So about a month ago I fell back into an old pattern–again. And anyone who has made that shame-filled visit back to that familiar place would know what it’s like. Echoes of accusations running through the halls of the mind, the cold bench of our souls collecting dust of unworthiness, collectively impeding all efforts to move on with the expedition of life. I’m sure we’ve all been there before and for those who haven’t, you will. But as I stared at the crimson stains of my transgressions, something hit me. It was like a moment of revival. I was reminded of my life’s purpose and God’s amazing love for me and the entire world. It made me think: Why was I settling for less?
So how it all started was with a friend of mine who shared a video clip via Facebook from the film Freedom Writers. The video begins with a Latino student who draws a racially offensive sketch of a fellow student in the class. That sketch is then passed around the class as chuckles of laughter crept through each row. Eventually the sketch reaches the student being drawn and when it reaches him, he’s crushed. He then bows his head in deep embarrassment. Without a hole to hide, he sinks into his desk. The sketch, however, eventually falls into the hands of the teacher. She then lashes out on the class, hoping to make them see the foolishness of their life aspirations and the danger of sketches like theirs’.
My reaction to the video: WOW that was INTENSE! What on earth was this film about again? I need to rewatch this.
So that’s exactly what I did. Going in, I did have some expectations though. I thought, hey, it’s probably just another film about how some guy made a difference, everyone lives, the bad guy gets locked up, and everyone’s happy.
But man, was I wrong.
As I rewatched the movie, something I can’t explain just hit me, I felt it. I was just unable to speak as I surveyed the open wounds of gang violence and cultural pressures, the ever-oscillating wheel of familial hardships, the fruitless woods of hopelessness in the darkness of the projects, and the gallery of everyday realities that each individual character faced. The thought of one of the lines in the film really shook me from within.
“We’re graduating everyday.” This was said in the context of academic achievement and its reality for those stuck in the rough neighborhoods. Like, lets not talk about getting past the grade, we’re talking about getting past today. But, this is just a thought I had on the side, not my main point.
So in summary, the film talks about Erin Gruwell (played by Hilary Swank) who is excited to carry out her teaching expertise in the new racial integration plan. She becomes deeply involved in her students’ lives which are drenched in the sorrows of domestic abuse, gang violence, and racial discrimination. The students initially fortified their vulnerabilities and trust with invisible walls built with the dense cement of stubbornness and pride in their hearts. But the marching of Gruwell’s compassion, persistence, and hopeful enthusiasm around their mental fortress eventually brought down the Jericho of their hearts as students began to trust who they saw as their academic and familial shepherd. Gruwell used personal writing journals as a medium to empower the students with a voice that they never thought existed.
And through the experience of watching this film twice now, I learned or rather revisited a very important lesson.
It takes one person to make a difference
I know this sounds ridiculously cliché, but that really hit home for me. The reason why these students got lost in their ways is because they lacked a guardian, just as sheep lose their way without their shepherd. Some of us have friends, family, even acquaintances (not sure why they haven’t upgraded to friend status in your mind yet, but that’s another matter) and these people do some pretty stupid things. And I’m not any better as I do stupid things all the time. But it takes one bold, counter-cultural, one I-give-a damn-about-you voice to call someone out of the darkness and back into the light where they belong. And if we really think about it, that’s how God saved us all.
In the Bible, when Matthew the Tax Collector was working against his own people and served the Roman authorities, indulging in his own greed, what did Jesus say to him?
“’Follow me.’ And he rose and followed him.” -Matthew 9:9b
In the same way, when we were dead in our sins, the voice of Christ called us out of the darkness and into His marvelous light. How can we, like many of the snobby teachers and school administrators in the film see these kids as lost causes, unworthy of our efforts and nurturing when we ourselves were once in their very shoes? That reckless friend, that alcoholic, that scumbag–that you too once were in the eyes of God.
In this instance, because one person was willing to listen and do something about the problems standing before them, some of these students became the first high-school graduates and college goers in their families. Her act of love sparked a nationwide inquiry of teaching styles and some schools actually implemented her model to replicate the F success. All they needed was one person to speak up, listen up, and not give up on them, even when they gave up on themselves.
If we don’t call up that friend we haven’t spoken to in ages or if we don’t have that conversation that’s been sitting like the elephant in the room for decades, there’s a chance that–maybe no one ever will. Thinking about what I just wrote right now makes me think even more. I may not see tomorrow, someone I love may not see tomorrow, so I must act today. And yet how simple it is in writing yet oh how difficult it is in practice.
We’re all ordinary people, but we can be heroes for people we love everyday. We don’t need to take a bullet or lose a limb to be that quintessential hero. Simply being there for a friend, telling them what they might not want to hear but need to hear, loving them, listening to them. Who knew a high school teacher could make all the difference in the world for these kids? I don’t think we’re all called to be heroes per se. It sounds like it’s a one-time deal kind of thing. But instead, I think we are called to live heroic lives. God asks not for a one-time sacrifice, but steadfast obedience.
My brethren and sistren. We are apparently the salt and light of the world, image bearers of the living God. It’s about time we start acting like it.
It’s revival time baby.