Tag Archives: forgiveness

Everybody Needs a Heart Transplant

Psalm 51 is classified as a penitential psalm. The definition of penitence is sorrow for sin or faults. The psalm certainly lives up to that definition, expressing profound sorrow, but it does a great deal more than wallow in recognition of personal wrong-doing.

The header on this psalm links it to David’s adultery with Bathsheba, a sin that was magnified by the murder of her husband. Jesus spoke of the moment David fell into sin. Jesus said, “Everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Matthew 5:28 ESV). Jesus said that David’s sin originated in his heart. In fact, Jesus said that the heart is the place where our sins are born: “out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies” (Matthew 15:10 ESV). Apparently, the problem with the world is sinful hearts.

When David wrote Psalm 51, he recognized his real problem. He confessed his sin and his need of God’s forgiveness and cleansing, and then he said, “Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me” (Psalm 51:10 ESV). David knew that his heart would continue to be a source of sin if something did not change. His heart needed to be different, and he knew he could not merely decide to be a better man.

Contemporary culture would have us believe that we can simply decide and then become. “If you can dream it, you can be it,” the culture says. Every person who struggles with diet and exercise can testify that dreams simply are not enough. David looked at himself and saw the way his attitude and behavior had been perverted by the lust in his heart, and he recognized that his heart was the problem. He also recognized that imagining himself as a better man would not fix his heart. He said, “I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me” (Psalm 51:5 ESV) David could see what Jesus saw in the heart—the source of his sinful thoughts, words and deeds. His heart needed to be fixed, and he could not fix it himself.

David turned to the One who could fix what was broken in his heart, and I find that I need to do the same thing. David could not fix himself, and I cannot fix myself, either. David cried out, “Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me” (Psalm 51:10 ESV), and I cry out the same way. My heart is a mess, just as his was, and I turn to the same source for help.

I share meditation on Scripture with an online group, and that means that when I read a text like this with the group, I benefit from the insights God gives to other people. In the group, many people recognized and rejoiced in the cleansing of the heart. That part of David’s cry was thoroughly celebrated, but one person saw the next level of blessing. She recognized that God did not merely cleanse David’s heart, but he “created” a new heart. We don’t simply get washed down. God does not merely paint over the scars of our sin. We get new hearts. She said, “He ‘created’ a new heart in me.”

That is the real blessing. I am not merely clean. I’m all new. I am like the advertising mantra “new and improved.”

Every time I read Genesis 6, I feel a pain in my stomach when I read, “GOD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually” (Genesis 6:5 ESV). Here, too, I am reminded that the heart is the origin of sin, and it boils out of us like an erupting volcano, ultimately destroying everything beautiful in the world God created. Fortunately, the Bible does not stop there. God’s story continues, and instead of despair, there is hope. David looked at himself and saw his own wickedness and evil, but he saw the hope. David knew God as a God who not only forgives us but makes us new. His experience foreshadows the coming of Jesus to work our salvation through Christ. When David asks for a new heart, he exercises the kind of faith that Abraham had, and Paul said that Abraham’s faith made him righteous, just as ours does. The author of Hebrews repeated that assertion that many people who lived before Christ had faith in God’s promise and God counted it as righteousness for them, too. The same faith worked for David.

There is only one way for us to be made clean, righteous, new, and that way is Christ. David’s prayer calls forth the same cleansing power as I experienced when I professed my faith and was baptized. God’s heart was broken by human sin in the Garden of Eden, at the time of Noah, when David took Bathsheba from her husband, and every time anyone chooses evil rather than good. Fortunately, because of the sacrifice and resurrection of Christ, every human being can safely and confidently pray with David, “Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me” (Psalm 51:10 ESV)

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Can a Christian Learn Something From a Survivalist?

Be a survivalist.

If you are a survivalist, some people will think you are amusing, and some will think you are a threat. There are enough people in our world who believe the world might end tomorrow that most people have spoken with at least one of them. Survivalists hoard certain things, and the motivation for their hoarding is the desire to be prepared to live and thrive when there is a disaster of such proportions that even the federal government is powerless to help. Survivalists don’t stop at collecting piles of food and bottled water. They also learn skills such as fire without matches and the proper way to make pemmican. They prepare this way, because they intend to survive whatever disasters befall them.

