By Janet R. Stafford
Have you ever seen that one last leaf clinging to the branch as winter sets in? It's so tenacious, and yet so sad.
What is true in nature is also true among human beings: sometimes we have trouble letting go. The practice of forgiveness is to let go - not of the memory of what someone has done to us or to someone else - but to let go of our anger and our fixation with being wronged. It is not so much about changing the other but about changing ourselves, as odd as that may sound.
A while ago, I posted an excerpt from THE GOOD COMMUNITY, in which Maggie has an encounter with Josiah Norton, who is supportive of the Blaineton School excluding black students. He then proceeds to give her all sorts of "reasons" why people with dark skin are inferior to those with white skin.
The tender-hearted Maggie is at first shocked and then furious at his words, and so she takes to her journal to work things out in her heart and with her God.
Maggie’s Journal, 8 June 1864
Oh, Journal! How disappointed and angry I am! I had hoped that both would abate after feeding dear little Faith and rocking her to sleep this evening. But despite holding my sleeping child and smelling her sweet scent, my heart is still in turmoil. And so, I am pouring it into your pages.
I am sure that years from now, I shall look back and shake my head at my foolishness, but I must vent and vent I shall.
Here is my difficulty: I simply do not understand how someone can look at another person and determination who they are and what they can be based upon the color of their skin.
God does not see us that way. God sees us only as his children. I have searched the Scriptures and have marked a few of the passages that clearly say this. In particular, a passage from I Samuel 16 stands out to me. When the prophet Samuel was choosing a king from among Jesse’s sons, the Lord told him not to choose based on appearance or height. Samuel was told that “the Lord seeth not as man seeth; for man looketh on the outward appearance, but the Lord looketh on the heart.” God told Samuel to pass the tall, strong brothers and chose instead the youngest brother, David.
There are so many other passages that contain a similar message. But this is the one that speaks to me tonight. If God makes determinations based upon what is in one’s heart and not upon one’s appearance, should we not do the same?
How then can Mr. Norton, who calls himself a Christian, spew those dreadful lies about colored people? People with dark skin are not innately stupid or immoral. They are in fact no different than white people: some are intelligent, some are not; some are virtuous, some lie and steal. The color matters not. What matters is what is contained in the heart. What matters is our shared humanity.
I need to forgive Josiah Norton, Journal, but it will be difficult. I managed to let go of my anger over what he did to the Western New Jersey Hospital for the Insane and his foolishness behavior that led to Eli’s injury. But this! To know that he is embracing the same nonsense as many others and that he hates people based on their appearance – oh, I had hoped better of him, and I am disappointed.
But then, perhaps I should not have hoped anything of him. Just because a man has money and appears successful and can speak well, does not mean his heart is in the right place, does it? For those are all outward appearances. As Jesus says, “Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves. Ye shall know them by their fruits.”
What is in our hearts will direct what we produce. As far as I can tell, all Mr. Norton has produced is misery, money, and a luxurious hotel. I don’t like feeling that way about him and what he produces. Sadly, I would be quite content if I never saw Mr. Norton again.
I pray that God will help me forgive him and help me let go of my resentment.
 1 Samuel 16:7
 Matthew 7:15-16a.