Bearing One Another’s Burdens and Coach Carter
Film title: Coach Carter
Central Theological Conversational Theme: “Bear one another’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.” (Galatians 6:2, NRSV)
Audience: Adult or teen devotion.
Amount of film to be used in the theological conversation: One clip, scene # 7, “Another Sister,” time – 32:46 – 43.27.
Goal of the film conversation: The goal of the film conversation is to think about and talk about Paul’s challenge concretely: “Bear one another’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.” (Galatians 6:2, NRSV). What does it mean? How and in what ways shall we do it? What does it look like, sound like, feel like, taste like, and smell like to bear one another’ burdens right now?
How to focus on film:
Synopsis of movie, scene set-up, show clip, prayer, discussion questions
Coach Carter depicts the true story of a tough-as-nails high school basketball coach and his ill-mouthed, ill-learned, and ill-tempered “team” in Richmond County, California. Life in Richmond County, California is hard and sadly predictable if you are a young African American or Latino male. The choices for these high school teenagers are often limited to prison, death or college. And, not many make it to college. Ken Carter (Samuel L. Jackson) is solicited by the school’s aging coach, Coach White (Mel Winkler), to take over the school’s losing basketball team. This team is not just losing on the court but in the classroom as well. In fact, many are well on their way to losing in life with the ever present call of drugs, gangs, violence, and teenage pregnancy. Carter knows this neighborhood and these young people well; he has been one of them. Ken Carter graduated from RichmondHigh School where he held scoring and assists records thirty years prior. He went on to college after high school. Now Mr. Carter is a successful business man with his own sporting goods store in the community. He remembers his friends from his high-school basketball days, some ended up in prison some ended up dead. Carter takes the job and the team because he wants and believes he can affect change. After Ken Carter takes the role of coach, he tells his players he wants to win. More importantly, he wants his team to win “out there”—in the world. Coach Carter wants these young men to go to college. He is willing to do whatever it takes to get them there. The coach insists that his players sign a contract in order to play on his team. There are ten rules. Only one rule pertains to basketball. The other nine rules relate to academics. It will be this contract that puts Coach Carter and his team at the center of controversy. Remarkably, Coach Carter must battle parents, the school board, the principal, the community-at-large, and his players one by one, to achieve his goal of getting these young men to college. Viewers are invited to chronicle Coach Carter’s changes in these young players through several smaller vignettes set within this larger narrative. Moreover, viewers also witness the changes in some of Coach Carter’s greatest obstacles, the school’s Principal Garrison (Denise Dowse), parents, and the community.
Timo Cruz (Rick Gonzalez) is one of Coach Carter’s (Samuel L. Jackson) players. Tim and Carter have gotten off to a rocky start. Timo has a bad habit of using the “n” word, playing the tough guy, and disregarding any form of authority. This is a problem. Ken Carter is a strict authoritarian. He demands respect as he gives respect. He insists on the players calling him and each other “sir.” In addition, Timo is not too interested in signing any contract, particularly one that will have him attending all his classes, sitting on the front row, making and maintaining a 2.7 grade point average, and providing ten hours of community service to the school. He refuses the contract and continues to use the “n” word. Coach Carter tells him to leave his gym. Timo refuses. Coach Carter threatens to assist him out. Timo asks Coach Carter, “What do you see?” The coach says “I see a very confused and frightened young man.” Timo is extremely incensed at this remark. He is not afraid of anyone. And to make his point, he takes a swing at Ken. Ken quickly gains the upper hand and slams Timo into a locker. Timo pathetically whines, “A teacher cannot touch a student.” Ken replies, “I’m not a teacher; I’m your new basketball coach.” Timo Cruz is off the team. And “out there—in the world,” Timo finds trouble. He begins associating with and working for his cousin, Renny (Vincent Laresca), a drug dealer. Life on the streets does not suit Timo. His old team is winning on the court; and he is in the process of losing on the streets. Timo wants back on the team. He comes to the gym one afternoon during practice to find out what he can do to get back on the team. This is a key climatic moment for this young man and this team.
Play scene # 7, “Another Sister,” time – 32:46 – 43.27.
Conversation Partners: Me, the apostle Paul and Dietrich Bonhoeffer
The Christian life and faith is one of awareness and concern for what is happening in the lives of those around us. So much so that a Christian is always asking, “What does it mean to ‘bear one another’s burdens’?” “Whose burdens shall we bear?” “How shall we bear them?” concretely, right here, right now. (Me) More importantly, the apostle Paul calls us to “Bear one another’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.” (Galatians 6:2, NRSV) And, “God has so arranged the body, giving the greater honor to the inferior member, greater honor to the inferior member, that there may be no dissension within the body, but the members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together with it; if one member is honored, all rejoice together with it.” (1 Corinthians 12:24b – 26, NRSV) And, “To bear the burden of the other person means involvement with the created reality of the other, to accept and affirm it, and, in bearing with it, to break through to the point where we take joy in it.” (Bonhoeffer, Dietrich. Life Together. HarperSanFrancisco, p. 101).
