“Never Underestimate Me!”

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When I walked into the school lunch room to find my Lunch Buddy, I was met by one of his classmates – a girl – 4th grade.  She gave me a hug, stepped back, and with her hands on her hips, said, 

“Phillip, I broke up with my boyfriend!”

“Oh?”  I replied.  “How do you feel about that?”

“I had to do it,” she explained.

“And why is that?” I inquired.

“He disrespected me.  He told me I couldn’t run as fast as him. So we raced and I beat him.”

“Good for you!!” I congratulated her.

“Thanks!” She said, before adding this clincher:

“I told him, ‘Never underestimate me!’  Then I broke up with him.”

We’ve seen over the last several months hundreds of women stand up and shout out, “He disrespected me!  Never underestimate me.”

Maya Angelou wrote, “Each time a woman stands up for herself without knowing it, possibly without claiming it, she stands up for all women.”  

My 4th grade friend stood up for all the girls at her school.  Standing up and speaking out sent a message to all the boys in the school to get rid of the stereotypes, to treat the girls as equals.  She gave me hope that her generation will be better than previous generations.  

That mutual respect will replace disrespect.

That there will be “justice for all.”

Kyle Stephens was the first gymnast to confront Larry Nassar at his sentencing.  He was a family friend.  He began sexually assaulting her when she was in kindergarten. I can’t bring myself to describe what he did to her and in front of her.   Her parents did not believe her when she told them what was happening.  She said she replayed the abuse “so I didn’t forget that I was not a liar.”  She was forced to babysit Nassar’s kids to pay for her own counseling.  Years later, in 2016, Kyle’s dad committed suicide after coming to believe his daughter.  

Kyle Stephens’ words reverberate throughout the country: “Little girls don’t stay little forever. They grow into strong women that return to destroy your world.” 

Little girls and grown women bear within themselves the divine image.  A spirit of strength. 

Let’s join girls like my Lunch Buddy’s classmate and women like Ms Stephens to destroy an old world of disrespect and injustice and build a world of love.  

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“12 Years a Slave” – We Need to See This

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I watched this year’s Oscar winner for Best Picture last night – 12 Years a Slave.  It’s a powerful film based on the book by Solomon Northup, in which he recounts his experiences as a slave in Louisiana.  It’s not a feel good movie.   It’s a feel sad, feel mad movie.  It’s a movie that some want to avoid.  Who wants to to do something that makes you sad or mad?

Some are mad at the injustices that were committed against people.  Some are mad that the movie portrayed slavery in such a negative way.  Really.

It’s not a movie that you enjoy.  It’s one that you endure.   But we need to watch it.

We need to know.   The movie makes us confront the cruelty of which people are capable – yes, people who claim to follow Christ.

We need to remember.   “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”  George Santayana

We need to recognize that slavery is not just history, it is the history of our country.

We need to do some serious soul-searching.  Is it possible that even though we’ve done away with slavery, the attitudes and stereotypes that surrounded it still exist? Think back to the Cheerios ad and the responses to it.

We need to look at our use and understanding of the Bible.
The Bible plays a prominent role in the movie – as it did in the days of slavery – something I’ve mentioned before.

In one scene, slave owner Edwin Epps holds a church service for his slaves and quotes the Bible, Luke 12:47, “And that servant, which knew his lord’s will, and prepared not himself, neither did according to his will, shall be beaten with many stripes.” After he reads this passage, he waves his Bible in the faces of the slaves and says, “and that’s Scripture!”

Each lash of the whip from the hand of Epps upon the back of Patsey – played by Oscar winning Lupita Nyong’o – was punctuated with Biblical justification.

Hopefully no Christian today still quotes the Bible to defend slavery.  But how many still use the method of interpreting the Bible that allowed slave owners to use the Bible as a spiritual whip.

We need to see God as the slaves saw God.  The “slavers” used their faith as a tool to control and dehumanize. The slaves used their faith to endure the degradations, indignities, and cruelties of slavery.

We need to make a “hypocrisy check.”  After Solomon arrives on the plantation, his master, William Ford, gathers the slaves and gives a sermon, quoting Luke 17:2, “It were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck and be cast into the sea, than that he should offend one of these little ones.”  We had just seen, in the previous scene, Ford buying and thus separating a female slave from her children.  We can’t miss the hypocrisy.  I should see my own hypocrisy as clearly.

We need to let the spirit of Jesus shape us – the spirit of justice, the spirit that sees each person as one made in the image of God.   The voice of justice in the movie belongs to Samuel Bass, played by Brad Pitt, a Canadian surveyor and abolitionist.  He tells Epps, “If you don’t treat them as humans, then you will have to answer for it… Laws change. Social systems crumble. Universal truths are constant. It is a fact, it is a plain fact that what is true and right is true and right for all. White and black alike.”

It is Bass’ intervention that leads to Solomon’s deliverance and return to freedom – deliverance and freedom, but not justice.  Solomon does not find justice.  Because of racist laws, he was unable to hold the men accountable who sold him into slavery. In what ways do we need to intervene?

We need to see this film because it can change us for the better.  Maybe that’s what art does.