I took the longest commercial flight in the world these past two days--- Singapore to Newark N.J. non-stop. Its supposed to take a mere 18 and a half hours. Ours went a bit longer. Singapore Airlines is justly famous for its comfort and service and so I was well cared for. But what to do with the huge amount of time. Rest of course, but there was plenty of time to read and watch movies as well. I finished Wendell Berry's sleepy southern novel about a sleepy mythical Kentucky river town called Port William. It is beautifully written and well reflects Southern life in a small town and farming area during WWII. Berry stands in the tradition of southern writers like Walker Percy and Flannery O' Connor, not to mention Ferrell Sams, Doris Betts and Thomas Wolfe. He is well worth the time to read. The novel I am referring to is "A Place on Earth."
I also watched three movies-- Matchpoint, the recent much praised Woody Allen film (which is, unlike most of his previous movies not an exercise in comedy or whimsy), The Matador (think Pierce Brosnan as aging hit man who is losing his edge and needing a friend), and Crash, the multiply Oscar nominated film. While all three of these films have their pluses, and all share a common subject matter of violence, Crash is the film I would most commend for all Christians to view due to its serious and at times profound probing of the issue of ethnic prejudice in America. The film is noteworthy for showing prejudice in various forms-- whites vs. blacks as well as blacks vs. whites. Whites or blacks vs. new immigrant groups, and new immigrant groups vs. other minorities. It shows what an endemic and pandemic problem this is in our society. Matt Dillon and an all star cast put in some memorable performances. One of the major themes in the film is the role that fear and sheer ignorance plays in producing ethnic prejudice of this sort. We might want to add human falleness and sin as well. One could speak at length as well about the big difference between tolerance and actually learning to love one's neighbor who is different from us. The movie shows the futility of using violence to resolve ethnic disputes.
Recently, in a long over due court decision, it was decided in regard to my mother's home town of Wilmington N.C. that the descendents of the victims of the race riots of 1898 should be compensated for their familial losses. Some have of course asked whether the statute of limitations should not have run out on such crimes a long time ago. This is the wrong question.
We should have asked, should there ever be a time limit put on the need to atone for sin? Of course we cannot atone for it-- only Jesus can and did. Reparations are not the same as atonement, even though they are needful for healing. But imagine if Jesus had said--- "well, I don't need to atone for the sin of Adam, because that was so long ago. We should just forgive and forget."
You will notice that that is not how God deals with sin. Instead of just forgetting it even if it was long in the past, he atones for it. I suspect this is how Jesus would have us to act as well. "If your brother has something against you, and you are going to lay a gift on the altar, first go and be reconciled to your brother......"
I would suggest that the reason that racial resentment simmers and boils over with regularity in America is precisely because we fail to do the hard work of reconciliation and the actual seeking of forgiveness. At least in South Africa there has been a truth and reconciliation commission that has persued a just and fair resolution of the damage the apartheid system did to both black and white south Africans. We in the U.S. settle at best for reparations and general cries for forgiving and forgetting. But this is forgetting that forgiveness must be sought out, not assumed, and it must be freely offered by the offended party-- and it is a sign of recalcitrance when the wounded have to seek legal means to force offenders or their descendents to do what they ought to have done in the first place. Crash, is at least a good conversation starter on this subject for Americans. But it has miles to go, and does not even raise the issue of grace and forgiveness in any meaningful way. But we as Christians must talk about these things. One good resource to start such discussions is Miroslav Wolff's powerful award winning book "Exclusion and Embrace."