Christians can take a lesson from the survivalists. As long ago as the days of Jesus’s life in the flesh, he warned his followers to be prepared for the day that the followers of Christ would suffer. He foretold that the world would always hate people who followed him, and he foretold that there would be times of great danger. History is filled with evidence of the truth of his warnings. In fact, the daily news is filled with evidence that such times are already upon Christians in many places, and the evidence is clear that Christians in the USA need to prepare for real danger.

Christians who see threats to faith increasing in frequency and intensity need to learn from the survivalists. Christians need to prepare to live through some experiences unprecedented in the USA. The language of law which protected people of all faiths for more than 200 years is being re-interpreted and redefined to mean that all religious speech and actions must be confined to religious spaces, and the principle behind “conscientious objection” is being dissolved in acerbic legal conflicts. If Christians are serious about being Christians, they will need to prepare for the coming disaster.

In what ways can Christians learn from survivalists?

First, Stash the one resource without which no Christian can survive for long.

When a young pastor went to China to learn how to help Christians there, he was surprised. They did not ask to be rescued from persecution; they asked for Bibles. They considered that rather than be rescued, they wanted to live powerful testimonies to people who desperately needed to know Jesus. Who needs Jesus more than someone who is trying to arrest, imprison, torture, and kill Christians? What prepares a Christian to tell about Jesus better than a Bible?”

Every Christian needs a Bible, and that Bible should be worn and tattered. Christians need to read their Bibles. They need to ask questions about what they read and seek the answers. They need to memorize texts from the Bible and be able to share specific information from the Bible with anyone who needs it. The Bible is, according to Jesus, as important to us as daily bread. Jesus said, “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.” Jesus, God himself, quoted God’s words (His words) and indicated that Scripture is the food we need most. We need it every day, just like meat and milk.

Christians also need to study commentaries and devotionals and other Bible helps if they have access to them; most people should have such access online if not in their own hands. Maps, dictionaries, and many other books can help Christians see the biblical texts more clearly, or may help them unravel complex ideas, rather like carving a turkey and eating it a slice at a time rather than trying to gobble down the whole thing at once. But Christians who do not have helps, have the best helper of all given to them freely as Christ promised – the Holy Spirit. Jesus said that the Holy Spirit “will guide you into all the truth(John 16:13).

The earliest Christians did not have the New Testament. They only had the Scriptures we now call the Old Testament. That is fine. When Jesus met the disciples walking to Emmaus after his resurrection, he talked with them and “beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself” (Luke 24:27). The Holy Spirit taught the earliest Christians about Jesus as he is revealed in the Old Testament. After the New Testament became available, it provided much more material, but the Holy Spirit is able to use the Scriptures, all the Scriptures to nourish, sustain and inspire a believer.

Second, Pile up the promises of God.

Look at them often. Separate them and pick through them to remind yourself what God says. Make lists of them. Memorize them. Sort through them and count the repetitions. Know your inventory of the promises of God like the back of your hand. Write them down and look at them frequently. Say them to yourself when you go to bed at night and when you get up in the morning.

Third, Put all your hope in God.

It just makes sense, if you believe God’s promises. If God had promised nothing and delivered nothing over the thousands of years recorded in the Bible, then why would anybody hope in him? The Bible shares God’s promises, and the Bible demonstrates how he keeps them. You may come to understand that when God keeps his promises, the fulfillment may not look the way you imagined. God is not in the business of fulfilling your orders; he is in the business of fulfilling his plans. Therefore, you may need to exercise hope in the face of what looks like a failure. Abraham was told that all nations would be blessed through his descendants (Genesis 12:3), but at the time of God’s promise, Abraham had no children. Abraham tried to force God to fulfill his order, and Ishmael was born to Hagar, but that was not the promise God had made, and that was not the fulfillment of the promise. Abraham was 100 years old when God finally fulfilled the promise and Isaac was born. Abraham learned that if you hope in God, even the worst looking outcome can be the best possible outcome.

