November 2009


I don’t go to movies very much anymore but I recently went down to the Landmark Theatre on E Houston Street to see the British-made film called ‘Skin’. Bizarre title, I know, but based on a true story.  It’s about a mixed race girl born to a (white) Afrikaner couple in 1950’s apartheid South Africa. Her parents apparently had some black ancestry in their blood but had no idea about this until Sandra was born. (A brother who followed her was similarly mixed race in appearance.)    Her parents accepted her as their’s (which she was) and raised her in a loving home, but when she went to join her older brother at a ‘whites only’ boarding school, she was eventually kicked out because she wasn’t white.  Remember this was in the days when under apartheid it was against the law for whites and non-whites to live together under the same roof!  Her parents fought this which meant appearing before a court to determine Sandra’s race. 

I don’t want to give too much of the story away since I would highly recommend it.  It’s not yet available here on DVD but is available through www.amazon.co.uk .  It raises huge questions about race and identity, shows how ridiculous it is to try to legalize racial differences and at the same times gives incredible insights into the human heart.  Particularly tragic is the broken relationship Sandra and her father experience, and how his inability to forgive her for the choices she makes ultimately destroys him.  It’s a window into the destruction that unforgiveness breeds, and a sobering reminder for our own situations.

During the film credits at the end, we learn that the real Sandra Laing is still alive and living in a now “free” South Africa. Despite a life that was clearly very painful with more than it’s share of tragedies, she managed to survive the turbulence and  has not just children but grandchildren!  A beautiful reminder of God’s grace and redemption.

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I recently went to an alumni event for my undergraduate college to hear Ishmael Beah ( a fellow alum) and NY Times best-selling author of his memoir as a child soldier in Sierra Leona, talk about his process of writing.  Interestingly right around the same time, a friend picked up his book, ‘A Long Way Gone’, on an out of town trip to Washington, in a serious attempt to learn more about the complexities of life in Africa. 

As we talked about Beah’s book, she reminded me that in the opening pages he tells us of high school kids in New York City who went to school with him thinking it was “cool” that he had seen people running around with guns and killing each other. If they had only known. In the book we learn that his involvement in the war went far beyond watching others kill. In time, he became one of those who killed too.  I really wonder if his high school classmates would have found that cool too.

This morning there was a memorial service for those killed at Ft. Hood in Texas last week, and their families. And at midnight tonight the man known as the Washington sniper is scheduled to die by lethal injection for the random murders he persuaded a 17-year-old kid  to commit  in the fall of 2002.  (The kid was given life without parole).   The death of the Washington sniper can be stayed if the Governor of Virginia grants clemency but that seems unlikely.

I can’t help but think that when people are being shot and killed so close to home, killing no longer looks as “cool”.  (Is it ever “cool”?)

And I remain convinced that whenever we take a human life – when we play the role of Judge, when we take justice into our own hands – then even God weeps.