In the book Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You, author Jason Reynolds writes about Puritan ministers, John Cotton and Richard Mather:
“They built churches in Massachusetts but, more important, they built systems. The church wasn’t just a place of worship. The church was a place of power and influence, and in this new land, John Cotton and Richard Mather had a whole lot of power and influence. And the first thing they did to spread the Puritan way was find other people who were like-minded. And with those like-minded folks, they created schools to enforce higher education skewed toward their way of thinking” (Reynolds, 15).
I found his description of Cotton and Mather’s systems unsettling, because I was reminded that we continue to do this. Much of the angst in churches stems from the loss of power and influence we experienced in the twentieth century. We continue to look for people who are like-minded, and we read from people who are like-minded.
In recent years, I’ve heard two alarming statements attributed to pastors (to be fair, I’ve heard more than two, but for the purposes of this post, I’m only referencing two):
“I’m too old to learn.” This statement reeks of privilege and arrogance, and indicates that the speaker thinks they’ve learned all they need to.
“I don’t need to listen to diverse voices. I only use sources that I like.” Again, this statement reeks of privilege and arrogance, and this speaker suggests that they only need to follow sources who look and sound like them (white men).
Both of these comments underlay a tendency to pursue power and influence, and they miss out on the richness that comes from taking in a diversity of voices and perspectives. I’ve been diving deep into Ephesians lately, and I’m reminded of Paul’s words in 2:16 where he reminds us that God puts to death the hostility experienced between diverse groups of people. While I absolutely believe that the death of hostility is the work of God, I also believe that he invites us to participate in the death of hostility. And so we need to hear from a variety of voices and perspectives.
I’m grateful for the sources who speak into and inform my life, and I recognize that I have a long way to go to live out the peace that comes through Jesus. However, as I explore what it means to be an ally, I’ve been reading several books that come from different cultural experiences than mine (I’m much more of a reader than a podcast listener). As February is Black History month, I want to recommend a few books written by African Americans who have influenced my faith formation and views on the church of Jesus in the twenty-first century.
Lisa Sharon Harper’s The Very Good Gospel
I discovered Harper’s book the first time I was preparing to teach the Next Generation evangelism course at ADC. I greatly appreciate her perspective on the gospel as she writes, “The good news was both about the coming of the Kingdom of God and the character of that kingdom … It was about what citizenship in God’s Kingdom requires.” Emphasizing the concept of shalom, she explores how the gospel of Jesus brings wholeness to all aspects of life, and peace for all people. Her use of concentric circles emphasizes the expanding reach of the gospel, as God’s Kingdom has ramifications not only on our personal lives, but on the very ways we treat creation.
Dr. Jacqueline E. Bland’s Becoming a Resolute Leader
Dr. Bland is also an Arrow Leadership alumnus, and I really appreciate her attention to being a resolute leader. Many of my students drew attention to her description of the 3 Ds needed for leadership: determination, dedication, and discipline. Her chapter on spiritual companioning is also very valuable, as she reminds her readers of the importance of relationally rich communities. As pastors and leaders living through a tumultuous time, this reminder to pursue community and develop strong friendships is important.
Barbara L. Peacock’s Soul Care in African American Practice
Drawing from the history of slave ships crossing the ocean, Peacock’s book introduces the readers to the reality that historical events shape spiritual practice. She highlights how slaves maintained a spirit of hope, “even in the midst of the darkest hours, God was still directing the faith-filled souls of slaves … He bestowed His presence and unmeasurable wisdom on a people considered castaways.” Part biographical, Peacock highlights the spiritual practices of ten African-American faith leaders, and shows how their practices should continue to inform our own practice today.
Howard Thurman’s Meditations of the Heart
I’ve been using Thurman’s reflections in my own spiritual practice over the last year. He was an advisor to Martin Luther King Jr., a pastor, dean, theologian, and mystic. His devotionals are full of hope and inspiring for transformation. He challenges us to grow as humans rooted in Jesus, and to find communities where we can thrive.
I would love to discover Canadian writers, and I deeply appreciate my sisters and brothers with whom I’ve had excellent conversations, and who have helped me grow in awareness of their experiences in Atlantic Canada. As I mentioned, I don’t regularly listen to podcasts, but would value your suggestions.
For Logos users, check out the page they’ve developed for Black History Month. I still prefer holding a paper copy of a book in my hand over an ebook, but this looks like a helpful list for those of us looking to expand our readings and hear diverse voices.
Friends, let’s continue to strive to end the hostility between groups and move towards the peace that Jesus has for us. Although there are many steps that need to happen, diversifying our reading and listening is an important step in broadening our understanding and compassion. Although February is Black History Month, and it raises our awareness, it should be our practice to read from and listen to Black authors throughout the year. I encourage you to pick up a new book or check out a new podcast.
In addition to reading on Next Generation ministry, theology, and leadership, I also really enjoy reading comics. For a fun Marvel take on Afro-futurism (that also challenges my thinking and forces me to reflect on my own worldview), check out Ta-Nehesi Coates’ run on Black Panther. Comics are too quickly dismissed by many people, but are often a significant medium for cultural critique and reflection.