When Jesus died on the cross, all the disciples went home and locked the doors. It looked as if the worst possible outcome had befallen them. Jesus was dead. Gone. The great adventure was over. Kaput. Then on Sunday morning, they found the empty tomb. The worst possible outcome wasn’t the outcome at all. The real outcome was better than anything they had imagined.

Fourth, Start looking at things God’s way.

When you look at things with eyes full of hope in God, then you can see things God’s way. After Jesus had fed a lot of people with a little bit of food, he and the disciples left that place and kept traveling. One day Jesus asked the disciples what people were saying about him. Jesus might have been a circus sideshow. “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets” (Mark 8:28) The people were confused about Jesus, because they did not see things God’s way. They looked for a sideshow, and that is what they saw.

Then Jesus asked the disciples, “Who do you say I am?” (Mark 8:29a) The disciples had a chance to look at Jesus up close. They saw things the other people did not see. Peter answered, “You are the Christ” (Mark 8:29b). Peter was able to see things God’s way, and he saw the Messiah God had promised over and over in the Old Testament Scriptures. Of course, Peter would simply have said that the Messiah fulfilled “the Scriptures,” because those were the Scriptures he had. Everybody else had those Scriptures, too, but they did not recognize Jesus in those Scriptures.

Fifth, Build relationships.

Jesus knew how crucial it is for humans to have strong relationships. Human beings who are isolated from other humans too long become mentally ill. They are not strong in the face of pressure or pain. They are weak and needy. They want to be with people and be liked by people so much that they will do some terrible things in order to try to earn the fulfilling experience of human caring. People don’t even need to be truly separated to feel deeply needy. They simply need to be convinced that nobody likes them. That experience cuts off the fulfillment of friendship and sharing, and a needy person cannot face persecution and pain with strength.

The most important relationship is the relationship between a human being and God, and many people have survived horrific separation and agonizing torture nourished by the presence and power of God.  Still, people who have the option to live around family and/or friends are wise to build relationships with the people in their lives, even if those people are very different or even indifferent. Joseph, for example, was thrown into a prison where the only way out was at Pharaoh’s order, and Pharaoh did not know that Joseph existed. In that depressing state of affairs, the Bible says, “the Lord was with him; he showed him kindness and granted him favor in the eyes of the prison warden” (39:21). Joseph’s relationship with God bore fruit when God made Joseph look good in the eyes of the prison warden. Joseph was able to build and nurture a relationship with the man who could make his life in prison miserable. That relationship sustained him for many dark years before Pharaoh found out about Joseph.

Sixth, Refuse to be a victim.

Bad things happen.  Joseph had been a victim several times over by the time his brothers showed up in Egypt looking for food. By that time, several good things had also happened to Joseph, and he was the second most powerful person in Egypt. If Joseph had wallowed in victimhood after his brothers beat him up and sold him to slave merchants, he would likely have died in the slave market before ever getting to Potiphar’s house or to jail or anywhere. He could have whined and cried so much along the road to Egypt that he might have been beaten to death before they got there. Joseph, however, did no such thing. He trusted God. He looked for the opportunities God put in his path. He built relationships with enemies. He had a real life. In fact, he had several great life stories to tell by the time ten shepherds arrived at the grain warehouse where Egypt was able to sell food when all other nations were starving.

Nevertheless, there are many, many people who would have told Joseph that those ten men owed him big time. They would have said that the passage of time had healed nothing, and that there was nothing short of extremely painful restitution and reparations that could possibly heal the breach. We see exactly such attitudes in real life every day. The Balkan Peninsula and the Arabian Nights are full of stories where the key element is skillfully crafted revenge. A recent popular novel, The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest, centered on one man’s sick, gruesome notion of revenge. The culture of the USA is currently in full-blown warfare over the righteousness of a hashtag, #blacklivesmatter, because some people who prefer victimhood to blessed relationships say that the words “all lives matter” are not fair to people who feel the need for revenge.

