It isn’t supposed to be this way

29 Jul

Danny Glover speaks this line in the 1991 movie, “Grand Canyon.” Glover is a tow truck driver, who has driven into the heart of a Los Angeles black ghetto, where Kevin Kline’s car has broken down. A group of gang bangers arrives at the same time and threatens Kline. Glover challenges the gang leader, insisting that the gang back off and allow him to tow Kline to the garage. The gang leader protests and in the course of the exchange, Glover looks squarely at the gang leader and says, “It isn’t supposed to be this way. We’re supposed to be able to go about our business.”

Why have these words have remained with me all these years? Because they carry a powerful message of confidence and hopefulness. Confidence, because Glover was saying, “this city we live in, at this very moment, is grounded in possibilities of peace—rapacious violence is not our destiny.” As a longtime Chicagoan, and a Southsider at that, with the issues of violence, poverty, and injustice that face all cities, Glover challenged me to see the city as God’s creation and, as such, founded in an intention of goodness. “God looked upon creation and said ‘it is good’.”

There is also a message of hopefulness—that the gang and the whites who have oppressed them can actually fulfill their created goodness.  As I look out over the south side of Chicago from my ninth floor apartment, I am challenged to say for myself, this city, created in the image of God, can fulfill its creator’s intention.

Danny Glover is making a statement of faith—in the face of empirical evidence contrary to his belief. So am I. 

Our world is indeed full of evil—unspeakably so. But it is not destined to Hell and damnation. Its destiny is goodness. There is no situation anywhere that is beyond the reach of love, including God’s love.

“It isn’t supposed to be this way”—a belief that is deeply rooted in human life and human history. Traditions of apocalyptic cry out, “It isn’t supposed to be this way.” When the cosmic monster of the New Testament’s Book of Revelation is slain, the message of hope is at work. 

Traditions of eternal life focus on God’s will to  transform the world. We also read in the New Testament “In accordance with the promise, we wait for new heavens and new earth or righteousness is at home.” (2 Peter 3:13).

Both of these traditions—the apocalyptic and the yearning for eternity—consider the miseries of living in this world to be temporary, provisional. They do not represent the “really real.” Things are not supposed to be like this.

How are we to live our lives in this “between the times,” when things are not the way they are supposed to be? In the movie, Danny Glover negotiated with the gang leader for safe passage for Kevin Kline. Judaism teaches “tikkun olam”—work however we can to repair the broken world in which we find ourselves.

Franklin Clark Fry, who was presiding bishop of our church during the 1960s, my theologically formative years, said:

“All that we Christians are called upon to do, all we can do, is to be an open watercourse for the divine love. We do not create any part of it; it would be an arrogant illusion to think that we did. We must not blockade it; if we did, we would be the adversaries, not the children, of God. We are simply to reflect it, back to God and out to God’s world. Our calling is to give it free flow.“

(c) Phil Hefner,  28 July 2019

One Response to “It isn’t supposed to be this way”

  1. Liftthescreen July 30, 2019 at 8:46 pm #

    IT ISN’T SUPPOSED TO BE THIS WAY.” Arlene and I were in the Fisebu Parish of the Lutheran Church/Mission in Liberia, West Africa when the Peace Corps came. Liberia had several hundred village schools with few teachers. Some of the teachers had only an eighth grade education. The government agreed to receive 330 Peace Corps Volunteers (the largest group of Peace Corps in any country in the world). All those volunteers spoke American English. All had graduated from college (or had a minimum of two years). The Liberian teachers , all knew who were the parents of their students. If the student was the son of the town chief, he might get an ‘A’ from the teacher because the chief might help the teacher get a better house, or some other help. The Peace Corps Volunteers didn’t care. They received their housing from the Peace Corps, had their stipend; so if a student knew the material and had the right answer, he got an ‘A’. It did not matter to the PC teachers who his parents were.
    Students who experienced that situation for some of the 15 years the Peace Corps taught, learned to appreciate getting rewarded for what you did and not for ‘who knows you’. But when they graduated from high school or college and started working for the government, they discovered it was the old ‘Who-Knows-You’ system, and realized that “IT ISN’T SUPPOSED TO BE THIS WAY.” After President Tubman died and Vice president Tolbert became president, everyone expected change. BUT the same old system still prevailed. Enough people thought “IT ISN’T SUPPOSED TOBE THIS WAY” that when Tolbert was about to leave the country and they suspected that the students who had been arrested for starting the rice riots were going to be executed, a small group of soldiers shot Tolbert, and within a month all of Tolbert’s ministers who spoke only English were lined up on the beach and shot (only those ministers who came from a tribal back ground were left alive).

    In some ways you could blame the Peace Corps for the Liberian Civil War that happened, or you might just be reminded that all it takes for major change to take place is a majority to decide “IT ISN’T SUPPOSED TO BE THIS WAY.” People all over the world are learning that “IT ISN’T SUPPOSED TO BE THIS WAY.” Get ready to riots and maybe revolutions.

    JOE WOLD joearlywold@yahoo.com. 30 July 2019

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