My friend Sean Watkins recently quipped that I am the only person he knows who goes into a deep theological conversation as an indicator of my sleepiness. As you know, my favorite pastime is watching films. And for as long as I have identified as a follower of Jesus, my heart has been inclined toward non-believers. In fact, if I am sincere, I enjoy the company of non-Christians a lot more than people who share my worldview.
The other night I watched a classic film called Menace II Society featuring Larenz Tate and Jada Pinkett Smith that came out in 1993. The movie follows Caine, an 18-year-old young man who grows up in the gang lifestyle of the Los Angeles projects. He comes to a crossroads and wants a way out. Everyone around him, including his unpredictable friend O-Dog, is trapped in their lives of crime and violence. With the help of his caring teacher and supportive girlfriend, Caine plans to leave the city for good. But in a series of tragic events, Caine realizes that escape will not be easy.
As the credits rolled, I felt the all too familiar pain in my heart that frequently comes when the realities of the world clash with the colonial hermeneutic I've inherited and have been diligently trying to discard recently. My mind was taunted and haunted by one question: What is the "good news" for O-Dog?
It is doubtful that our Reformed apologetic or our presence worship scenarios or our evangelical affirmations would make any sense to the world of Caine and his brothers. In fact, the reality is most of our messages, music and podcasts continue to fill the airwaves of a particular group of people, and the tragedy is that there is an entire subset of people who do not exist in our minds and even more tragically these people do not even exist in our imaginations.
I was rocked by the ineptitude of all of our literature and the blind eye our message seems to turn to this community. What do we have to say to these young men and women that would compel them to consider the Jesus who gives beauty for ashes, who gives joy for mourning?
I want to invite you into the pain, and the turmoil I experience thinking about the lack of thought given to a contextualized and robust gospel witness in the areas we like to pretend aren't there. Who is thinking about O-dog when they pen their NY Times bestsellers? Who is picturing Caine when orating on the beauty and magnificence of God?
Jesus tells us that the gospel is good to news to the poor, liberty for captives, recovery of sight to the blind, freedom for the oppressed...in general, if we are honest, this is not how we would categorize the average lay member of our congregations. I wonder how powerful, how robust is the gospel we preach if it doesn't make its way out of the safety of our neighborhoods?
I encourage you to take a look at this film and ask yourself; what is the good news here? and let it challenge you as it did me, out of complacency and a shallow understanding of the world and more importantly a shallow understanding of the gospel of Jesus.