THE IMPERFECT HOPE
Some years yield no masterpieces in the cinema, others are lucky to yield one. 2014 was one of those rare years that gave us two: Boyhood and Selma.
It was a year and a half ago that my wife and I were headed somewhere (probably CostCo) when I made the comment, “How come no one’s made a movie about Dr. King yet?” This wasn’t so much an accusation as it was a hope that someone would tackle the subject of Martin Luther King, Jr. sooner than later. I certainly wouldn’t want to make such a film; there are ridiculously high standards when a film is made about such a towering and important figure from our history.
Director Ava DuVernay brings the political and racial tension of the Civil Rights movement to life with a subtle and gentle hand where many directors would want to pound their fist. And Dr. King is resurrected in the form of British actor David Oyelowo, and it is beyond me how he missed out on a Best Actor nomination at this year’s Oscars.
Selma‘s greatest message, though, isn’t necessarily one of history or one of equality and justice — though these all make up ventricles of its heart. No. The greatest message and the greatest hope that we can glean from this film is the simple truth that one does not have to be perfect to make a difference, to fight for what is right, and to follow the Lord.
Selma treats Dr. King not as a divine figure, but as a man. An imperfect man in an imperfect world. It doesn’t shy away from Dr. King’s less attractive qualities: his smoking, his absence from the family, and most tragically, his infidelity. And yet, none of those things disqualify him as a man of God. If so, then we should highly question King David’s status in the lineage of faith.
Too often we fall into the trap of believing we must reach some ethereal state of sanctification before we can serve God, before we can serve our fellow man, love our neighbor, love our enemy. “One day I’ll get there,” we tell ourselves, and it’s never true. We will never get there. Rather, God calls us to serve Him, to serve our fellow man, love our neighbor, love our enemy even in the painful now when we are as far from perfect as we can be. I don’t lose respect for Dr. King because of his weaknesses. Rather, it gives me hope.
And that is what Paul alludes to when he says, “Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.” (2 Cor. 12:9) The power of Christ is made perfect in weakness. Not that we should chase weakness, no. Paul covers this in Romans 7:7. But we should not sit around and ignore injustice and unrighteousness just because we ourselves lack righteousness. Rather, we borrow from Christ’s righteousness as he longs for us to and fight injustice and love this imperfect world.
That is the imperfect hope that Selma teaches us. I could go on more about racial reconciliation and the current race crisis our nation finds itself in with cases like Trayvon Martin, Ferguson, and Freddie Gray dominating the news. And I could speak from personal experience as the father of a child who is a different race of the barriers and prejudices that I was blind to before. We have a long way to go. But there is always hope. In Christ, there is always hope. And if an imperfect man like Dr. King found his hope and strength in that same Christ, then so can imperfect me.