Mr. Sterling and Me: We’re not so Different
The LA Clippers owner Donald Sterling has fallen. “The National Basketball Association banned him from the Clippers or any future NBA games,” fined him $2.5 million and is now in a full court press for Sterling to sell the team (Wall Street Journal, 30 April 2014, A3). Pretty sure he and his girlfriend hit relationship rock-bottom now that TMZ “happened upon” their recorded phone conversation revealing his prejudicial and detrimental words to planet Earth. Donald Sterling admitted it was his voice in the recording stating that his girlfriend should not bring black people to the Clippers games nor post pictures of herself with Magic Johnson.
What kind of sicko?
I’m not too far from Mr. Sterling. That same racist, terrorist, plagiarist, legalist, separatist stream that runs in him, runs in me.
I loathe Mr. Sterling’s words and opinions, but I’m just as sick as he is when it comes to the root of our sin. I may not be a racist, but in the past, I’ve tended to avoid people with special needs. Honestly, I’ve been skittish of saying something offensive or doing something politically incorrect, like touching their wheelchair. (I’ve heard that’s supposed to be an extension of their body). My eyes might notice someone with Autism or Down Syndrome, but my feet dodge the interaction.
So when my husband led us to serve at a Joni and Friends camp a few years back, I was less than thrilled. Then, when I found out my partner was not only non-verbal, but quadriplegic and had cerebral palsy, I was afraid. I’m not used to wiping Coca Cola off someone’s chin, but that was how I was introduced to Lesley. It was my job to give her parents a rest, smush up her food, and wheel Lesley around to her weekly activities.
After a few days, I kinda figured out how to read Lesley’s eye gaze as she spelled out her conversations on her eye-board. If I misread one letter, Lesley would groan loudly and wait for me to get it right so we could attempt a conversation. Sometimes she would communicate through a voice machine called a Dynavox—a computer that translates the words she types through her head rest. Either way the drag time annoyed me. I had to decipher letter after letter after letter just to make out one word.
Slowly, the letters turned to words and the words to sentences and the sentences to a conversation. Along the way, I began to see past Lesley’s curled wrists and bobbing head. I began to see past her longing eyes through to her heart. She desperately wanted to connect, and letter after letter, I learned that we were the same age. We shared similar sibling struggles. We both grieved an old boyfriend who never called back.
We were not all that different, except that Lesley was available, willing, ready to love and be loved. And I was focused, intent, and busy. I came head to head with the real difference God wanted me to see. I valued productivity over loving whoever He brought in front of me. I told God I was sorry.
By the end of the week, I could sense God moving. Somewhere between reading her heart through her eye gaze and empathizing with the timing of her groans, I slipped. I heard myself say the most inconvenient words ever created, “I love you. Lesley, you are my friend.”
So, it hurt my heart one night to learn that Lesley wanted to decorate for the dance, but a leader told her that “it would really be more efficient if she didn’t help.”
The advocate in me wanted to erupt. It wasn’t right for Lesley to be excluded just because she might slow things down. But before I sounded the activism alarm, I remembered my own philosophy. If it slows me down, it’s the enemy. I was just as guilty of that mindset as that leader. I choose efficiency over intimacy daily when my husband and I divide and conquer the four kids’ schedules, our work lists, and the dishes. Too often, I value productivity over the person sitting right in front of me. So, rather than slam that leader, I prayed.
The problem with love is that it disrupts our timelines and convenient lives. We are selfish and sinful by nature, but Jesus isn’t. He busts right into our comfort zones and engages the haters, the homeless, and those on the fringes. When Jesus walked this earth, He reached out to the Christian-hater, Saul, and called him His “instrument to carry His name” (Acts 9:11-15). Jesus took a long walk across the wrong side of the tracks to meet up with a Samaritan woman most would shun (John 4). And He reached out and actually touched the untouchable lepers (Mt 8:3).
The world bans sin but cannot fix it.
The religious stone sin but cannot control it.
Jesus conquered sin then empowers us to no longer consider others by it:
“[Jesus] died for all, so that they who live might no longer live for themselves, but for Him who died and rose again on their behalf. Therefore from now on we recognize no one according to the flesh…” (2 Cor 5:15, 16a).
Considering Jesus moved from heaven to earth and died on a cross in order to reach our sinful hearts, we don’t have to sweep our sin under the rug. We can own up to it, and ask Him to forgive us. He paid well over $2.5 million. He paid it in full, so we are no longer condemned. Once we receive His forgiveness, we find the delicate balance of advocating for justice without throwing cyber stones from our hands.
When we receive grace, we can still speak up for Autism Awareness or civil liberties … without considering ourselves any more deserving than anyone else. I think that is what Paul meant when he said, “therefore from now on we recognize no one according to the flesh” (2 Cor 5:16). We may loathe a man’s words or a woman’s actions, but we do not have to loathe the person. When we see with God’s eyes, we see that we are all creations of God worthy of His redemption.
It’s a battle separating the sin from the identity of the man, but it’s essential to grace-backed obedience or advocacy. For example, my son’s whining bugs the ever-living out of me. Should I despise him? Of course not. We can empathize with the fact that a child is not their behavior. My son is not his whining. I may abhor his complaining but still love, even like him when he is in the throes of a whining fest.
Similarly, racism repulses me. Part of me wants to punch Donald Sterling’s clock. Part of me feels joy that he has received one of the swiftest and most public slaps on the hand in history for his exposed prejudice. And by slap on the hand, I don’t mean the $2.5 million fine, which is most likely chump change to him. I mean the ban.
But do I really want to rejoice in his stoning?
Some of the greatest in the kingdom of God battled major sin issues. The great Apostle Paul began as a Christian hater and murderer, and he summed it up best: “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Ro 3:23). Jesus meets the murderer, the adulteress and the leper right where they are. He doesn’t sweep anything under the rug. He doesn’t publically flog any of them. He covers their shame. He redeems.
After that Joni and Friends camp, Lesley and I had too much fun watching So You Think You Can Dance with a group of girlfriends. She faithfully showed up to every Bible study and smiled exuberantly when I put my second baby on her chest. Lesley showed me the kind of woman God wanted me to be—available, willing, ready to love and be loved.
Whether we draw lines and avoid people based upon age, weight, gender, or shade of melanin, we’re the ones missing out. Differences just might surprise us as the very bridge to a unique friendship, a healthy relationship, or a kingdom appointment. So, before we walk on the other side of the street to avoid “those people” or jump on the cyber bandwagon shunning Mr. Sterling to the back of the bus straight to Hades, perhaps we might remember that none of us are too far off from him.
So as the NBA Commissioner, Adam Silver, bans Don Sterling from any future NBA game, let’s lay down our digital stones, and look to the One who was not too proud and not too busy to extend His grace and love to the tax collector, the prostitute, to Mr. Sterling and me.
Do you draw lines or disassociate from those with certain differences from you? (People of a certain age group, socio-economic background, gender, skin shade, physical limitation, sin struggle or … you fill in the blank: _______________.)
Take a moment right now and ask God to forgive and redeem any sin you may have shoved under the proverbial rug.
Did you know that Shabby Chic Ministries speaks on purity, unity and reconciliation? Invite them to your next Women’s retreat / MOPS brunch / youth group retreat by sharing this link with your group’s leader: Events.
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