Originally posted Jan. 6, 2013, at the altar ego. Republished with permission of the author.
“Django Unchained” is Quentin Tarantino’s latest opus, a three-hour-long film that tracks the journey of Django, a slave in 1858 America who gains his freedom — and then tries to do the same for his wife.
What really hit me, however, was a side-note to the movie. It was the reaction that virtually everyone (both black and white) had to the sight of Django riding a horse. They stood there, dumbfounded, in the presence of this event. They simply couldn’t fathom that such a thing could actually happen — for them, it defied a fundamental law of reality.
It hit me because while watching this movie, in 2013, I simply couldn’t fathom that most of what happens in “Django Unchained” could actually — happen. To my 21st century eyes and ears, I was as startled by this movie as were the people who looked upon a well-dressed black man sitting on a horse (not to mention the amount of times the “n” word is used; it has to be a cinematic record).
It’s a piece of our American history, this enslavement of another group of human beings. It was so ingrained into peoples’ minds, psyches and worldview that it surrounded them completely. Seeing a (freed) slave atop a horse was the ultimate dissonance — either it was real, or, more likely, they must be losing their minds.
Too often, we do the exact same thing to our Christian gospel — it’s ingrained so deeply into our reality as a divine rulebook, an outdated example of piety or maybe a ticket that, if we believe hard enough, will get us into heaven — no questions asked.
And then we see this gospel break down walls of hatred, or plead for forgiveness to all those who’ve been hurt by the church throughout the millennia, or show us once again that the essence of power is in weakness, or even offend us by speaking words of grace to both the parents of Sandy Hook children and the parents of the shooter — we see all this, and it’s the ultimate dissonance. We can’t fathom the gospel actually doing this. It defies the fundamental laws of reality.
The unchained gospel is as scary to us as an unchained Django was to virtually everyone he came across. And yet, we can watch this movie in 2013, be transported back to 1858, wonder how people could be that blown away by a black man on a horse and then re-enter 2013, and see it all over again.
Slavery still exists — literally and metaphorically — around the world. In our cities. In our churches. In our own hearts.
Bob Marley told us to “emancipate yourselves from mental slavery / none but ourselves can free our minds.”
I think that the gospel can be a way Christians can (start to) do this. But first we have to break its chains, and see it for the wildly expansive, radically offensive, beautifully free good news that it is.
Otherwise, we’ll keep standing dumbfounded and assume we must be going crazy.
Find a link to Jason Chesnut’s the altar ego at Lutheran Blogs.