On a recent Friday night, I finally went to see the movie “Hidden Figures”. If you aren’t familiar with the movie, it’s about three brilliant African-American women who worked as mathematicians at NASA in the 1960’s and were a vital part of helping get John Glenn into orbit.
The movie was even better than promised. Besides being well-written and well-paced (I could have sat there longer), it was inspiring. It’s one of those movies that keeps coming back to mind and that you make connections to in conversations with friends. It was great on so many levels: in being reminded of an ugly part of our history in America in a way that makes you realize that discrimination is not over even if bathrooms aren’t labeled, in seeing it as a woman and understanding what it feels like to be a woman in a man’s world (and I can’t imagine what it’s like to be an African-American woman in a man’s world), and much more. I could probably write a few blog posts off of my thoughts from the movie!
But what I wanted to write about most was the Biblical connection I made to the movie based on a verse I had studied that day. (Spoiler alert – I will try to not give away many details about the storyline but if you haven’t seen it, stop reading this and just go do it!)
One key figure of the movie is Al Harrison played by Kevin Costner. (I read that he is a fictional character made to represent three men who worked at NASA at the time.) He is driven to beat Russia to get a man on the moon and, at the point of the movie in 1961, to catch up with them to get a man in space. In the process, you don’t see overt racism in him as much as the fact that he doesn’t really notice it. The world around him is just what it is, and it doesn’t seem to cross his mind to change it much. But that changes when he realizes that he has a genius mathematician working for him who happens to be a black woman. She makes him aware of the barriers she has in working there – which are really barriers to using her gifts to help get an American in space.
There comes a point in the movie where Al Harrison expresses that he doesn’t really care who is doing the work – the most important thing is the mission which is putting a man in space and eventually on the moon. And if the best person to help them is a black woman, then he wants her. As the movie progresses, he will literally open doors for her.
As I watched this happen, Galatians 3:28 came to mind since I had just studied it that afternoon.
“There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man,
there is neither male nor female: for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”
While the leadership of Al Harrison and how he brought people together to accomplish something that had never been done before can encourage us to do the same in our workplace, adding Galatians 3:28 encourages me to do it in the church.
The church has a mission. In some of His last words before He ascended to heaven, Jesus told His disciples, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:18-20) It’s what we often call the Great Commission. And it is our mission.
Paul’s declaration in Galatians 3:28 reminds us of the need for unity in the mission. He is saying that our culture shouldn’t divide us. That our social class shouldn’t divide us. And that our gender shouldn’t divide us.
Think about it. What if the church (and I mean both the local body and the church universal) was so focused on our mission that we were able to set aside these differences – of culture, class, and gender? How many times do we let those things divide us and thus hinder our effectiveness in accomplishing the mission? And I don’t necessarily mean great conflict that divides us. Maybe it’s just my discomfort that does it. Do I feel uncomfortable with people from different social classes or cultures in a way that hinders us from reaching the mission? This is a question I have been asking myself since I saw the movie.
What would it be like if the church, like NASA, looked for the “genius” in each person – their God-given gifts and talents – and encouraged it to be used for the advance of the mission? What would it be like to see more unity among classes, cultures, and genders to advance the gospel? Or rephrase that in the opposite way – how is our lack of unity hindering us from advancing the gospel? Where are people not free to express their gifts and so the church is hurting?
As I watched this idea unfold in the movie, I realized that it took a lot of humility on the part of each person on that team at NASA to do this. Can you imagine being a white male in 1961 and suddenly having to work with a black woman who is better at you in doing the calculations to figure out how to get man back from orbit? That takes humility. But it also takes a commitment to the mission. And the mission is more important than my ego, more important than whether I’m the best at something, more important than who gets the credit, and more important than the color and gender of the person I’m working next to.
And it’s no different for us in the church. This is what it will take to accomplish the mission. Will I look for people who are better than I am at something and encourage their gifts or will I just be jealous and hope they don’t succeed? Will I quit if I don’t feel like I’m getting the appreciation or recognition I deserve? Will my pride get in the way of the mission?
These are the kinds of questions I’m asking myself. I don’t claim to have the answers for the church. But maybe I can live this out more than I do now. And I hope I can encourage it in the sphere of influence God has given me.
Lord, give us the kind of humility it will take to not be a barrier in accomplishing the mission You have given us. Help us to seek out the gifts of others and encourage them to use them so that Your gospel will continue to spread. Let us work side-by-side with those who are different from us and set aside any discomfort or prejudice we may have by seeing them as Your child who is made in Your image with gifts You gave them. May the church increasingly reflect love and unity to a divided, angry world and glorify You as she does so. Amen.