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Today’s post was written by and used with permission from Rusty Wright.

Anti-racism has become a global obsession, and rightfully so.  Racism and racial oppression are repulsive.  And, BTW, I don’t have a racist bone in my body.  Or so I thought.  (continued below)

A white person holding a protest sign that says, " I understand that I will never understand, but I stand with you. #BLM"
Photo by Clay Banks on Unsplash.

Lots of people have dark sides.  Maybe everyone.

I do.

“Kramer” meltdown

Several years back, comedian Michael Richards – “Kramer” on TV’s Seinfeld – saw his racist tirade at African-American hecklers ignite a firestorm.   Richards apologized profusely.  Prominent African-American comic Paul Mooney said Richards told him privately he “didn’t know he had that ugliness in him.”

I could identify with Richards’ surprise at his darker inner impulses.  My own failing was private rather than public, differing in degree but not in kind.  It taught me valuable lessons.

Growing up in the US South, I learned from my parents and educators to be racially tolerant and accepting in a culture that often was not: segregated schools, neighborhoods, restrooms, drinking fountains, and more.  Racism still makes my blood boil.  For decades, I’ve sought to promote racial fairness.  But an important discovery early on fueled this mission.

Surprised and shocked by…myself

One summer during university, I joined several hundred students – most of us Caucasian – for a South Central Los Angeles outreach project in primarily African-American neighborhoods.  We spent a weekend living in local residents’ homes, attending their churches, and meeting people in the community. 

A friend and I enjoyed generous hospitality from a wonderful couple.  Sunday morning, their breakfast table displayed a mountain of delicious food.  Our gracious hostess wanted to make sure our appetites were completely satisfied.  It was then, eying that bountiful spread, that it hit me.

I realized that for the first time in my life, I was living in a Black family’s home, sitting at “their” table, eating “their” food, using “their” utensils.  Something inside me reacted negatively. 

The strange feeling was not anger or hatred, more like mild aversion.  Not powerful, not dramatic, certainly not expressed.  But neither was it rational or pleasant or honorable or at all appropriate.  It horrified and shamed me, especially since I had recently become a follower of Jesus.

Inner battles

The feeling only lasted a few moments.  But it taught me important lessons about prejudice.  Much as I might wish to deny it, I had repulsive inner emotions that, if expressed, could cause terrible pain.  I who prided myself on racial openness had to deal with inner bigotry.  How intense must such impulses be in those who are overtly less accepting?  Maybe similar inner battles – large or small – go on inside many people. 

Holocaust survivor Yehiel Dinur testified during the trial of Adolf Eichmann, the Nazi leader responsible for killing millions of Jews.  With Eichmann present in the courtroom, suddenly Dinur sobbed and collapsed to the floor.  Dinur later explained:  “I was afraid about myself.  I saw that I am capable to do this … Exactly like he. …Eichmann is in all of us.”

Heart Rx

Jeremiah, an ancient Jewish sage, wrote, “The human heart is most deceitful and desperately wicked. Who really knows how bad it is?” (Jeremiah 17:9)  A prescription from one of Jesus’ friends helped me overcome my inner struggles that morning in South Central:  “If we say we have no sin, we are only fooling ourselves and refusing to accept the truth.  But if we confess our sins to [God], he is faithful and just to forgive us and to cleanse us from every wrong.” (1 John 1:8-9)

Lots of people have dark sides.  Maybe everyone.  Maybe you.

Could there be some of Michael Richards’ flaws – or mine or others’ – in all of us, inner compulsions that could benefit from divine help?

Where society’s racist laws, policies, and practices need changing, we should change them.  But it would be a mistake to neglect the need to change individual human hearts.

Rusty Wright is an author and lecturer who has spoken on six continents.  He holds Bachelor of Science (psychology) and Master of Theology degrees from Duke and Oxford universities, respectively.

Dear friends, my heart is heavy at the news of what has happened recently to George Floyd, and far too many times to other people of colour. We usually only hear about the devastating cases, but if you know any people of colour, they will tell you that this is not an isolated incident. More horrific than some perhaps, but all the insults, threats, and injustices directed toward people of colour based solely on the colour of their skin are wrong. 

