Brooks Was Here, So Was Red

Many of you may recognize the title of this post as the defining moment in The Shawshank Redemption.  Underneath this etching in a halfway house, Morgan Freeman (Red), an ex-con of 40 years, confronts fear and despair and chooses hope in the very spot where Brooks, a similar man in a similar situation, chose to take his own life.  It is the tipping point of the film; a dramatic moment where the promise of hope triumphant outweighs the danger and futility of losing hope.  It is both moving and powerful to watch and I quickly find myself conjuring up my own stories of hope triumphant, including and especially the Christian idea that though troubles may fill the night, joy comes in the morning.

However, bringing this metaphor out of the script and into the present causes me great trouble.  Certainly there are times in our collective, societal memory that we can recall such real-life stories of hope triumphing over despair.  This past week, as we honored the 50th anniversary of The March on Washington, we were served a wonderful reminder of such an account of hope overcoming overwhelmingly negative odds.  However, as Syrian children are gassed in senseless acts of violence, broken systems of democracy exclude the rights and voices of the poor and hungry, and Bangladeshi buildings crash to the ground claiming the lives of thousands and declaring the ultimate reign of horrific and inhumane forms of global capitalism, I find the metaphor to be broken, or at least, misleading.  It is not the fact that hope cannot overcome injustice that gives me trouble, for I suppose, in certain times it can and does.  Rather it is the perceived simplicity of the choice and subsequent nullification of circumstance and complexity that causes a gag reflex to well up inside of me.

As theologians and citizens of the world in the twenty-first century, it is our responsibility to introduce a third character into the room, one that meticulously and responsibly presents hope while also being accountable to the devastating particularities of modern circumstances.  This character must stand firmly at the same crossroads of hope and despair, where Brooks and Red once stood, and reject the futility of blindly embarking down either road.  And in doing such, this character must creatively re-shape and re-imagine faith, hope, and love.

However, as I write this post, I do not pretend to know what this character might look like, say, or do.  Nor do I imagine that I am, in some way or another, this character.  But, I do know this:  today, many Syrian parents will be reminded that their precious young children are never coming home to them again.  No more family dinners.  No more nighttime prayers.  No more innocent, precious smiles.  Not today, not tonight, and not in the morning.

As the leaders of America meet on Capitol Hill this very minute to discuss the use of force in Syria, this metaphor deserves at least a moment of thought, especially from those who follow the way and example of Jesus Christ.  Surely Christianity has more to offer the world than bombs, which only lead to the perpetuation of violence, and flimsy hymns of metaphorical hope which only fall flat as tears pour onto breathless children.

But then again, for some things, I imagine, there are no words.

–George Kernodle

George is a second-year student in the Master of Theological Studies (MTS) program and a Student Ambassador at Candler. A graduate of University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, George has traveled to China as part of a language learning exchange program and to El Salvador with the Global Health Organization. After Candler he hopes to pursue his interest in health policy and management.

Photo credits:

(Top) Movie still from The Shawshank Redemption with Morgan Freeman and Tim Robbins;

(Bottom) Photo by Craig Ruttle, a Syrian child at a refugee camp in Yayladagi, Turkey, April 4, 2012.


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