The book Acts (which I'm presently teaching at our church) is filled with moments where the tables are turned. It's best to understand a little background regarding Jewish conceptions of Messiah, and how their religious establishment thought. However, lacking that kind of background, simply reading through the book will reveal numerous times when the people are supposed to 'get it' don't, and those who aren't, do. The Holy Spirit is poured out, not in the temple, but in some obscure upper room. It's poured out, not on the religious establishment, but on some obscure devotees of a recently crucified, so called "messiah". Wisdom and power are poured out through the uneducated and impoverished. The weak are strong, and the strong are revealed to actually be, not only weak, but withered and fearful souls who have become such by virtue of their resistance to the good news.
It was in the midst of my studies that I took a break last week to see "Slumdog Millionaire", and discovered a beautiful illustration of this book called Acts. It's a film about a young man who grew up in the slums of Mumbai. Playing on India's version of "Who wants to be a Millionaire", as his correct answers and winnings mount, he's suspected of cheating. The presupposition is that, of course, people from his caste, people from poverty, people from the slums, are...
It's right here, when you answer that question, the movie becomes a commentary about the many "isms" that divide us, right here in the "enlightened" west: racism, classism, sexism come to mind, though there are many more. The caste system has certainly created it's own waves of poverty in India, but it would be wrong to, with a wave of our educated hands, caste judgement on the Indian culture and so free ourselves from the much needed look in the mirror. The reality is that all of us have expectations of others, based on gender, education, clothing, color of skin, and more. We pre-emptively close ourselves off from learning and friendship with some; we pre-emptively judge and categorize others as hopeless. In short, we build walls and function with all the wisdom of this world, and in so doing make choices by completely different criteria than God's, building relationsal walls instead of tearing them down.
Slumdog reminds me of the way God does things. The whole army is shaking in their military issue boots, while the shepherd, whose mission is to deliver some bread to them, takes down the giant enemy with a slingshot. The impoverished teen becomes pregnant with the life of God. When Jacob marries two women, it's not the "hot" girl who is fertile; it's the other one, the one who (the story implies) rarely shares her bed with her husband because, yes, he's that shallow. She gives him, in the end, six sons!
Not many wise. Not many rich, etc. etc. I need to think about this, not only from the perspective of how I view others, but also how I view myself. I've taken myself, pre-emptively, out of relationships and contexts at various times because, frankly, I felt, "out of my league". People richer than me. Better looking than me. People with more letters after their name - Not wanting to feel small, I'd withdraw. This movie reminds me of the same thing that God says: Don't withdraw! You have gifts. Use them. Your life experiences have created a context for you to make a different. Live with integrity and let me carve a path for you.
You've heard of the French paradox. That makes for interesting dinner conversation (especially over escargot, a good merlot, and some fine dark chocolate). But the Slumdog paradox is more than interesting conversation - it's an illustration of the heart of the gospel, offering a life changing challenge to our isms and our withdrawal from God's story due to our own feelings of inadequacy. Don't miss it.