Anybody out there like Kevin Costner? I love his characters. They live ruggedly and honestly with great questions, and they don’t let go of what they love.
Costner’s movie Black or White (2014) wasn’t a big box office hit. But I think it’s going to become an American favorite. In fact, I’m willing to bet that it is a yet-to-be discovered classic. And with all the racial tensions in the United States right now, it should be watched by everyone who wants to learn how to make things better.
I loved this movie, and so did Kevin. He actually paid for it himself ($6 million). Mike Binder, the writer and director, hooks the viewer from the opening scene. A woman has died. A man is grieving. It becomes the story of a hard-drinking widowed grandfather named Elliott who is suddenly left to care for his beloved granddaughter, Eloise, who is 7. She is the child of his deceased daughter and a black man who is hooked on drugs.
When Eloise’s paternal grandmother seeks custody, Elliott fights back. The precious girl is torn between two families who love her deeply. Both families fight for what they feel is right and eventually have to confront their true feelings about race and reconciliation.
The have-to-watch scene takes place when Elliott is put on the witness stand. Pressed to expose his innate racism, he admits that when he sees a black person, his first thought is that ‘he’s black.’ But then he adds, “But it’s not my first thought that counts. It’s my second, and third, and fourth. Those are the ones that will define me as someone who is tolerant or ignorant or even a racist.”
St. Paul would agree. In Romans 12:2 he exhorts every Christian, “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” How do we do that?
The answer lies in making sure that Jesus’ teachings actually appear as our second, third, or fourth thoughts. Do we dare stop to compare our thinking with His? And then we have to be sure that no matter when the “Jesus thought” arrived (thought number 12?), that’s the one we act upon.
When we practice what Jesus gives us to live by, a wonderful transformation begins to take place. Little by little, it is less of “us” that is alive in us, and more and more Jesus Himself. And that possibility alone should give us pause and offer the world the hope it so desperately needs.
Fr. John Hardie
St. Mark’s Church, Corpus Christi