In his short story “The Hurt Man,” Wendell Berry recounts how Nancy Beechum welcomed a complete stranger into her home after he stumbled up the street, bloodied, with a crowd of fierce, angry men chasing him. Nancy opened her door and washed the clotted blood from his body. She pressed the white rags, now crimson, onto his cuts. The hurt man trembled as Nancy spoke gently to him: ”You’re going to be all right.”
To Kill a Mockingbird is a much-loved story about two young children coming of age in the American South, a region wracked by racial conflict and injustice during much of the 20th century. Fans were thrilled when a follow-up novel by author Harper Lee was released. But in Go Set a Watchman, readers were dismayed to find that a beloved and honorable character in the first book had transformed into an unapologetic racist in his later years. This twist forces the reader to confront the character’s evolving beliefs, as well as their own.
The sound of her name made me recoil. I knew the strong testimony of the well-known speaker and had no justifiable reason to avoid her podcasts. My disgust had nothing to do with her or the worthy cause she represented. I’d been hurt by someone who idolized her, so my prejudice came because of her association with that individual.
Early in his career, former Ku Klux Klan (a white supremacist group) leader Johnny Lee Clary met African-American Reverend Wade Watts at a radio station debate. “Hello Mr. Clary,” Reverend Watts said before they went on air. “I just want you to know that I love you and Jesus loves you.”
Sadly, all of us—even the best of us—have prejudices. I was shocked to one day realize my own prejudice against a Christian denomination. I’d been deeply hurt by people in it, and any time the denomination’s name came up, words like “Pharisees,” “legalists,” and “unloving” came to mind. I basically thought, Can anything good come from that denomination?
As Peter was waiting for lunch, he slipped into a trance and saw a sheet drop from the sky full of unclean animals. The image must have startled him—Why was a good Jew like him having a filthy dream like this? What he heard next shocked him: “Get up, Peter; kill and eat them.” “No, Lord,” Peter declared. “I have never eaten anything that our Jewish laws have declared impure and unclean” (Acts 10:13-14).
Recently, I took a 17-hour road trip and my family and a foreign exchange student we were hosting were also along for the ride. To save time, we attempted to cut through a bordering country. We were turned away at the border, however, because our exchange student did not possess the right paperwork. Good security resulted in bad news for us. Disappointed, but undeterred, we took the long way to our destination.
Many years ago, it was assumed that women could not play the French horn better than men. Their thoughts were challenged and disproved, however, when Julie Landsman auditioned for the role of principal French horn for the renowned Metropolitan Opera. During her audition, Landsman sat and played behind a screen—and played beautifully. After being declared the winner of the lead chair based on sound alone, she stepped out from behind the screen. The judges gasped! They didn’t expect to see a woman.
A few years ago, a prominent Christian group removed the word Christ from its organization’s name. The organization defended its name change, citing research which revealed that 20 percent of non-Christians were alienated and offended by the name of Christ. So they stated that they were merely looking for a name that would make the organization more effective in sharing the gospel.
Theologians are debating what the apostle Paul meant when he said that “we are made right with God through faith and not by obeying the law” (Romans 3:28). Traditional Protestants follow Martin Luther’s insight that sinners like us can’t do enough good works to satisfy a holy God. We become right with God by putting our faith in Jesus. When we trust Christ, God our Father performs what Luther called the “joyous exchange,” placing the guilt of our sin upon Jesus and counting His righteousness as our own.
How does a cute, little baby grow up to become the face of evil? How does an Austrian boy become Adolf Hitler or a son of privilege turn into Osama bin Laden? And what makes one group of people slaughter members of a neighboring group? How could they possibly think that was a good idea?
A pastor and his congregation, serving in an area known for addicts, alcoholics, and prostitutes, have prayed an interesting prayer for many years: Lord, send us the people nobody else wants. That prayer has been answered, for more than 800 church attendees are now involved in recovery programs designed to help them break free from destructive lifestyles. Recently, the pastor added this phrase to the end of his prayer: . . . and nobody else sees. He says, “[These people] are often overlooked. . . . But after all, as Jesus put it, ‘Healthy people don’t need a doctor—sick people do’ ” (Matthew 9:12).
In 1857, a few white members of the Dutch Reformed Church (DRC) in South Africa asked permission to celebrate the Lord’s Supper separately from their black brothers and sisters. The General Assembly believed their request was wrong, but acquiesced “due to the weakness of some.” This concession soon became the norm. And this racism prompted the unwanted black Christians to leave and start their own churches. So the South African church, divided by race, eventually became a vocal supporter of apartheid. In 1924, the DRC argued that the races must remain separate, for “competition between black and white on economic levels . . . leads to poverty, friction, misunderstanding, suspicion, and bitterness.”
Amos is one of the most intriguing biblical characters, tucked away in the neglected corner of the Minor Prophets. I’ve struggled with the prophet partly because my son Seth once had a stuffed monkey named Amos. My main difficulty, however, has been that Amos is true to his calling as a prophet.