The movie The Green Book tells the true story of Dr. Don Shirley, a world-class black pianist living in a sweet at Carnegie Hall. Dr. Shirley plans a trip out away from the safety of his Manhattan residence into a world that has not fully embraced the new realities of desegregation. He has planned a cross-country concert tour that will take him into the heart of the south. As the story begins, Dr. Shirley searches for a qualified driver, one that can also serve as an intimidating deterrent to anyone wanting to cause trouble. During the interview process, Dr. Shirley meets Tony Vallelonga, an Italian/Bronx-born bouncer, who holds a subtle prejudice against people of color. As they prepare to leave the safety of the big city, Tony is handed a Green Book. This catalog was a guide written for African-Americans traveling in the deep south during the years of Jim Crow.
The movie follows the development of their friendship as they navigate through the Jim Crow reality of the era. As their relationship grows, Dr. Shirley learns to embrace the crass, unsophistication of his chauffeur. Tony, in turn, learns to accept Dr. Shirley as an equal. And he begins to care deeply about the abuse and prejudice endured by his employer turn friend. He does not understand why Dr. Shirley chose to visit an area so resistant to his presence, or why he continues to press forward in spite of the constant rejection.
At one point in the story, Tony is standing outside a palatial plantation where Dr. Shirley had just performed. While the aristocracy accepts Dr. Shirley as a performer, they continue to mistreat him as a human being. Tony is speaking with Oleg (a close friend and associate of Dr. Shirley). Oleg explains why Dr. Shirley chose to come to the deep south.
You asked me once why Dr. Shirley does this. I tell you, because genius is not enough. It takes courage to change people’s hearts.
Today, we think knowledge is the currency that buys change. If we can just educate enough, if we can just get the message out, then we could change our community. We freely share our “wisdom” and “opinions,” rarely recognizing the difference. And as we do, we mistakenly think that we are changing our world. Because knowledge is power.
Oleg’s statement would teach us something different. By itself, knowledge is useless. It is a dormant instrument, an idle tool, until wielded by a willing workman. And when an instrument is used in an attempt to work on people, to change people’s hearts, this requires courage. Genius is not enough because knowledge is useless without the courage to love.
Paul knew the power of genius. But he knew that it is wasted unless the person who holds it is willing to use it in a demonstration of courageous love:
And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. (1 Corinthians 12:2)
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