The apostle Paul tells us that we are to bear one another’s burdens, and that this will fulfill the law of Christ. Further, he says that when one member of the body suffers all suffer. Similarly, Dietrich Bonhoeffer writes in his book, Life Together, that it is precisely when we begin to think of the “other” as our brother or sister in Christ that he or she becomes a burden for us. Until then, it is easy to treat others as objects, dismissing, ignoring, or using them. But once we begin to think of others as free subjects, then we must begin to bear them. He says, “To bear the burden of the other person means involvement with the created reality of the other, to accept and affirm it, and, in bearing with it, to break through to the point where we take joy in it.” Dietrich Bonhoeffer embodied what it looks like, sounds like, feels like, tastes like, and smells like to bear one another’s burdens. He ministered to Jews, Christians, atheists, prison guards, and to us today through his writings, all from a Nazi prison camp during World War II, fulfilling the law of Christ: love one another. In Jesus Christ, we are all brothers and sisters, children of God. We are all free subjects. And it is precisely as such that we must bear one another.
The RichmondCountyHigh School basketball “team” has not been much of a team. In fact, each boy on this “team” has been struggling as an individual, fighting alone against his deepest fear—poverty, violence, drugs, fatherhood, failure, prison, death. It was not until these disconnected young men began to see and understand that they would rise or fall as a team that they then began to see and understand each other as free subjects. When Timo Cruz comes to regain his spot on the team, he asks Coach Carter what he can do to get back on the team. Ken tells Timo, “Son, you do not want to know the answer to that question,” and continues with his practice. Timo does not budge. Ken turns and says, “You owe me 2,500 pushups and 1,000 suicides. Oh, and you owe them to me by Friday.” Timo removes his jacket and gets to work. The players watch as Timo strains and groans to complete his assignment. At the end of practice on this day, Coach Carter walks over to Timo, who is exhausted but determined and says, “Sir, what is your greatest fear? That you are inadequate? Give up, sir. Go home.” This assignment is out of Timo’s reach. He cannot do it. Not alone. At the end of practice on Friday, Coach Carter tells Timo that he is impressed with what Timo has been able to accomplish. However, it is not enough. He still owes 80 suicides and 500 pushups. He directs Timo to leave his gym. But one young man gets it. He steps forward and says that he can do some pushups and suicides for Timo. He tells the coach that he has taught them that they fail or triumph as a team, right? One by one each player steps up to bear Timo’s burden. And in so doing, fulfill the law of Christ.
- Paul writes that when one suffers we all suffer? Who is “we”? In what ways do you know this to be true? False?
- Paul writes that bearing one another’s burdens fulfills the law of Christ. What law of Christ?
- Bonhoeffer writes that: “To bear the burden of the other person means involvement with the created reality of the other, to accept and affirm it, and, in bearing with it, to break through to the point where we take joy in it.” What does this mean? Can we take joy in bearing another person’s burdens? Have you? Explain. Could you? Explain.
- Jason Lyle tells Coach Carter that they, the basketball team, fails or triumphs as a team. Do you think that is true? Why? Why not? When we fail, do we fail alone? When we succeed, do we succeed alone? Is anyone self-made? Why?
- Why do you think Coach Carter allows his team to bear Timo’s burden? Is it fair? What do you think Timo learns from this? What do you think his team learns from this? What can we learn from this?
- We live in a culture that says: “if you work hard, you will succeed;” and “be all you can be.” Have you know this to true? Explain. Have you known this to be false? Explain. I know a woman who worked six days a week at a mill in Mooresville, NC from the time she was sixteen years old until she retired. She retired into poverty. Do you think her poverty was a result of her working lazy? What if all you can be is sick? Are we bearing one another? in our neighborhoods? in our communities? in our schools? in our churches? in our retirement homes? in our hospitals? in our prisons? in our states? in our country? in our world? How? Why? Why not? Where can we do better?
You are the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. You are the God of Israel. You have created us as individuals and called us into community. We thank and praise you for the gift of relationship, brothers and sisters to laugh with, fellow weepers, sojourners to travel in and on the way of life. Even as we ask forgiveness for the times we fail to see, hear, and feel our companions in creation. Oftentimes when we do see, hear and feel those who surround us, we find that we are prone to gravitate towards those who are like us—fun, filled, well, and happy. Many times we leave those who are sick, hungry, tired, lonely, and injured as they are. After all, we are busy and the sick, hungry, tired, lonely, and injured are bothersome. Forgive us. Help us to remember that You created and create us; bore and bear us; sustained and sustain us. Strengthen us that we may go and do likewise. So that we may bear one another, and in that way fulfill the law of Christ. Let us find our joy in bearing one another’s burdens. Amen