Ann Atwater, an African American grassroots activist and subject of the movie “The Best of Enemies,” found herself in 1971 as the co-chair of a 10-day series of meetings in Durham, North Carolina, with the goal of reducing school violence and ensuring peaceful school desegregation. Her partner in doing this would be none other than the local president of the Ku Klux Klan, C.P. Ellis.
As you might expect, at first both Atwater and Ellis were pitted against each other, each openly expressing their contempt and hatred for the other’s race. But as they realized what they each had in common – mainly a deep desire for a school system that was safe and peaceful for children – they learned how to put their differences aside and work together. The unlikely duo became lasting friends, bringing the beginnings of reconciliation to their community while at the same time experiencing a softening of their own hearts.
In an interview, Ann, a devout Christian, referred to the healing of the woman with “an issue of blood” in the Bible: “The lady with the issue of blood, she said if she could just touch but the hem of [Jesus’] garment, she believed she would be made whole, and she was made whole. And so many of us have different issues, and if we could just clean up our issues, then we’d be better off” (“Meet the Real Ann Atwater from ‘The Best of Enemies,’” youtube.com/watch?v=emR_N7yLVbU).
What are the issues humanity faces today? Hatred, pride, division, immorality, selfishness, etc., to name a few. How do we clean them up? For the woman with an issue of blood who had been ill for 12 years and whose life seemed hopeless, the healing of her condition was gained by seeking out Jesus. Her deep desire to be healed impelled her to push through the crowds surrounding Jesus and touch his garment. The Bible says that “immediately her issue of blood stanched.” Her thought had been touched by the Christ, and she became a new person, completely healed (see Luke 8:43–48).
While our issues might not be as debilitating as the woman’s in the Bible and while we might not find ourselves in as dramatic a situation as Ann Atwater’s, none of us are without a need to push through the “crowds” of resistance that would keep us out of reach of the Christ and from being an influence for good in the world. We find Christ as we love our neighbor more, express more compassion and understanding, and assimilate more of the Christliness that is so needed in order for healing to take place in the world. “He that touches the hem of Christ’s robe and masters his mortal beliefs, animality, and hate, rejoices in the proof of healing, – in a sweet and certain sense that God is Love” writes the discoverer of Christian Science, Mary Baker Eddy, in “Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures” (p. 569).
Many years ago I was teaching high school English to migrant students in a rural part of Oregon. The program was growing at an outstanding pace, but a new principal became increasingly afraid of potential gang activity. He implemented regulations to exclude from the program those students who did not live with their legal parents. Some of my students who lived in the stable homes of aunts and uncles while their parents migrated were asked to leave school. I tried reasoning with the principal, but he refused to budge. I had to struggle with my own issue of self-righteousness as I viewed this man as racist and narrow-minded.
One day, alone in my classroom, I turned to God with my whole heart for an answer. I needed to feel the power of Christ breaking through my resistance to loving this man who seemed so unlovable. As I reached out humbly, I felt the presence of peace. My “issue” of pride washed away. I knew this man was a child of God – fearless, honest, good, and sincere. I also knew that the Christ-influence opens our eyes to divine possibilities of good that can meet all needs.
I felt led to open the drawer of my desk, and there I saw the business card of someone who worked with migrant students. I never noticed the card before and called the person to ask some questions. This person ended up reaching out to the principal. The next day when I went into work, I was told that the regulations were reversed, as the principal was offered effective alternative ways to curb gang activity and happily implemented those instead. There weren’t any bad feelings. Later, when a dispute came up with one of my students about grades, the principal backed me up 100 percent.
No one is excluded from discovering Christ and entering into his or her own spiritual ministry for good. Fear, indifference, anger, impatience, stubborn narrow-mindedness, intolerance, opinionated beliefs – all of these issues melt as we seek and embrace the tender presence of Christ.