For the last few months all of my posts have been about love. Jesus gave a new commandment to his disciples to love each other as he has loved us. (John 13:34) He said that the greatest commandment is to love God, and the second is like it—to love each other. (Matthew 22:37-39) Love does no wrong to a neighbour. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law. (Romans 13:10) We are to follow the example God gave us, and love as he would. (Ephesians 5:1-2) 1 Corinthians 13:4-7 gives us plenty of concrete ways to show that love. 

Before I started the series on love, I did a series on who we are in Christ. God sees us, all of us, as Christ's brothers and sisters; we are joint heirs with Christ. (Romans 8:16-17) We are all valued by God. But God doesn’t admire the same things we do. He does not look at the outward appearance, but at the heart. (1 Samuel 16:7) He does not look at height, or appearance, and he certainly doesn’t look at skin colour. He looks at our hearts. Did you notice how much importance God puts on love? Dear friends, let us love one another as God has loved us. 

My post today will have some specific Canadian content. I know that many of my readers live in the United States and other parts of the world. This post will still be relevant to you, because the issue crosses all borders, and because the lessons we can learn from the Word of God apply to all of us. So, please keep reading.
I don’t usually get involved in political discussions. Most issues in politics don’t have a right or wrong answer. They just have my opinion and your opinion answers. This issue is, in Canada right now, a political matter, but it is above all a matter of justice. The issue is human trafficking, and specifically human trafficking for the purposes of prostitution.

This week, Bill C-36 was adopted by the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights. It still has a couple of steps to go through before it will be passed; these will take place after Parliament resumes in September.

This Bill is only the beginning of dealing with the issue of sex trafficking in Canada, but it puts us steps ahead of most places in the world. As citizens who believe in justice, you really need to take time to be informed about it. Many have said that prostitution should be legalized, and that people should be able to make their own choices about what they do to earn a living. The problem is that more than 90% of the people who are offering sexual services for money are being forced to do it either because they are in debt to someone, or because they are being threatened by someone. And there are others who do it, yes by choice, but only because they are desperate for money to feed their family or pay their bills. Is a last resort really a choice? If prostitution is legalized, the legal authorities no longer have the same degree of power to protect those who are being exploited. Research some of the places that have tried it—The Netherlands, Germany—and you will see that it didn’t really work out as well as they had hoped. Criminal activity increased rather than decreased.

In Proverbs 31:1-9, King Lemuel’s mother is giving him some advice on how to be a good and effective ruler. In Proverbs 31:8-9, her advice is to speak up for those who can’t speak for themselves. Literally this means to speak for those who don’t have the physical capacity to speak, but it is a figure of speech known as hypocatastasis. It implies a comparison. In other words, if we are to promote justice as we are required to do according to Micah 6:8, then the ruler, the judge, needs to speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves whatever the reason may be. In our democratic society today, we are actually the rulers; it is our votes that choose our representatives. We need to speak up for those who are being oppressed, who are being silenced by threats, who don’t have any power to stand up and speak for themselves. We need to let our voices be heard by those who hold the political power, and who make the laws that govern our land. What kind of society do you want for your children?
Please, get informed about this issue, and then let your Member of Parliament (or other political representative) know how you feel.

In Canada, you can find contact information for your Member of Parliament, by entering your postal code here.

To help get you started on finding out more, here are some links that might be helpful:

Hope For The Sold

MP Joy Smith’s website and specifically a list of news reports regarding human trafficking

Facebook Page: Support Bill C-36

When you are ready to get involved to make a difference, check out Marilyn Luinstra's blog.

In last week’s post, I said that living at peace with the people around you—loving your neighbour—is more important to God than other acts of service or worship. But, what if your “neighbour” is really annoying? What if your neighbour is unreasonable? What if your neighbour has a problem with you, and you don’t think it’s justified? What if you think that you are right and he is wrong? How far will you let that disagreement go before you do something to try to resolve it?