Joseph, however, had a different outlook. He had had twenty years to decide what he would do if he ever saw his brothers, those rats, again, and his decision was — forgiveness. Joseph chose not to be a victim. He chose not to be tied in knots over the past. He chose to look at the good God had done with the bad that his brothers had done. He might even have humbly recalled that he was no prize at the time, either. Joseph abandoned a cry for sympathy and safe space and comforting words and apologies and revenge and reparations. Joseph simply said, “do not be distressed and do not be angry with yourselves for selling me here, because it was to save lives that God sent me ahead of you” (Genesis 45:5). Because Joseph trusted God when things looked hopeless, willingly viewed the world God’s way, and cared about his relationship with his brothers, Joseph was able to forgive. He pulled the poison injected into the family by his brothers’ dastardly deed. He made it possible for the family to heal.

When Christians today encounter hardships, feel danger, or endure persecution, they are experiencing exactly what Christ promised would come their way. If they gather up the things they will need ahead of time, and if they practice the skills they need ahead of time, then, like survivalists, they will be prepared when hard times come. How do you prepare for persecution? You might learn something from a survivalist.

 

Let the Dead Bury Their Dead

I am tired of it!

What am I tired of? I am tired of being told that I must repent, because people in my ancestry, even people who were not in my ancestry, engaged in behaviors and lifestyles of which I have never been part. The people at fault were white, or Christian, or lived in stable homes or enjoyed a moderate but reliable income. Or they owned slaves in the southern tier of states in the USA.

I have never owned slaves.

I have never insulted a person whose skin was a different color from mine.

I have never tortured anyone.

I have never held a child in bondage.

I have never pushed past anyone in line.

I have never belittled people of other ethnic origins than my own.

I have never lied or used special influence to obtain a job.

I can think of so many things that I never did, things for which I have no responsibility and no culpability, things which I abhor today, which I have always abhorred, which I always will abhor, for which somebody wants me to confess and apologize, repent and apologize. I am a truly sinful human being, enslaved by my sinful human nature and the deliberate work of Satan to lead me into ever greater sin, but I am not guilty of these social crimes for which many social activists and many marshmallow Christians demand that I confess, repent, apologize and do penance.

What if I were the descendant of a slave? What can it possibly mean for someone who never hurt me to apologize for his ancestors hurting my ancestors? What is the point? Why do I care? I might be comforted to hear that this person thinks those things were wrong and should not have been done, but why should I hold this person responsible for something he did not do, and furthermore, the person who did this terrible thing did not do it to me, but rather to people long dead? Of what benefit is his statement? Why would I even bring it up? The only reason for such an attitude would be to enjoy a power trip to put someone in “his place.” Such an attitude says that I don’t really want an apology; I want revenge, even though the person against whom I want revenge is dead. I want his descendants and the descendants of his descendants to pay for wrongs done to people of whom I am the descendant of descendants.

It is time for this stuff to stop. When Jesus taught us to pray, he included this petition: “forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.”

He did not say, “Be sure that you hold people responsible because their ancestors hurt your great-great-grandmother whom you have never even met.” Blaise Pascal wrote about a culture in his day that contorted logic and biblical teaching in such a way as to promote the quest for vengeance, and it appears that many social activists today have absorbed the very concepts he deplored. There is no justification for the constant focus taking offense. It is time for us to stop taking offense and start learning to love our neighbors and act like adults. It is time for us to stop trying to get revenge for ancient wrongs through surrogates for both the offender and the offended.

In the eyes of Jesus, even if I were a current slaveowner and you were the slave, it would be your responsibility to forgive me and to pray for my blessing. In the eyes of Jesus, the wronged person is the one who has an assignment. He showed us how that works by praying forgiveness for those who were nailing him to a cross.

As for me, if I were a current slaveowner, God would be reminding me in my heart every day that I was doing wrong. I might ignore him, but I would be wrong. Under those circumstances, I would owe my slaves an apology, a confession of my sin, and my humble amendment of life by manumitting them and providing them with some means to start living free. If I were a current slaveowner, that is what I ought to do.

I don’t own any slaves.

I have never owned any slaves.

No member of my family as far back as anyone knows ever owned any slaves. To my knowledge, nobody in my family ever even approved of slavery. Every family member I have ever met abhors that idea as much as I do. Therefore, I don’t even have any known ancestor in whose stead I should apologize to the descendant of any slave.

