Film Friday: Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

When the police have still made no arrests, 7 months after her daughter is raped and murdered,  Mildred Hayes spots three old empty billboards near her house and decides to take action. She posts up three huge red messages –
1. Raped and dying     2. and still no arrests?    3. How come, Chief Willoughby?
Here’s a glimpse from the trailers…

YouTube video

YouTube video

This is an angry, violent, sweary story. Mildred is broken and bitter, and demanding something be done. But the local police department seems more concerned about the posters than the death of her daughter. In fact, her public yawp for justice disturbs the whole town, but Mildred won’t give up and she eventually takes drastic action to get herself heard. A happy story this is not. However, there is a telling moment of grace, when two guys share a hospital room. Although one of them has been badly beaten up by the other, instead of taking revenge he brings the other guy a glass of orange juice, and gently turns the straw inviting him to drink from it. It’s a subtle, powerful moment in an otherwise brutal story. And I think it’s my favourite moment.

Like the police in Ebbing I often get my priorities wrong. I get wound up about the wrong things. I forget to care about compassionate justice in a world so full of people who are denied it. But the Bible won’t let me off the hook. It is littered with powerful cries for help, and hefty nudges to make me care about others. I can’t get away with the idea that following Jesus is just about making my own life better. The prophet Isaiah yells at us in chapter 58 – ‘the kind of worship God wants calls you to free those who are wrongly imprisoned and to stop oppressing those who work for you. Treat them fairly and give them what they earn. I want you to share your food with the hungry and to welcome poor wanderers into your homes. Give clothes to those who need them, and do not hide from relatives who need your help.’ The prophet Micah tells us that God cares about kindness, humility and justice. (Micah 6 v 8) And Jeremiah throws his head to the sky and rails for justice to roll down like a torrent of water. He might well have been tempted to stick it on three billboards.

But the prophets tell another story too. Unlike Mildred they have discovered the God who is with us in the darkness. In one scene Mildred talks to a deer, wondering if we are alone in this world to do whatever we want. The Bible assures us we are not, it tells us that freewill causes many problems,  and it features many folks who are suffering, but always in the context of a caring God they can talk to, and to whom they candidly pour out their deepest troubles.

‘Come to me all you who are weary and burdened,’ said Jesus, ‘take my ways and adopt them, for my way of life is good, and my calling is fine. Follow me and learn from me, for I am humble and gentle, and you will find hope and rest for your souls.’
From Matthew 11 vv 28-30

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