Wisconsin, the Crash and the Church

Written by Mark Van Steenwyk : May 27, 2005

Earlier this week I had the pleasure of seeing one of the best movies of the year.  No, not Star Wars…Crash.  Earlier this week, I travelled to Wausau, Wisconsin for some church planting coach training.  I travelled with a couple pastors from Brainerd, Minnesota.  The highpoint of my two day trip was these two pastors–Mark Bjorlo (37) and Bob Evans (around 60). Now, the idea of travelling to the middle of Wisconsin with two rural Baptist ministers might not sound appealing, but it was awesome.  On Monday night, we went to Tony Roma’s for some Ribs, went and bought some nice cigars and went to the Glass Hat, a local bar, and enjoyed the cigars with some surprisingly smooth scotch.  (Since I am a Bethel Seminary student, I can neither confirm nor deny whether or not I engaged in the aforementioned smoking and drinking)

From there, we went to the movies.  Bob suggested we see Crash, since his daughter highly praised it.  We were blown away.  I had spent most of our drive from Minneapolis to Wausau explaining postmoderism.  There, in front of me, was a film that perhaps best expressed the fractured nature of postmodern society.  The whole film is about race…and how each of us is divided by our race.  None of the jam-packed, star-studded cast gets off the hook…everyone is stuck in their own fallen racist perspective and helps foster the systemic racism in LA (with perhaps one exception).  Many of the movie reviewers have said that the movie is too bleak.  I don’t think so.  Once you buy into the premise, that racism is inescapable and that noone has the moral objectivity or clarity to escape the racism, the movie becomes a very compassionate and hopeful movie.  Those in the movie who seem the least racist are the most ignoble, and those who appear to be the most racist become the least ignoble.  Throughout this broken, and fragmented picture of LA, there are delicate threads of love and compassion.  You MUST see this film.

After leaving the film, I began to ponder the nature and role of the church.  I realize that the movie’s take on racism is exaggerated, but the truth is, we are all devided by culture, race, and other things.  We can not escape the biases we inherit from our race and culture, but we can decide to seek understanding and push towards some sort of unity that transcends race and culture.  Though we are divided, there are threads of compassion and hope.  [SPOILER] For example, the cop played by Matt Dillon is by far depicted as the most racist character in the movie.  At one point in the movie, he pulls over a black couple and essentially molests the wife, 10003654played by Thandie Newton.  Later in the movie, the cop comes upon the scene of an auto accident. Her car has been rolled and she is upside down, gas flowing from her car, slowly pooling and flowing to an aflame car about 10 yards away.  Though they recognize one another, and though she is fighting and unwilling to receive his aid, the cop risks his life to save hers.  Compassion in the midst of racism.  Unity in the midst of fragmentation.  That is what the Church is called to.  It is awkward, painful, and often "ineffective," but it is what we are called to.  We are called to display the unity and wholeness of being in Christ, in the midst of a world that is broken and filled with hate…even though we are often unable to break free from the racist attitudes and systems which work against our common call.

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10 Responses to “Wisconsin, the Crash and the Church”

  1. Anonymous on May 27th, 2005 2:18 pm

    Don’t you think that class is more divisive than race though?

  2. Van S on May 27th, 2005 3:39 pm

    I think that issues like culture and class can be as divisive or more divisive than race, though race plays a large role in both culture and class.

  3. blorge on May 27th, 2005 4:53 pm

    In America, race and class are closely linked. African Americans and Latino Americans have a greater tendancy to be poorer than white Americans. A recent study I read about in the NY Times said that of all the immigrant groups in NYC, Mexicans were the poorest and the most likely to be involved in gangs, had the lowest rates of home ownership, etc.

    There are poor white people, but the problem does not appear to be as endemic as it does for people with other skin colors. White people are used to seeing other rich white people in our culture so we have an idea that we may someday be rich as well. It has been documented in several studies that the reason African Americans have as their heros athletes, and rappers is because they don’t have other role models for makeing it out of the “hood” such as black buisnessmen.

  4. Bob Evans on May 28th, 2005 7:53 am

    Since I am a Baptist Pastor, I can neither confirm nor deny whether or not I engaged in the aforementioned smoking, drinking, rib eating or movie going.

  5. blorge on May 28th, 2005 10:44 am

    So good Baptists don’t eat ribs, huh?

  6. Anthony on May 28th, 2005 1:34 pm


    I am encouraged by the idea and practice of the “embracing church”. I think this movie lets us know that part of our vocation is to navigage prophetically through that beast called race. I will definitely check this out this weekend.

  7. Michelle on May 31st, 2005 8:01 am

    I was not saying that race and poverty are not closely related. However not to say this applies across the board, but I’ve seen it happen on more than one occasion where:
    People who worked hared to achieve upper middle class status they have African American friends who have achieved the same level of wealth as they have. But would not make friends with the same raced individuals of our small group. Because they don’t have any money and they can’t enjoy the same past times as themselves.
    I am not intrested in a chicken or the egg arrgument with you Mr. Lordge. (Does race contribute to class or vice versa.) But for me I have to pray against the affects of classist attitudes for them, and I think that money if very succesful at countering the Kingdom of Christ on many levels.

  8. blorge on May 31st, 2005 10:08 am

    You had asked, “Don’t you think that class is more divisive than race though?” and I said I don’t think so because the two are really inter-related.

    Yes some people of the same race don’t interact because of class differences, but my guess is that a rich white person who doesn’t hang out with poor white people isn’t going to hang out with poor hispanics or Asian-Americans either.

  9. Anthony on May 31st, 2005 5:27 pm


    I agree that class has to be a part of the conversation. I have been guilty in the past couple of days of tearing the blog-world up with the issue of race. I would say that class has definitly been one more idol that has stood in the way of body politic of Christ to be a “body”. We have the foot saying it has no need of the hand. Or better yet the foot saying I am too good for the hand. I don’t think alot of this is purposely done but is pretty much how we are formed socially by our culture.

    One of the tripped out things I have experienced in predominantly white churches is the say some of ‘my’ people, black people, look at me when I exhibit negro-tendencies…like saying, “what’s up bru?”…or giving that head nod you see bruthas do to each other in public spaces. I get like a blank stare and that look that says, “not in here guy!”…”not amongst these civilized people amongst us.” So I agree…there is definitely a classicism that works even within particular ethnic groups. I was raised in an urban environment and still exhibit some of the mannerisms of a brutha from that part of the world. I am not as re-fined and cultured as some of my more anglo-ized bruthas and sistas may think is necessary. Plust it does help to have a family that is straight ghetto to keep brutha humble and in rememberance of where he came from.

  10. Peg on January 6th, 2006 8:59 am

    I’m still ROFL over the rib eating, scotch drinking, cigar smoking and movie going Baptist pastors and seminary student! Thanks for sharing, it’s nice to know we aren’t the only ones “neither confirming nor denying” out here. LOL

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