… one of many thought-provoking quotes from Cornel West in Call+Response.

[Seriously, every phrase the professor utters in this film is fully loaded with meaning — I was still trying to catch up three or four sentences later every time he spoke.  His exposition on the idea of “funk” as it relates to the muck, mire and beauty of humanity is particularly compelling.]

Call+Response is a musical documentary film about modern-day slavery and human trafficking featuring artists such as Cold War Kids, Imogen Heap and Moby (more on the music below) alongside notable figures such as the aforementioned Cornel West, Madeleine Albright and Ashley Judd.

The raw stats, if we care to come at them in any realistic way, are sickening and overwhelming:

  • 27 million people enslaved today — more than at any other point in human history
  • Human trafficking as an “industry” earns more annually than Google, Nike and Starbucks combined (in the neighborhood of $32 billion)

The film’s title is a play on the antiphonal music — the call and response — created by American slaves which gave rise to spirituals, then to the blues and, eventually, to rock music.  Music made by an enslaved people to reclaim their dignity.

* * * * *

Outrage

I just got back from watching this film, and I am all over the map.

My immediate, visceral reaction is anger — almost blind rage — at the utterly depraved johns that prey on the children who are being prostituted around the world.  It’s hard for me to believe that whatever it is that makes us human still exists in these kinds of people. Closely intertwined with the anger is a sense of helplessness — after all, what difference could I possibly make?  In the face of such crushing and incomprehensible evil, do my little words on this little blog even matter?  Encountering the monster of slavery and human trafficking is a little bit like sleepwalking across the street and getting hit by a runaway truck.

At several points during the film I wept, and at many other points I wanted to stand up and curse and scream.  I could feel my heart beating out of my chest and the veins in my head throbbing.

For the Kids

When I was watching the stories related to children — kids forced to become prostitutes or drug-addicted soldiers — I couldn’t help but think of our own daughter.  Not only to be fiercely protective of her, but also how I want to live in such a way that she would be proud of her dad.  I know she loves the fact that her mom and dad are pastors, and she’s really proud that we serve God in this way.  But I want her to know that I did everything I could to stand up for what is good and right and true and beautiful and just in this world, especially for children who don’t have someone to look out for them.  Even more, I don’t want to stand before God one day, unable to do anything more than shrug my shoulders and mumble excuses about why I sat around when the need was so obvious.

Today

I don’t have any illusions about being a hero — no martyr or messiah complex here.  However, something Gary Haugen, president of International Justice Mission, said during the film resonated with me.  He mentioned a sort of wistfulness about the civil rights movement in America — that feeling, “I wish I was there to make a difference” — and how we don’t have to long for the past but can actually be part of today’s abolitionist movement.  I would like to think that I would have marched together for civil rights, even at the risk of bodily harm by firehose or attack dog — but the real issue, of course, is how to live today.

The Music

A couple of thoughts about the music in the film, which I quite enjoyed:  When Talib Kweli took the mic, I was reminded about the prophetic voice of hip hop, speaking truth to power in the often-ugly reality of everyday life.  Emmanuel Jal’s song about his experience as a child soldier in Sudan is stunning.  As he rhymes his painful recollections, he also speaks words of prayer in Swahili — a really beautiful juxtaposition.  And, the freestyle Matisyahu delivers at the film’s close is brilliant.

Clearly, all of this demands a response.  Just what, exactly, this response looks like is the journey our family and our church is beginning together.

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