Movies Are Prayers by Josh Larsen, Free for CAPC Members
In Movies Are Prayers, Josh Larsen exemplifies how critical engagement with a film can be an act of neighbor-love.
Chasing down the monster of American racism is not for the faint of heart. Maintaining a fair perspective on such an amorphous, shape-shifting evil is a challenge in itself. It’s difficult to fight what you cannot clearly see, especially when it’s such a deeply rooted, immense problem. The suggestion that justice is a value that competes with other dearly held American ideals only exacerbates the problem, and many feel exhausted before they begin to address these issues.
We don’t have to innovate new ways to fight injustice. We still believe that our spiritual practices impact real life. The prayerful petition that God’s kingdom would be made real on earth is not a new one; it is as ancient as prayer itself.With events like Charlottesville fresh in our national memory, it’s easy to feel the urgency of this problem and become weighed down by its immensity. How do we even begin to hope for reconciliation in such times? Rapper, artist, and social critic Sho Baraka addresses this question in his new song “March,” which is part sermon, part anthem. Sho reminds us that the questions raised by these kinds of events matter because they lead us to ask bigger questions—questions not only about political postures, but also about the moral integrity of our culture and our hope for a newer kingdom.
In the song’s beginning, Sho Baraka offers answers before questions even arise: “This Nubia, Axum/ This is Laibela,” referring to historical sites of rich African culture, strength, and spiritual flourishing. Sho begins with definition, with a clearly cast vision for rich fruitfulness. It may seem strange to begin a song about racial reconciliation with lines that imply triumph, but that is exactly what Sho means to communicate. In this optimistic, confident opening, he reminds listeners that the present evils of our day are temporal. We can hope for change because change has happened; history testifies that there is space for a rich diversity of cultural presences in this world.
Sho continues, “This is gospel/ This is justice/ This is liberation/ This is truth before the reconciliation.” In these verses, Sho refines the song’s perspective to acknowledge present struggles. What is needed is clarity—and this clarity is true, good news. Through such lines, the entire first verse asserts an identity of freedom, both for victims and perpetrators of injustice. Liberation is not just for the oppressed, but also for the oppressor. Victory over hatred is a victory for us all.
But “March” is not a message of pacification and apathy. If anything, it is a call to action: “This is God over politics/. . . What good is my word without compassion? What good is my faith and belief without action?” Our belief in the coming kingdom of God relies not only on our acknowledgement of its existence, but also on its present reality and on our participation in bringing about its reign. Indeed, Sho Baraka suggests that any doctrine that justifies complacency is in need of “theological clean out.” A believer cannot simultaneously hope for justice and refuse to assist in its creation.
Many people hesitate from participating in the creation of justice because they feel overwhelmed, helpless, or isolated by the enormity of the task. But these feelings give way to false conclusions. This fight isn’t new, our perspective isn’t limited to current events. We are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses. Sho clearly directs the attention of his listeners to the proud tradition of working toward racial reconciliation, which still inspires “children of the dreamers.”
We don’t have to innovate new ways to fight injustice. We still believe that our spiritual practices impact real life. The prayerful petition that God’s kingdom would be made real on earth is not a new one; it is as ancient as prayer itself. Sho reminds us of this truth in the refrain, “Thy kingdom come/ Thy will be done” paired with the joyful declaration that “We’re marching on/ Marching on to freedom.” The beat of the song itself is repetitive, attuning us to this persistent truth. Always, still, now: God is at work, ever faithful. This is not a new idea, and we don’t have to find the solutions ourselves.
Despite the timing of its release, Sho Baraka’s “March” is not a response to Charlottesville, nor is it really even a response to American racism. It is an expectation of the coming kingdom, an exuberant recognition that Christ has won this battle and a sobering admonition to usher in His reign. The recognition of the now-and-not-yet kingdom is both comforting to those overwhelmed by corruption and compelling to those who are complacent about the state of the world.
Whether “children of the dreamers” or those in need of “authenticity to counterfeit,” “March” is a bold invitation for us to “Stand on the shoulders of giants and then scream/ ‘WAKE UP!’” to the reality of the evil in our world, and the reality of hope in the world to come.
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