Sean Astin has the one of best lines in "Woodlawn" when his character says, "This is what happens when God shows up." The line takes place near the end of this Christian movie, based on a true story, that shows us with Christ's help we can follow the call to love our enemies. Set in 1970's Birmingham, "Woodlawn" follows a newly desegregated high school football team, whose members are forced to get along after years of hostility. Through the preaching of a sports minister (played by Sean Astin), the team experiences a revival. Beyond just getting along, years of prejudice are erased and the teammates become brothers. Here are some takeaways from "Woodlawn" that we can practice in our lives as we, too, strive to love our enemies.
Love Christ First
Loving our enemy without accepting the love of Christ into our hearts is like drawing water from an empty well. In "Woodlawn", Hank, the sports minister, tells the players, "Birmingham has seen nothing but hate for so long that it has lost its ability to believe. It's lost hope." Hank goes on to ask the team to "Make a decision to change, to forgive, to choose Jesus." Hank recognized that the only way to change hard and hopeless hearts, is to let Jesus in first. In this same way, we must let the love of Jesus into our hearts if we want to love others as he does.
Ask for Forgiveness
Before Coach Geralds is baptized, he asks for forgiveness from a group of his players, saying, "I have not done enough to stop [your persecution]." In this act, Geralds shows us that asking for forgiveness generates the switch of an enemy becoming a friend. Though it takes a great deal of courage and humility, asking forgiveness can literally transform a relationship.
Spend Time Together
In "Woodlawn", the players spend time together working for a common goal. No matter how small, finding some common ground is a great opportunity to spend time with a person you find difficult to love. Invite them to Bible Study or a pick-up sports game - anything where you can practice loving them.
Be More than Just Polite
We are taught to be polite to everyone, whether we know them or not. However, when you're really invested in someone, you make sacrifices for them beyond politeness. There is a scene in"Woodlawn" where Coach Geralds takes Tony's side as Tony refuses to have his photo taken with the racist governor. This act showed Gerald's willingness to risk his own reputation for the sake of Tony. It's not enough to love our enemies passively. We must love actively.
In the beginning of "Woodlawn", Coach Geralds admits he didn't believe in miracles before 1973. Throughout the film, we see him, his players, and even the town, change, because they traded in their prejudice and hate for the love and forgiveness of Jesus.
When Christ gives us a commandment he doesn't just leave us alone to follow that commandment, but sends his Spirit to help us. We have to trust that God wants to give us the miracle of loving those who are hard to love. Only then can we be true to the scripture, "They will know we are Christians by our love."
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