I am sorry that our ancestors were sinful human beings. Every single one of them. Both our black ancestors and our white ancestors, as well as those of any other color, were sinful human beings. They are were human. They all were sinful. And they all did bad things to one another. Some of my ancestors may actually have hurt some of your ancestors, but neither you nor I was there, and we do not need to carry on about it anymore. It isn’t even about forgiveness. I can’t forgive what your ancestors did to my ancestors, but I can let it go and not worry about it. I can learn from the stories and resolve to be a better person than that. The fact that my ancestors and your ancestors did wrong is just a fact about history. They may even have done wrong to one another. It is highly likely that somewhere in the ancient human story one of my ancestors hurt one of yours, and vice versa. It no longer matters. Demanding revenge and apologies and reparations is about ancient wrongs that are over and done with. Jesus teaches us to forgive people who wrong us, and never anywhere does he condone the idea of taking offense at people for things their ancestors may have done to your ancestors.

I am sure that people whose ancestors were slaves in the USA have a lot of pain in their family histories. I grieve with them for that pain. But I do not accept any responsibility for it, because I did not do it. I will not do it. I am not guilty, and I refuse to pretend that I feel guilty.

My mother just might have understood what the uproar is about. My mother married my dad at the age of 18. Her big brother was my dad’s best friend, and her brother brought his best friend home for a visit. One thing led to another, and my mom and dad got married. Then my mom started learning about their family history, and she discovered something that grated on her like a rock in her shoe. She discovered that my dad’s grandfather had once owned an entire section of land, and he lost it during the Great Depression when a bank demanded additional collateral for loan issued prior to the Depression. The papers were signed. The contract was established. Great-grandfather had received the full amount of his loan, and he was making payments as promised. Yet the bank asked for more collateral, and as soon as the papers that increased the collateral were signed, the bank foreclosed.

Anyone who ever dealt with a bank knows that when you take out a loan from a bank, you ask for it, because you need more money than you have, but when you sign the papers and receive your check, buried in the details of the loan agreement is a statement that the bank is not obligated to allow you to make payments until the loan is paid in full. One term of the loan agreement trumps all the others; the bank may require full repayment of the balance due at any time. That requirement is about protecting the bank if its funds fall below its prudent reserves. It is a protection for all the people whose money is protected by the bank, an assurance that when they come to the bank and as for their money, the bank will actually be able to give them their money. That is what banks do, and whether or not my mother liked it, the bank who lent great-grandfather Pollock money had the right at any time to ask for full repayment of the money. If Grandfather did not have the money, he would, and he did, lose his land.

My mother clung to that ancient deed which she considered to be wrong-doing by the bank as if it had been done to her. I lost count of the number of times she told me that story, but there is even more to the telling. She had the perception that if the bank had not “stolen” Great-grandfather Pollock’s land, then my dad and she would have been rich, or at least, richer than they were. Even though her perceptions depended on a distribution of Great-grandfather Pollock’s land that she and she alone imagined, her sense of deprivation was as real as if she had actually known how Great-grandfather Pollock would have distributed land to his heirs, and how those heirs would have distributed what they received. She let her imagination go wild, grieving for the loss of things she never had possessed. She suffered from a desire to avenge herself against all bankers, because of an event which she chose to interpret as deliberate malfeasance, even though nobody else in the family even worried about it. My dad certainly never did, and his father certainly never did. Only my mother worried about the loan and the land and the evil bankers. For everyone else, it was ancient history, or even less than that. It was a nonevent that did not matter to them. I cannot even vouch for the truth of all the elements in my mother’s story, because nobody else ever told that story. Hence, it might even be true that she had the facts all wrong. No matter. She was offended by the evil bankers and their theft of land that might have come to my dad and therefore to her.

Only my mother rehearsed the “might have been” story. I recall an evening when my grandfather laughed upon hearing her version. He said something like, “Who cares now?” I was the only person treated thereafter to numerous, bitter repetitions of the tale of loss. My mother, who did not even know the family at the time of the event, was the only person who suffered anguish over it for some fifty years. She could have saved herself a lot of grief if she could have followed the example of Great-grandfather Pollock’s genetic descendants and let go of her need for compensation for that loss.

