An elderly man who had recently been fitted with a hearing aid returned to his doctor’s office for a checkup. The doctor asked him how he liked the hearing aid. “Fine,” he said. “And how does the family like it?” the doctor inquired.” “Oh, I haven’t told them yet, but I’ve changed my will three times.”
I want to show you a movie clip. This fifty second clip comes from the Disney movie, How to Train Your Dragon. The boy’s name is Hiccup. The first man is his dad’s best friend. Hiccup’s dad is the man in the second scene. He’s the chief of this town of Vikings, a town infested with dragons. Hiccup however isn’t built like a Viking, doesn’t think like a Viking, and doesn’t act like a Viking. In other words, he’s not like his dad at all, the el numero uno Viking. And it’s a big problem for dad toward son.
Of course, by the time the movie ends, because he’s not like the rest of them, Hiccup’s the hero.
It’s easy to love. What I mean is that it’s easy to love in general. It’s easy to accept the idea that as Christians we are called to love others. It’s even easy to accept we are to love our enemies. Whether we do so in reality, well that’s another story. It’s another story because it’s easier to desire to love an enemy than it is to be willing to stop hating an enemy.
It’s much easier to plan to be nice toward a lot of people than it is to stop being prejudiced against some. It is much easier to profess agreement with the principle of loving our neighbor than it is to strive and succeed at overcoming bias and rejecting discrimination in real time, among real people, both individually in one’s own mind and heart, and in one’s own society.
Of course this isn’t just our problem. As we all know so well, hatred has existed throughout human history. It’s goes deep.
How deep? Let me give you an example. I doubt you will be able to guess when this was written. It’s a description of someone who is not the same as the one writing the description. This “other” is “(A) tent-dweller buffeted by wind and rain, he knows not prayers…contentious to excess, he turns against the land, knows not to bend the knee, eats uncooked meat, has no house in his lifetime, is not brought to burial when he dies.”
This is basically a description of an animal, clearly subhuman: without manners or courtesy, even toward the dead; someone without religion or cooking fire. These people were always getting themselves into bloody
disputes with more ‘civilized’ landowners. Behind the description we can detect the prejudice of those who consider themselves more than the “tent-dweller,” superior morally as well as technically to them.
Who wrote this? This was written by a Sumerian living in Ur, the capital city of the first human empire, around 2000 B.C., some four thousand years ago. Who does it describe? It describes Amorites, a Semitic nomadic tribe closely related to Jews, to Abraham’s family and tribe.
Booker T. Washington, a black American who became famous in spite of prejudice and who was insulted on numerous occasions, wrote, “I will not let any man reduce my soul to the level of hatred.”
February is the month of Ground Hogs day, 28 days or 29 in leap year, and Valentine’s Day. It’s also Black History Month.
Now, if you ever happen to run into someone who asks seriously and perhaps disparagingly why there’s a Black history month, what he or she is talking about, whether stated or not, is what some today call reverse racism.
Reverse racism says it’s a form of racism to single out race in anything. They say we should be colorblind and everything will be fine for everyone. Refuse to see color and everyone will get their slice of the American pie and dream.
So things such as black history month or Black Entertainment Television is wrong, is reverse racism, because since nobody would or could start a company called white entertainment television, there shouldn’t be something called Black Entertainment Television, or to a lesser degree, black history month.
Now I know that sounds logical, and the easy reasonableness of so-called reverse racism leads many astray. But there’s a very easy answer to why black history and black entertainment are not the same as white history and white entertainment.
You see, when we say history in America we already mean white history. We don’t put the color adjective in front of it because it’s already assumed—the white is already implicitly there. History as it’s taught in our schools, portrayed in text books, and as we think of it is dominated by a European-American perspective, by what we’ve done here and who has done it. In other words, it’s always white history month.
The same goes for Black Entertainment Television. Television has been totally the domain of white America, with only a mere token presence of black America in the past, and with perhaps a little more in the last fifteen or
twenty years. We don’t put an adjective in front of television because it’s already white-world, white-centric programming.
