Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what
is right in the eyes of everybody.
If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.
Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God's wrath,
for it is written: "It is mine to avenge; I will repay," says the Lord.
On the contrary:
"If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty,
give him something to drink.
In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head."
Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
(Romans 12:17-21 NIV)
In the fall of 1977, I suffered a concussion playing high school football. I don’t remember much, but my mother still recounts the story, noting that when she arrived at the emergency room, I was singing and slurring, at the same time. She also recounts an event following those Friday Night Lights so powerful that it carved an image that is still etched in her rapidly decreasing memory more than four decades later – The night a black boy stayed at our house.
Mike Ford was our high school’s star running back. He is also a good friend who embraces me each year I return to my high school homecoming game, where I watch him, still excelling on the field, but now as a seasoned coach, instead of a gifted player. As you’ve probably surmised, Mike is that “black boy” my mother still remembers, who would not leave my side following my injury. As my mother recounts the story she offered to make up a bed for Mike on the couch, but my friend refused, insisting that he sit by my side all night. I can only imagine what my deeply rooted Southern prejudicial parents (I hate thinking of them as racist) thought as they retired for the night, knowing as they slept, a young black man stayed in their home, drank from their glasses, and used their one and only bathroom. What I would like to think happened, is they began to judge my friend, not by the color of his skin, but by the content of his character.
Fast forward 20 years. My deeply rooted Southern father is now in New York City for the first time since he arrived at New York Harbor after serving in World War II. I have invited him to stay with me while I attend a conference and coincidentally it’s the week of Veteran’s Day. He is about to meet another black friend of mine, who like my friend Mike, has gained much notoriety, but on a national scale. Through a unique set of circumstances I have come to know award winning CBS journalist and anchor, Mark McEwen. After Mark raps up his show, CBS This Morning, he comes out and I introduce him to my dad. We chit chat for a few moments and I let him know this is my dad’s first time in New York since right after the war. Mark extends his hand and gives my father a firm and warm handshake, while telling him, “Mr. Davis, it is a pleasure to meet you. Thank you so much for serving our country.” Probably making more time for us than his busy schedule allowed, Mark bids us goodbye. As my dad and I walked away from Studio 57 and through downtown Manhattan, my father stopped, looked me in the eyes, and said, “You know, I may have to change my thinking about some things.”
I can’t say my friends Mike and Mark completely rooted out my father’s racial prejudices, but I know they struck a blow against bigotry as they heaped burning coals of kindness, care, and respect on my father’s headstrong perceptions. I also believe that this spirit of love they exampled helped open my father’s heart to another man of color, who he also rejected for much of his life – Jesus Christ.
Perhaps all of us need to change our thinking about some things, especially those of us who call ourselves Christians. Perhaps if we truly love our enemies as Christ commands, one day, the only justified thing burning will be the metaphoric coals we heap upon the heads of those who need to heal from the hate.