Saturday, August 15, 2015

"Woodlawn"- Birmingham's Story and My Story

After weeks of anticipation, my wife and I were privileged to see a preview of the Erwin brothers new film, 'Woodlawn'.

The movie tells a story which totally intertwines with my life.

The very first high school football game I ever saw was the now famous Banks/Woodlawn game that is the climax of this amazing movie.

My mom and dad went to Woodlawn, I played Qb at Banks (years later). The rivalry was special. Jeff Rutledge and Tony Nathan were heroes to me growing up. Jeff's dad, Jack, was my Sunday school teacher at Ruhama Baptist Church. He was the very first man to ever personally share the good news of Jesus Christ to me.

I guess I could add on more quick paragraph of name dropping  here (skip to the next picture if it bothers you, but this is my blog!): Eli Gold and Tandy Geralds were the play by play and color commentary guys my junior year on two occasions when we played on TV. Todd Geralds, who wrote the book on which the movie is based became great friends with my brother-in-law and we are excited to have Todd come speak at our school this September. Jeff Rutledge and I became friends when we competed against each other as head football coaches in Nashville. Coach Shorty White has been a solid figure of support to my time at Briarwood as we coached his grandchildren. Coach David Cutcliffe (Banks) and Coach Jerry Stern (Woodlawn, portrayed in the movie) were friends and rivals when I played. Because of the movie, I have now a nice understanding where Hank Erwin began his journey as a bold witness for Jesus in my life. It was also neat to see Caleb Castille, Briarwood player, play the lead role in an amazing way- so proud of him and his amazing family!  I could go on and on...Banks and Woodlawn and the characters in this movie are a part of the fabric of my life.

So I loved seeing the movie. Fun to see Woodlawn High School's building, still majestic. Nice to see Legion field is still OK as a movie stage....(next.).. The images of the 16th street Baptist church sign and downtown Birmingham resonated as iconic home images to me.

"Woodlawn" will undoubtably go down as the best, to date, overtly Christian movie ever made.

I applaud the effort. I am no professional movie critic- but the camera work, editing (even though it is still not finished), script, humor, drama, was done in a way that is vastly improved over anything I have seen before for a film in this genre.

Even though, I was alive and close to the events, I do not know them well enough to comment on the accuracy of everything in the movie- I know it is 'based' on a real story. I am looking forward to hearing from Todd Gerald's on some interesting questions I have regarding it.

And I am fully going to support the effort here to make this movie known and shown. I will be buying tickets on Oct. 16, I will give this movie 2 thumbs up. I will say the message is real, it is bold, it is entertaining. The movie is 'authentic', meaning it has the excellence to hold its own with other movies from the industry greats.

My only 2 'gripes' were the portrayal of Coach White and the inability to get the Banks Jets uniforms right. Coach White, I guess I am 'a little OK' with because it increases the story telling by making his character a foil to Coach Geralds... but the uniforms? That one made me scratch my head... the Columbia Blue and Red was what made the Jets distinct in those days. Coach Shorty White is a great man and was a great coach.... and not like his movie portrayal at all. But we understand.... it's a movie.

Now....let's talk about a deeper help and hope in the movie- the nature of race relations and the gospel.

You know my city.... we have such a dark 'history' played over and over on back and white reels (pun intended)- fire hoses and dogs- Wallace and Foster auditorium- and images of bombed buildings and burning crosses. I am saddened by that time and by those images.

I have walked now 5 different times through the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute and looked at the displays of Jim Crow. I have read the FBI files on display and then turn around and see the church sign looking right at me.

But that Birmingham was not my Birmingham. I was a child in the 60's in Birmingham, but I am not a child of the 60's.

Sure, I heard the 'n' word and racial jokes growing up..... but as a young boy going to an integrated school- I already knew that hate and prejudice was a bunch of lies. I already knew that God made all of us in His image.

Sports did more to tear down racial divides that any government initiative ever could. When my black teammates and I put on our Banks uniforms, we were just Jets. We prayed together, we bled together, we cried together, we cheered together.

In the 1980's in Birmingham, in East Lake, we all came from the same collar ...and needing to get a lot right to move up. Some did and some didn't. But living life everyday to the glory of God is possible in any social condition, maybe even more so when it is a struggle.

I get really sad when I see evidence in our culture that we can't close this deal... it seems like we are worse today that where we were headed in 1972... and even in 1982.

I watched Jeff Rutledge and Tony Nathan win that Sugar Bowl on TV. I enjoyed beating Woodlawn twice as a Banks Jet.

I went to college and moved back 'over-the-mountain' and discovered that there was still a great divide.

Now I watch the TV and at times feel like we have retreated.

What's going on? Why can't we close the deal?

Why do we seem at times farther away from Dr King's dream where all men will be judged by the content of their character and not the color of their skin?

The drift is directly proportional to another drift.... we have lost steam in racial healing because we are abandoning the only One who has the power of forgiveness, humility, and reconciliation.

The message is still out there- it is just bouncing off dead ears and hard hearts.

Recently, in the Republican debate, Dr. Ben Carson explained the true solution... it is not skin that makes the human, he recognizes that everyday as touches the inside of humans in his work  as a neurosurgeon.

But we have to go one step further... it is Ok and necessary to call good- 'good' and evil-'evil'... no matter the pigment of the person.

As I watched Woodlawn, I saw the Tony Nathan character struggling to find himself, struggling to discover his purpose. And where was he helped?

A mother and father holding hands in church.... a pastor teaching the truth of God's Word and the message of the cross. A message of love and not of hate. He was helped by a football coach pushing him and holding him to high standards.

If we shrink back from calling out moral wrong doing- even in the reality of pain and anger- we have no chance to close the divide.

My Birmingham still has hope because we still hold to a gospel in both the black and white communities. it is not a perfect obedience, and never will be.

A large part of the country though, will mock us as we cling to our Bibles in Birmingham..... But please listen, if you get rid of God- you have expelled the very One from Whom we receive rights...even civil rights. Eradicate the Bible from society and you remove the very fabric of human decency. You kill God and it is not long until you start killing one another.

But my prayer is that Woodlawn will export gospel hope... and my Birmingham will have a chance to export changes that catch hold in Ferguson and Baltimore... but if you delete Jesus Christ and the truth of God's Word from that message... I promise you this... it will never happen.

Come to Fairfield, come to East Lake and Avondale- and watch a Kaleidoscope of Christ followers work to serve and restore. Watch us mess up... fess up... and move on.

There is still a lot of work to do and we need to keep at it 'til He returns.

Please go see this movie on October 16 and may all of us never stop believing.

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