In Matthew 5:25-26, we are advised to settle matters quickly. The longer you let a disagreement fester, the harder it will be to resolve, at least emotionally. I have to admit, this is something I have a hard time with. If I believe I am right, I feel the need to explain and to enlighten the other person. I feel the need to point out where they are wrong, so that the wrong can be fixed and the situation can be made right. I’m not very good at letting things go. I’m working on it. Matthew 5:25-26 suggests not letting a dispute linger so long that your adversary decides to take you to court. If it is left up to a judge, things might not turn out in your favour, no matter how right you think you are. In I Corinthians 6:7, Paul asks, “Why not rather be wronged? Why not rather be cheated?” than to continue to fight it out to the point of going to court.

If we only look at things from a human perspective, perhaps it might be understandable that we would fight for our rights. After all, if we don’t look out for ourselves, who will? The answer is, God will, if we allow Him into the picture. Even if we are put at a disadvantage in a situation from time to time, God is still in control of our ultimate destiny. We need to trust Him to protect us and to bless us. God has told us not to avenge ourselves, but that if it is necessary, He will avenge us. (Romans 12:19) He will take care of those who do evil. We only need to make sure that we are doing the right thing—living at peace with our neighbours, (Romans 12:18, Mark 12:29-31) settling disputes quickly, (Matthew 5:25-26) and overcoming evil with good. (Romans 12:21)

After my last two posts on hyperbole, one of my regular readers asked me to do one more. Matthew 23:24. Jesus is talking to the Pharisees, and He points out that they avoid swallowing a gnat, but they gulp down a camel. Yes, the verb swallow is a tame rendering of the word used in the original language. Jesus painted quite a dramatic picture of them carefully straining out the smallest creature and carelessly, perhaps even enthusiastically, chugging down the largest. It was not uncommon for a camel to be used metaphorically because of its size, but in this case it was also a bit of a word play, since in Aramaic the word for gnat (galma) and the word for camel (gamla) were so similar. Both were considered to be unclean animals under the law, so the Pharisees would not want to take either into their bodies. They truly did strain their wine through a cloth to avoid swallowing the gnats that would be attracted to it.

Of course, they didn’t really swallow a camel. Obviously, this is hyperbole, but what does it mean? Let’s take a look at the context. Earlier in the conversation (Matthew 22:34-40), the Pharisees asked Jesus which was the greatest commandment. You are probably aware that the Pharisees were pretty attentive to the commandments, making sure that everyone followed them diligently, so they had probably often discussed among themselves which was the most important. Now they were testing Jesus with the question. Jesus answered them by telling them to love God and to love their neighbour. Then He took a turn asking the questions. (Matthew 22:41-46)

Jesus, unlike the crowd, could see that the Pharisees were only religious on the surface, and He tells the people that the Pharisees are hypocrites. (Matthew 23:1-12) By the time we get to Matthew 23:24, He has called them blind guides a couple of times. You see, they were the teachers of the law. They were the example for all the people to follow. It wasn’t just themselves that they were leading down the wrong path. If a blind person is leading a blind person, chances are that they won’t end up at their desired destination. Matthew 15:14 says that they will both fall into a pit. This is so much more important when the destination is your eternal home.

Jesus tells the Pharisees where they have gone wrong. (Matthew 23:13-32) This section is known as The Seven Woes. The gnat and the camel come in at the fourth woe. (Matthew 23:23-24) Jesus points out that the Pharisees very strictly obey the law of tithing, to the point of tithing even the smallest herbs. And Jesus doesn’t have anything against that. After all, the Levites depended on the tithe for their livelihood. Jesus doesn’t have a problem with straining out the gnats, but He also wants them to strain out the camel. He wants them to go beyond the external, visible rule-following. He wants them to get the bigger picture, and work on the internal components too. He desires the same for us. Yes, it is good to give financially to our churches; the ministries depend on our giving to keep them going. But God wants more than that from us. In Micah 6:6-7, the prophet asks, as a worshipper might, what the Lord would like as a sacrifice. The answer is found in Micah 6:8. He wants us to promote justice, to be faithful, and to live obediently before our God. Many translations say to do justice, love mercy and walk humbly with our God. In Matthew 23:23, that is also what Jesus says is the most important. Justice, mercy and faithfulness. Love God. Love your neighbour.

