My heart has been breaking lately over the seeming chasm that exists between races in this country. I cannot understand how anyone can look at another human being and see less. Each and every person in precious in God's eyes. How can any turn a blind eye or a cold shoulder to the suffering of another? How can anyone claim to be a Christian and not be moved to empathy, compassion, indignation, and justice?
Grace. Mercy. Humility. These are the hallmarks of the Christian message--the Gospel.
In mercy God saw humanity in our helpless and hopeless state and had mercy on us, devising a plan to rescue and save us.
In humility Jesus left His throne in Heaven to be born as a human; to live among us, experiencing our pain, and to die for us so that we might live again.
Grace is extended to every person who acknowledges his/her need of a savior and believes in Jesus' death and resurrection as the means of salvation.
These also ought to be the hallmarks of the Christian life. But are they? Can Christians in America (primarily those who have benefited from the status quo) truly say we have lived in humility--the kind of humility Jesus displayed and the kind He asks of us?
"Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others."
What does it mean to value others above yourself? If I'm honest, I don't know that I personally have done much of that in my life. Certainly not for people who are not my dearest friends and family. But it is what we are called to as Christians. Humility.
Can we in America truly say we have shown mercy? Think about the kind of mercy God has shown to us:
“But You, O Lord, are a God full of compassion, and gracious, longsuffering and abundant in mercy and truth.” (Ps. 86:15)
“The Lord is gracious and full of compassion, slow to anger and great in mercy. The Lord is good to all, and His tender mercies are over all His works.” (Ps. 145:8-9)
"But because of His great love for us, God who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions..." (Eph. 2:4-5a)
His mercy extended to us before we knew we needed it. It extended to us while we were still sinning. It extends to us every day of our lives through the good and bad, through the ups and downs, through our faithfulness as well as our stubborn disobedience or ignorance. Perhaps our mercy (on both sides of the fence) should look the same, genuine. Mercy.
“But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality and without hypocrisy.” (Jm. 3:17)
Can we in America (white, black, and every shade in between) say that we have truly lived by grace? Do we rest in God's grace for us?
"He has saved us and called us to a holy life—not because of anything we have done but because of his own purpose and grace. This grace was given us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time, but it has now been revealed through the appearing of our Savior, Christ Jesus, who has destroyed death and has brought life and immortality to light through the gospel."
(2 Tim. 1:9-10)
Do we extend grace to others (regardless of the color of their skin)?
“Make level paths for your feet, so that the lame may not be disabled, but rather healed. Make every effort to live in peace with everyone and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord. See to it that no one falls short of the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many." (Heb. 12:13-15)
Extending grace means I don't hold a grudge. It means I don't seek retribution. It means I don't assume the worst. It means I seek the best for the other person--their best, not my version. Grace by its very nature costs the giver something. It cost God something. It cost the great men and women of faith something. And if I am in humility seeking to promote the Gospel--the good news of God's grace, mercy, and love--it will cost me something too.
"However, I consider my life worth nothing to me; my only aim is to finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me—the task of testifying to the good news of God’s grace."
Mending the walls of racial division in our country is going to require that all parties (of all colors) put on humility and forgiveness. It is going to require extending mercy and grace. It is going to require that we grow in understanding and empathy. (Do you really know as a white what your black brothers and sisters are going through? Do you need to educate yourself?) And it is going to require that we grow in love for one another--true brotherly love, motivated by a familial bond that goes deeper than we have been accustomed to acknowledging. Because everything else--grace, mercy, and humility--can be summed up in that one word and posture. Love.
"Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.
Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry. Because of these, the wrath of God is coming. You used to walk in these ways, in the life you once lived. But now you must also rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips. Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator. Here there is no Gentile or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all.
Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity." (Col. 3:1-14)
I asked the Holy Spirit and a few wise older mothers to give me advice; then I came up with a four-step process by which I could evaluate books. It is not foolproof, but it's been surprisingly effective and has served me well for over thirteen years now.
Before I share my four-step process with you, though, let me recommend that you determine ahead of time the standard by which you'll judge your children's reading material then communicate this to your kids! If they know ahead of time what you will not allow and why, there will be fewer tears and complaints when you have to veto the cool looking book they've just pulled off the shelf. Most parents share some common concerns--foul language and graphic violence, for example--but even families who share similar values and religious convictions can vary when it comes to reading standards. Communicating with your children why particular content concerns you can put you and your children on the same team instead of at odds with one another.
Please, whatever you do, do not assume that just because a book is written for a certain age group it is appropriate for your child. The following are all themes that commonly show up in children's literature but which we chose to avoid (in addition to cursing and violence) in our book selections:
Like I said earlier, this four-step process is not foolproof, but it has proven to be effective the majority of the time. If you are ever in doubt regarding a book's contents after putting it through these four checks, tell your child you'll give it a more careful examination (or read it) before you give your approval. In addition, you can (and should) request that your child stop reading a book and bring it to you if he/she discovers content that is offensive, questionable, or uncomfortable. Not only does this train them to be discerning readers themselves, it gives you an opportunity to talk through any unsettling or defiling content your children may accidentally encounter.
Speaking of raising discerning readers, you can teach them to evaluate their own books. As a rule of thumb, I generally preview my kids' books for them from ages 8-10, telling them why I need to eliminate some books without going into detail. Then from ages 10-12 I begin to have them join me in the previewing process, discussing any content that is glaringly obvious. By age 13, I rely on them to preview their own books, bringing me only those they are unsure of. By the time my kids hit 16, I allow them to read whatever they want (with a few exceptions). Because I have trained their minds to be discerning and their hearts to love God and purity, I can rest assured they will be repulsed by ungodly content and will choose to read those books which align with God's Word. (By the way, this process works equally well with movies!)
I should also mention that before I evaluate any books, I say a quick prayer asking the Holy Spirit for guidance and discernment! God knows how much time I've got, and he knows my kids--better than I do! He wants their hearts soft and pure. I can trust He's got my back. And if offensive content gets missed, I can trust God's going to use that, too, to facilitate conversations which need to occur in order to train and disciple them. So what are the four steps by which I evaluate a book?
This evaluation system is not a guarantee. It is intended as a tool. It will not eliminate your need to preread some of your kids' books, but it will decrease your load tremendously. In addition, I pray it will give you a means of opening up healthy discussion with your children about their reading habits and what they put into their hearts and minds.
Philippinas 4:8 remains our family's standard by which we measure those things we read, view, listen to, and invest in: "Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things" (NIV).
Aimee Fuhrman is a full-time homeschooling mother of four (some of whom are now grown) who moonlights as an author. She loves Jesus, encouraging others, books, knitting, and coming up with delicious allergy-friendly recipes. She lives at the foothills of the Colorado Rockies with her husband of 25 years and their brood.