive of those who are around us, even if they are our opponents. He then talked about his friend whom he was trying to beat and the healthy competition that made both stronger. Every time I think of the Marathon I think about this lesson, of how we need to focus on our goals, but be supportive of others along the way.
When my mind returned to the events that were (and are) still unfolding, I felt a deep sadness for the many levels of loss from life, to limb, and most of all to spirit. When I got home, I turned on the television news trying to grasp a better understanding or really some understanding at all. It was unhelpful and frustrating, more like watching a car wreck then really coming to terms with what was happening.
I turned off the TV for a while and began to think. I do that a lot lately! Then I began to think more about the movie, the story the marathon from my youth and of the bombing. I began to make a connection between Justice and fear, faithfulness and evil.
To me, the root of Evil is the human assertion of being superior to one another. In terrorism or bullying, corporate greed, even politics, the assertion of superiority over another creates derision, hate, anger, sometimes pushing us to a place where we can justify causing pain. To listen to the stories of the Jim Crow South, what happened was no less terrorism than what we see today. In fact, in many ways, it was worse, because for many years the greater society either explicitly supported it or condoned it through turning a blind eye to it.
At the end of the day I realized that we may never really know why. We may even look upon the people who did this with hate and anger, but ultimately what will that do? It may solve this problem, but I can tell you that it’s not going to change the systemic problem of terrorism within our society both here and abroad. The only way to combat hate and evil and win is for the people in the world to stand up and say that there is a better way.
We can struggle to show love and compassion for one another. We can look to ourselves and think about what we do, how we treat each other, how we lift each other up. We can revel in the stories of justice, and see the strength that can come when we let God guide us, and we can see the power of love as we did when we saw the first responders and individual heroes step in. For ourselves, we can be just in our lives striving for more and supporting each other along the way. If we really want to stand up to evil in this world, it truly is the only way.
Rev. Dr. Bryan James Franzen