Today's post was written by Rusty Wright.
Could receiving a healthy dose of kindness and mercy help transform a person’s life? Victor Hugo thought so. The 19th Century French social reformer wove his classic novel Les Misérables around the theme of grace trumping legalism. A new film based on the successful musical opens Christmas Day across the US and Canada, soon in many other nations.

Until recently, I was one of the few in the western world unfamiliar with this powerful saga, somehow having missed it through formal education and beyond. I now understand why it continues to attract audiences 150 years after it was written.

Kindness and Mercy Shine

Spoiler alert for Les Mis novices: this article encapsulates the essential story. But understanding the plot and characters can help you appreciate the film.

A kindly bishop provides dinner and lodging for paroled convict Jean Valjean (Hugh Jackman). In return, while the priest sleeps, Valjean steals his silver.

The next day, approached by constables who’ve apprehended Valjean, the bishop tells them that the silver was a gift. He then privately counsels Valjean to see this as part of God’s plan for him and to use the silver to become honest. The priest’s heartwarming mercy evokes a biblical admonition: “Be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven you.” (Ephesians 4:32)

Rescuing the Needy

The bishop’s benevolence cascades through time. Actor Jackman notes: “Valjean is the recipient of one of the most beautiful and touching moments of grace from the bishop…. He decides to mend his ways and dedicate his life and his soul to God and to being of service to the community. He is constantly striving to be a better person, to live up to what he thinks God wants from him.”

Using an alias, Valjean becomes a generous factory owner whose grateful townspeople elect him mayor. He inspires us by rescuing the needy.

Valjean rescues Fantine (Anne Hathaway), an ailing single mother turned prostitute to support her daughter, Cosette. Before Fantine dies, Valjean promises to care for Cosette.

Freeing the Innocent

When an innocent man nearly is convicted of being parole-violator Jean Valjean, the real Valjean agonizes: Should he retain his comfortable anonymity or reveal his true identity and risk prosecution? He comes clean, thereby rescuing the wrongly charged. Valjean’s altruism is stirring. He credits God with giving him hope and strength for life’s challenges.

True to his promise, Valjean rescues the now-orphaned Cosette from cruel foster parents, raising her as his own daughter. As a young woman, Cosette (Amanda Seyfried) becomes enamored of Marius (Eddie Redmayne), a youthful revolutionary in the 1832 anti-governmental French student uprising.

Driven by love for Cosette, Valjean rescues Marius from death during a harrowing excursion through the Paris sewers.

Most Gripping Rescue

Perhaps Valjean’s most gripping rescue involves Inspector Javert (Russell Crowe), a policeman dedicated to the law and obsessed with tracking and bringing Valjean to justice. Remember The Fugitive? Think Tommy Lee Jones’ relentless US Marshall character on steroids.

When students discover Javert has infiltrated their rebellion, Valjean volunteers as executioner, then surreptitiously releases Javert, who is stunned. Mercy has no place in his law, and he cannot fathom Valjean’s compassion.

When Javert later reciprocates, releasing Valjean, the inner turmoil is more than Javert can bear; he kills himself. In Victor Hugo’s world, mercy indeed trumps legalism (unhealthy devotion to or emphasis on law), a lesson Valjean exemplifies but which evades poor Javert.

Tempering Justice with Mercy

Of course, any properly functioning society needs justice. Knowing when to temper it with mercy can be a challenge for societies and individuals. The proper balance helps make civilizations civilized. Which world would you rather inhabit: one tilting toward Valjean’s mercy or Javert’s legalism?

Les Misérables touches other important themes: romance, unrequited love, care for orphans and the poor, even prison reform. Bring a handkerchief, and someone you love.

Rated PG-13 for “Suggestive and Sexual Material, Violence and Thematic Elements.”

Rusty Wright is an author and lecturer who has spoken on six continents. He holds Bachelor of Science (psychology) and Master of Theology degrees from Duke and Oxford universities, respectively.