I am very sad when I think of all the people who live here in America because their ancestors were slaves in the US. If they were not descendants of slaves brought here against their will, they could all be residents of Nigeria or Congo or Ivory Coast today. They would not need to worry about those ancient wrongs, because they would be living in Africa today, undisturbed and untouched by the liberty and prosperity of the land of the free. Like my mother grieving the loss of something that was never hers in the first place, I think they need to get over their angst and get on with their lives.

By Katherine Harms, author of Oceans of Love available for Kindle at Amazon.com. Watch for the release of Thrive! Live Christian in a Hostile World, planned for release in the summer of 2016

Innocent Blood

The author of the book of Hebrews wrote to people who were struggling to understand what it meant for them as Jews to recognize that Jesus was the Messiah promised when God said to Abraham, “All peoples on earth will be blessed through you” (Genesis 12:3 NIV). Toward the end of chapter 12, the author says, “You have not come to a mountain that cannot be touched,” referring to Sinai, the place where the nation of Israel was born.

At Sinai, God established his absolute righteousness in the minds and hearts of the descendants of Abraham. He enforced their respect for his righteousness by requiring them to keep their distance. He showed them the difference between himself and sinful humanity. He threatened them with death if they came near enough to touch the mountain on which he met Moses and wrote the Ten Commandments on stone tablets with his own finger. According to the man who penned the book of Hebrews, even Moses said, “I am trembling with fear” (Hebrews 12:21 NIV).

This same writer, however, comforts the Hebrew readers who are trying to understand how Jesus of Nazareth could be the Messiah by saying to them that instead of a mountain that nobody dares to touch, they may approach Mount Zion, because Jesus has mediated a new covenant in his own blood. Jesus, perfectly sinless, satisfied the righteousness of God in his own blood. Innocent of any wrongdoing, just like Abel, the first murder victim, the blood of Jesus cries out to God, just as Abel’s blood did. However, even though Abel was innocent when he was murdered, Abel was a sinful human being. His blood cried out his innocence, but his blood could not cleanse humans of sin, because Abel was as sinful as anyone else. Jesus, however, was not only innocent, but also sinless. The author of Hebrews says that Jesus is “the mediator of a new covenant,” and the sprinkled blood of Jesus “speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.”

Our world is, sad to say, filled with the sprinkled blood of innocent human beings. Every day, more babies are killed by abortion than were killed in the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001. In the US alone, more than 3,000 babies die every day by abortion. That is a lot of innocent blood. While nobody says that babies are sinless like Jesus, it is obvious that they are innocent–as innocent as Abel. Their blood cries out for God’s judgment as surely as Abel’s blood did.

The blood of Jesus speaks a better word than Abel’s blood, and it certainly speaks a better word than the blood of innocent babies. Christ’s blood speaks of righteous cleansing and purification from sin and guilt. If 3,000 babies die every day by abortion, then 3,000 mothers are suffering from the guilt of those murders. Each person who performs even one of those abortions suffers the guilt of knowing that an innocent human being died at his or her hands during each abortion. Nurses, aides, and even receptionists know the mayhem in which they are participating, and if they ever stop to listen, the blood of those innocents will call out to them for God’s judgment.

The blood of Jesus, on the other hand, calls out for God’s forgiveness. The righteousness of God is poured out over every human being who chooses to receive forgiveness though Christ. The righteous blood of Christ can cleanse all mothers who have given up their babies to abortion, as well as abortionists, nurses, technicians and office staff who have participated in the murderous processes of abortion. The blood of Abel cried out, “I am innocent!” The blood of aborted babies cries out, “I am innocent!” The blood of Christ cries out, “God loves you. Come be cleansed of your guilt. Be purified. Be forgiven for the sin of shedding innocent blood.” At Sinai, the righteousness of God pushed the people away, lest they be destroyed by his righteousness. At Calvary, the righteousness of Christ pulls people toward him, in order to cleanse them of their unrighteousness. Sinful, guilt-ridden people, covered in the blood of innocent babies, can be cleansed of their guilt if they turn away from murder and choose life in Christ.

This is the better message spoken by the blood of Christ.

If You Want Peace, Be the First to Forgive

Toni Morrison

I’m no fan of Toni Morrison, but every so often she demonstrates that she knows the turn of a good phrase. In a recent interview she spoke of “lived wisdom.” She says we can rely on the wisdom of the elderly, because, “It’s not the book learning, it’s the lived wisdom.”

