Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize.- I Corinthians 9:24
It’s not surprising that Paul used a race metaphor to explain the life of a Christian. He could have used wrestling or some other Greek contest, but he chose the race. It’s you on a level playing field with everyone else in the race, straining toward the best time, the best finish, the best you can do. It’s fair, right?
Until it’s not.
Stephan James plays Jesse Owens, the famous black sprinter who made a global splash at Adolph Hitler’s Olympic Games in Nazi Germany in 1936. Under the watchful eye of Coach Larry Snyder (Jason Sudeikis), Owens ran his race(s), while representing a different sort of race in the face of adversity. But it’s more complex than one guy standing up as a symbol because Owens has to wrestle with his own decisions – and the pressures everyone else puts on him.
While Owens is a hero, he doesn’t always make smart decisions, largely a result of trying to keep everyone else happy. His somber father is angry at the world because of discrimination; Owens is trying to support his family (and the mother of his child) while going to school in Columbus, OH. His coach failed at his own attempt at the Olympics and lives vicariously through Owens’ success. His people – so the NAACP tells him – need him to boycott the Berlin Olympics to make a statement.
And in the hinge scene that came in a series of serious conversations set within the movie, Owens is told to trust himself and make the best decision. He has to run his own race, whatever it takes – and regardless of what anyone else thinks of him. It’s the decision we find ourselves facing as people – as Christians – as individuals facing moral decisions. We will run for an “Audience of One” or get caught up in a different race, the rat race? Will we tune out the noise and be who we are meant to be or succumb to the pressure of those around us, even when they don’t really care about us the way we want them to?
Owens proves heroic, and powerful, but Race is epic because it shows the nuanced world he navigated on the way to the finish line.