While many people may be just fine with this, and feel as though this is the way things should be because they have been, others, such as those who haven’t experienced this history nearly as positively, don’t feel the same way. And rightly so.
To kick off these two messages on hatred, we began last week with Cain and Abel. We found behind the story of Cain being the first murderer is the even more important story of the unchangeable human condition of unfairness. The heart of the Cain and Abel story is life is fundamentally unfair, some are favored while many others are not. Cain was envious of his brother’s good fortune, or as scripture describes good fortune: that God accepted Abel’s offering but rejected Cain’s. Cain became hateful and murdered him.
Cain hated someone who made him feel “less than,” inferior. Anger and hatred in our world flow in the Cain and Abel direction, in the direction of the one who feels inferior toward and against the one who stands as superior.
But hatred and anger also flow in the opposite direction, from the direction of the superior to the inferior. This is the flow of hatred that has changed the world for the much, much worse. It’s the hatred of bigotry, discrimination, racism, sexism, anti-Semitism, homophobia. It’s the anger and hatred that has brought about the worst in human history and is still too often the story today.
It’s the anger and hatred that we ought to uproot from our hearts, dismiss from our minds, and face in ourselves and our society in an honest and willing way.
How important is it to stop hating people? 1 John doesn’t mince words: “All who hate a brother or sister are murderers, and you know that murderers do not have eternal life abiding in them.”
Racism is hatred of one person by another, or the belief that another person is less than human because of skin color, language, customs, place of birth or any factor that supposedly reveals the basic nature of that person.
Now of course today few people say they hate someone who looks a little different from them or has a different cultural or racial background. That’s just not very smart or socially acceptable anymore, which of course is a huge improvement.
The truth is we are probably discussing a smaller set of issues today than we would have in decades past. But hatred in the form of racism is still alive in our country. It’s perhaps just a little more difficult to detect.
I want to show a clip that comes from the 1994 documentary film, The Color of Fear by director Lee Mun Wah. This insightful, groundbreaking film about the state of race relations in America as seen through the eyes of eight North American men of Asian, European, Latino and African descent is considered the most powerful of its kind. In a series of intelligent, emotional and dramatic confrontations the men reveal the pain and scars that racism has caused them. What emerges is a deeper sense of understanding and trust.
If you want to see more, Youtube The Color of Fear.
The very last part of this clip is one of the most powerful moments in the film itself. It occurred when the more talkative white man asked the more talkative black man across from him, “Why can’t you just be an American and be judged as an individual? Why do you have to always talk about being black?”
The black man said, “Because it’s like I’m living in a parking garage with those spikes at the gate. You whites go to the spikes and they lay down. We come to the spikes and they’re against us.” The white guy said, “I’m sorry you feel that way; that’s not the America I know; I think you’re wrong.”
Then someone in the group said to the white fellow, “What would it mean if the world really is like the way he feels it to be?” There was a long pause, and tears came to the white American’s eyes, and he said, “That would be the saddest thing I could imagine.” And the black man said, “From here I can work with him.”
We believe that being good can come from seeing someone who is in need and helping them. The Good Samaritan saw the man beaten up, lying on the road, and went to help him. Seeing well what God would want us to do is very important.
But hearing well is at least as important. Hearing how the world really is from someone else’s viewpoint and believing that person’s experience is real and ought to be changed because that is how it is for her or him is the most important step in becoming a person who follows Christ.
Christ himself practiced this constantly. He encountered someone and he would ask them what they wanted. They would tell him and he would respond. He trusted their experience. He believed them when they said they
were hurting and they needed this or that. What would Jesus do? Jesus would listen, have faith, and respond accordingly.
The most important prayer in Judaism is the Shema, which is supposed to be said twice a day, once in the morning and before sleeping. What is the word Shema mean? Shema means Hear. “Shema, yisrael, Adonai eloheynu Adonai echad.” “Hear, O Israel, the Lord is our God, the Lord is one.”
Open your ears. Open your ears to someone to whom you don’t listen. Listen well and you will open your heart. Because it’s’ not just about loving our neighbors. Our walk includes removing anger and hatred toward others. When we do this, then we can say we’re walking with the Lord and doing what Jesus would do.