If I step on and smash an acorn, have I killed an oak tree? If I answer yes, I’m implying that the acorn has the full capacity and possesses all of the attributes necessary to one day become an oak tree. In its present form, it would be correct to say that the acorn is in a latent (not fully realized) capacity status. The human heart also has (admittedly metaphysical) latent capacities – capacities for both God-shaped goodness and unspeakable evil. Usually, much of this unrealized potential stays unrealized. Few of us act on every good or evil impulse. However, we’ve all seen enough on both sides of the ledger to admit (if we’re honest) that it’s all in there – in each of us.
Yehiel Dinur certainly would admit it. Dinur, some may remember, in a February 1983 interview with Mike Wallace on “60 Minutes”, recounted his 1961 testimony at the trial of Adolph Eichmann – the man believed to be most directly responsible for initiating the atrocities at the Auschwitz prison camp. Dinur was the only member of his family to survive Auschwitz. When Eichmann was ushered into the courtroom, it was the first time Dinur had laid eyes on the man now on trial for the horror he had witnessed first hand.
Upon seeing Eichmann take the stand, Dinur sobbed uncontrollably and convulsed violently before finally fainting. Mike Wallace asked Dinur, “Were you overcome by fear, hatred, horrid memories”? Dinur answered:
No, it was none of these. Rather all at once I realized Eichmann was not the godlike army officer who had sent so many to their deaths. This Eichmann was an ordinary man. I was afraid about myself. . . I saw that I am capable to do this. I am . . . exactly like he…Eichmann is in all of us”.
This story perhaps can shed some light on the Donald Sterling saga. If Eichmann is in all of us, then could it stand to reason that Sterling is in all of us? If you’ve turned on the news in the last month, you know that Sterling (the owner of the NBA Los Angeles Clippers) has, in affect, lost his team due to racist and anti-Semitic remarks he made in a taped conversation with his (alleged) mistress. ESPN has worn out the tape on their airwaves these past 4 weeks. The transcript isn’t pretty. He said some undeniably mean and misguided things. Some have argued that Sterling, 81, is a product of a bygone generation, that it would be wise to evaluate his words (at least in part) with this in mind. But the offense remains.
Still, the media, fellow NBA owners, players, and personnel have judged Sterling harshly, and the NBA commissioner has rendered a verdict – he must sell his team immediately and is never again allowed into the arena to watch the Clippers play. The law of God looms ominously over Sterling as well, “to whom much is given, much is required” (Luke 12:48). If you’re a gazillionaire NBA owner in “Tinsel Town”, you better mind your p’s and q’s…or at least pay someone to mind them for you. Now Sterling finds himself on CNN, apologizing to Anderson Cooper.
As I watch the Sterling saga unfold, this question looms in the the back of my mind. Is there grace for Donald Sterling? The quick answer is, yes, there’s grace for all – even the non-contrite, and Sterling certainly appears moderately contrite in the Cooper interview, so of course there is. That’s not how this has played out publicly though. Google “Donald Sterling, karma”. There are more pages than you can began to peruse – some articles even invoking Luke 12:48. I googled “Donald Sterling, grace” and well, I found out that Nancy Grace weighed in.
Newsflash, karma is biblical. Galatians 6:7 – we reap what we sow. Thankfully, grace is biblical too. Bono said it best. “She [grace] travels outside of karma”. There’s a paradoxical x-factor hovering around all that has seemingly thus far eluded Donald Sterling. Yehiel Dinur alluded to it, “Eichmann is in me”. Saint Paul’s words from long ago echo “I am the chief of all sinners”. Then, to put this all completely up for grabs, Saint Paul went on to say, “accept one another then, just as Christ has accepted you”. How did he accept us? – He accepted us regardless of our place on that latent capacity spectrum. For some of us, it was at our most Harriet Tubman-like. For others, it was in the direct center of our foot-in-the-mouth Donald Sterling moment. For all, it was regardless of the fact that Eichmann is in us.
The x-factor? – a humility that comes from this unpopular notion of capacity. Latent or fully realized, our capacity for evil condemns us, squelched/pacified only by a morality that can’t save us. In the last 4 weeks, we’ve watched the wrath of justice come down fully on Donald Sterling – a wrath our hearts fully deserve, and then some. Grace begins for Donald Sterling when those around him began to treat him as if THEY know they have an Eichmann of their own lurking deep within.