As a person being dragged forward into a place where someone might consider me “elderly,” I’m highly interested in the possibility that I have some “lived wisdom” that will give me credibility. However, I look at Ms. Morrison herself, seeking the evidence of “lived wisdom” during her 84 years on the earth, and I wonder.

For starters, there is her interview for The Telegraph in which Morrison said, “I want to see a cop shoot a white unarmed teenager in the back.” It is hard to imagine a more depraved worldview than that. Coming so close on the heels of the Michael Brown case, it is worth noting that Michael Brown, an unarmed black man, attempted to arm himself by grabbing the police officer’s gun, and that he was not shot in the back. However, it is not a healthy approach to a problem that even looks remotely like police malfeasance to suggest that it is important to get even by shooting someone who is innocent in order to balance the demographics. Such a statement does not make me believe that Toni Morrison has some “lived wisdom” we should probe for guidance in righting wrongs of any kind.

The problem at the root of Morrison’s complaint has yet to be defined in any meaningful way. It cannot actually be said that anyone has approached her allegation dispassionately, with a commitment to the truth. Her allegation is a repeat of an allegation expressed in a variety of ways, but at the bottom is a will to believe that police do not do their jobs with integrity if a black person is in sight. The lack of real facts presented in an orderly fashion is something that makes it difficult even to converse about the alleged problem.

More importantly, however, no such problem has ever in all of history been solved by getting even. Anyone can read the story of the Balkans, the Alsace-Lorraine area between Germany and France, and the frontier warfare with the Indians and discern that getting even never helps. In fact, nobody ever thinks that he has gotten even. They intend to get even plus a little more, and the loser in the conflict simply wants to do the same thing in return. From verbal jabs to nuclear warfare, the attempt to “get even” is a guarantee that the problem in dispute will never be resolved.

It is, therefore, safe to say that even if a cop does shoot an unarmed white man in the back, the problem of law enforcement in a culture of many skin colors will not be solved. I contend that there is only one solution for the tension between black people and white people and police officers and civilians: forgiveness. It must come packaged with amendment of life on all sides, but before anything else comes forgiveness. Only forgiveness pulls the poison that yearns to inflict as much grief as has been endured, plus a little more for the insult. Forgiveness allows the parties to the discussion to stand on level ground and deal with each other as fellow humans, not representatives of “races.”

By the way, on the subject of race, Ms. Morrison did say something wise. She said, “Race is the classification of a species. And we are the human race, period.” I’ll buy that. In fact, when anyone asks my race, that is how I answer: human. I refuse to identify otherwise, because the whole notion of racism is based on the false premise that skin color actually has something to do with the quality of the individual. Skin color, or various physical traits, are utterly meaningless with regard to the value of one human being compared to another.

Knowing human beings as I do, because I have a little “lived wisdom,” I know without fear of error that every police department could be better. The officers could be more honest, and they could do a better job of preparing for each day’s work. They could show better attitudes, more intelligence, and a few social graces that might smooth troubled waters in some disputes. But I do feel confident of two things: 1) for some officer to shoot an unarmed white man in the back will not help anything, and 2) for whole communities and the police to forgive each other will not hurt anything. I recommend the second choice.

The nation of South Africa endured years of violence and abuse in the name of a policy they called “apartheid.” When in God’s wisdom the time came for that policy to end, Desmond Tutu headed up a group called The Truth Commission. In his book No Future Without Forgiveness, Tutu chronicles the work of that commission, and the way a focus on speaking truth and forgiving one another impacted the nation. The book makes it very clear that the right kind of leaders can actually lead a nation to confront the evil and turn away from it together— even a nation fractured by problems dramatically more violent and abusive than anything ever seen in the US. It was not accomplished by encouraging a police officer to shoot a white man in the back. It was accomplished by encouraging a nation of human beings to forgive one another. Would that this idea were to well up through Toni Morrison’s “lived wisdom.”

By Katherine Harms, author of Oceans of Love available for Kindle at Amazon.com.

photo credit: <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/15083709@N06/2301126276″>Toni Morrison (1)</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a&gt; <a href=”https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/”>(license)</a&gt;