The theology of Black Snake Moan

On a whim, I rented “Black Snake Moan” Partially because of the way they marketed it (particularly the cover of the DVD) I couldn’t figure it out. I was afraid I was getting something really sleezy.
The movie was quite the opposite. In some sense, though, I think it was intentional… Setting up a situation that activates all sorts of assumptions, preconceptions, even prejudices. Seriously, what do most of us think when we see a strong man with a chained up, half-naked young woman?
Do our preconceptions change if we locate race: The man is black and the woman is white?

I wish I could say that I didn’t fall into it. But again, I think it was partially intentional on the part of the brilliant film makers, playing on our assumptions and preconceptions.

It’s this amazing commentary on race, gender, mental health and illness, power dynamics, and Christianity.
There were numerous scenes I found brilliant, touching, insightful. This was one. The back story to this scene is that the main character, Lazurus, finds Rae left for dead, half-naked right outside his yard. She is mentally ill, sexually acts out, suffered horrendous abuse and is wildy and desperately in love with Ronnie. (Niether Ronnie or Lazurus appear in the scene below.) Lazurus decides that can lead Rae into wholeness and chains her in his living room so that she can’t leave and go back to her old ways. R.L. is Lazurus’ pastor and oldest friend. This scene is the meeting between Rae and R.L.


You a preacher?

That’s right.

Can I ask you a question?
(R.L. nods)
People always say, you gotta get good with Jesus, if you want not to go to hell. That you say sorry for all you done and… and Jesus would let you go on to heaven.

You could put it that way.

But that’s so ****’n stupid.
(she catches herself)
I’m sorry. Didn’t mean to curse.

What’s on your mind?

You can’t hurt people… and then just say, I’m sorry, and then everything just gets washed away. Why would heaven want people like that. People who… do what they want and then… switch.

I’m gonna tell you somethin’, and it’s just gonna be between you and me.
(Rae anxiously nods)
I think folks carry on about heaven too much. Like it’s some all-you-can-eat buffet up in the clouds.
And folks just gonna do as they’re told so they can eat what they want behind some pearly gates. I can go to Shoney’s for that.
(Rae grins. R.L. leans closer.)

There’s sin in my heart. There’s evil in this world. But when I got no one… I talk to God. I ask for strength. I ask for forgiveness. Not for peace at the end of my days when there’s no more life to live and no more good to do, but today. Right now.
(Rae has never had anyone talk to her like this. She is listening. She is understanding.)

What’s your heaven? What gives you peace?
(Rae looks at her bare feet. She tries to respond but the pain in her chokes back the words. Tears come to her.)

(struggling to speak)


There are some sexually explicit scenes in the movie. There are themes that are disturbing, and others that are simply mature. If these things are stumbling blocks for you I’d obviously reccomend you stay away.
But even if you don’t watch the movie, I hope you’ll join me in admiring the truthfullness in the scene quoted above. The characters of Rae and R.L. name such real stumbling blocks that few people really name explicitly:
Non-Christians find the idea of God’s forgiveness ridiculous. We’d be wise to simply own the ridiculousness of it all, and affirm it as truth anyway.
Christians, on the other hand, all too often, simply pass the time in this world while waiting for the all-you-can-eat-buffet in the sky. We’d be wise to carry on about heaven less, I think, and do what we can to bring God’s kingdom about us in the here and now.


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The stories that speak to our soul begin at a home where things are good. Cinderella is happy with her father. The three little pigs have grown up and are ready to move on. Bilbo Baggins knows his shire. Adam and Eve walk with God in the garden. My story isn’t much different. There was a time and a place where it was so good. There was a community for me. And there was joy. We were filled with a sincere desire to do what God wanted us to do. We possessed explanations and understandings that went a certain distance. We offered security and tradition and laughter. For a lot of years, that was enough. I have this sense that it was also necessary. I have this surety, now, that it certainly wasn’t everything. There were some things that became increasingly problematic as time went by. There was a desire to package things up so very neatly. Sunday morning services were efficient and strategic. Responses to differences of opinion were premeditated. Formula began to feel more important than being real. A real desire for everybody to be one of us, but also a real sense that there is an us, and there is a them. They carried a regret that it has to be this way, but deeper than this regret was a surety that this is how it is. I began to recognize that there was a cost of admission to that group. There were people who sat at the door, collecting it. Those people wished they didn’t have to. But I guess they felt like they did have to. They let some people in, and they left others out. There was a provisional membership. My friends did possess a desire to accommodate people that are different… But it would be best for everyone concerned if they were only a little bit different. I did make many steps forward in this place. Before I went there, there were lies that I believed. Some of the things that I learned there, I still hold on to. But that place is not my home anymore. Those people are not my community anymore. There were times it was hard. I am engaged in a different community now. And I am working hard at finding a place in many different places now, embracing many different kind of families. I don’t always get it right. I am trying and I am learning and I am moving foreward. I have this sense that I am not alone in these experiences. I believe that we are tribe and we are growing. We are pilgrims, looking for a new holy land. Perhaps we won’t settle on the same spot of land. But if you’ve read this far, I am thinking that we are probably headed in the same general direction. I have begun this blog to talk about where my journey is taking me. In every space, we find people who help us along. And maybe we can get to know each other, here. We embrace ideas that provide a structure for the things we believe, and perhaps we can share these too. Maybe we can form a group, a tribe, a community, if we can figure out a way to work through the shadow of these kinds of groups, if we can bigger than the us-and-them ideas that have caused so much trouble in the past. As important as they are, I think the very nature of online interactions will lend itself to something equally powerful. I am stumbling onto these practices that my grandfathers and great grandfathers in the faith engaged in. I am learning about these attitudes and intuitions are so different than the kinds of things we call doctrine today. I don’t know about you, but I am running out of patience, and even interest, in conversations about doctrine. I hope that maybe you’ll share a little something about where your journey is taking you, and maybe our common joys and challenges might help each other along, and we might lift each other up. Thanks for doing this journey with me.

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