Watch a video of the Beatles on the Ed Sullivan show in 1964, and you’ll be struck by the charm and grace with which they performed. It’s easy to assume that the four musicians were simply born with the skills they displayed. But in his book Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell argues that what made the Beatles a hit with fans was lots of hard work. Before that celebrated performance, the band had done nearly 1,200 shows—practice that prepared them for greatness.
I live in a region and neighborhood that share a tragic racial history. For instance, the daughter of one of my elderly neighbors was part of a civil suit to force area schools to obey federal law and desegregate. As I’ve spoken with my neighbors, I’ve had to grapple with the racial divide in my country, with the many ways people have yet to fulfill God’s mandate to be agents of reconciliation.
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.”
In early 2015, a fraternity at the University of Oklahoma in the US was caught on video singing a deeply offensive and racist song. Reaction by university officials was swift and stern, and rightly so. But what did Isaac Hill, president of the school’s Black Student Association, have to say? After all, the chillingly racist chant had targeted African-Americans.
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).
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.
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.
During the US civil rights struggle, lovingkindness required the demolishing of unjust laws, but it also required that individuals take deliberate action. It was not enough for whites to take down the “Whites Only” signs or allow blacks to vote. True welcome and relationship required whites to move toward friendship; and it also required blacks to embrace (again and again) the risk of stepping into friendships within contexts where they had been wronged and excluded. It required love in action.