Reading Through Black History Month

I’ve really returned to my love of reading this year. The past several years, I’ve read for my dissertation and classes but not a lot for fun. I loved reading for school! But there was little time for other things.

So to wrap up February, in honor of Black History Month, I want to offer you a round up of some of the books I’ve read the last few years written by black authors. Some are new reads this month; others are old friends.

The Cross and the Lynching Tree, James Cone

“Both the cross and the lynching tree represented the worst in human beings and at the same time ‘an unquenchable ontological thirst’ for life that refuses to let the worst determine our final meaning.”

Such a disturbing and needed theology of black suffering and history in America and its relationship to white Christianity. This is the first book I read in February. learned so much, and I especially liked learning about the black women who stepped into their faith and told the truth about injustice. It’s hard, painful, and important to read this book as a white Christian. You will read things you wish you had never known about. But we must know about them. 

I’ve been reading a lot of the Bible, especially the exodus stories, this past year from the point of view of the suffering, and it’s been huge in my understanding of Scripture. Cone brings us through this process so that we can see God, and the cross, when we see the lynching tree.

I’m Still Here, Austin Channing Brown. A favorite book of 2018. 

“Anger is not inherently destructive. My anger can be a force for good. My anger can be creative and imaginative, seeing a better world that doesn’t yet exist. It can fuel a righteous movement toward justice and freedom. I don’t need to fear my own anger. I don’t have to be afraid of myself. I am not mild-mannered. I am passionate and strong and clear-eyed and focused.” 

Brown has a great ability to explain exactly how it feels to be a black woman in America in a way others can understand. She is unflinching but also positive in her assessment of what can be done to honor her and others for being “still here” despite all the attempts to negate their existence. 

If you want to understand the daily struggles that black women, and men, face that we really don’t see, listen to Brown. 

Ready To Rise, Jo Saxton

“What is the cost when a woman lacks access and investment, encouragement to own her voice, and opportunities for influence in her sphere when there is no obvious pathway to progress?”

This book about women in leadership asks: How do women uniquely learn to believe in and develop their voice as a leader? I love her emphasis on women encouraging one another to find their voice and rise together. Saxton refuses to give in to scarcity thinking and wishes for everyone to learn their power. I plan to put into place some of the things I learned in the chapter on finding a village. I’ve never really had a mentor, and I definitely need sponsors. Also, I need to be those things for others.

All the Colors We Will See, Patrice Gopo. 

I heard Patrice at Breathe Christian Writer’s Conference a few years ago and knew from the first night I would like her. When I listened to her teach about memoir, I had already picked up her book the night before. It’s a treasure of one woman’s learning how to navigate growing up, race, marriage, family, and not belonging anywhere yet finding grace. It’s beautifully written and relatable. Gopo paints such vivid portraits through essays that detail her life experience. The words are beautiful, even when the experiences aren’t, and the essays convey a story of family resilience.

Reading While Black, Esau McCaulley. My second read of this February! This is not for the theologically faint of heart. It’s hard work, but he takes the reader through the Bible, and some history of black theology, to find a solid place for a theology of freedom and justice. Like me, McCaulley seeks a theology that can hold both a tradition of justice and one of more conservative approach to scripture. I especially enjoy the section on Luke and how it intersects with the entire arc of the Bible to bring justice issues forward.

The Very Good Gospel, Lisa Sharon Harper. Another one I read a couple years ago. Harper offers a similar overview of scripture in a more accessible manner. She spreads out a gospel that is so much richer than the me-sized, individualistic gospel we’ve been taught in so many places. It’s offers a gospel that reconciles and restores. 

My favorite quote is when she talks about Finney’s revivals and how, when people came to the altar to give their lives to Christ, 

“Men and women confessed and repented of their personal sins as well as their complicity with structural evil. And when they wiped away their tears and opened their eyes, Finney thrust a pen into their hands and pointed them to sign-up sheets for the abolitionist movement. This is what it meant to be an evangelical Christian in the 1800s.”

This is what it still should mean. She makes a beautiful case for the two, personal and corporate salvation and re-creation, to be inherently intertwined as the whole gospel.

How To Fight Racism, Jemar Tisby.

Another new release! Here’s my Amazon review: In his new book, Jemar Tisby takes us on a journey of how to fight racism—the is not simply a how to manual. He gives the Christian basis for the fight in well considered textual and historical explanations. He also gives us an American perspective on the issue, with historical commentary. He explains historic systematic racism as well as the different stages people might be at in dealing with their own racist tendencies.

Nowhere does Tisby reflect a disrespect for or condescension toward either those who practice racism or those who aren’t quite sure what to do about it yet. He approaches the topic with humility and the intent to take people wherever they are and teach them at that level. It makes the book approachable and useful when talking with those who remain entrenched in certain racist tendencies or attitudes. He has a gift of teaching powerful truth in a disarming way that can get past defenses and allow for change.

His approach is clear and well explained. The framework is an acronym ARC. “ARC is an acronym that stands for awareness, relationships, and commitment.” Then, the thoughtfulness and helpful attitude with which he comes at the topic comes out: “Perhaps you are just starting the journey, and even baby steps are accompanied by the risk of stumbling and falling. But you learn how to walk one step at a time through persistent, informed practice.

And yet, he tells the clear truth about the topic.

“In order to fight for racial justice, racism must not be lightly dismissed. It must be treated as the evil offense against God and human beings that it is.” (Jemar Tisby)

I learned how to mobilize my community for change. I discovered ways I can fight systemic racism that I had no idea I could do. The church I pastor has moved past many of the troublesome issues he mentions, but we can still learn and grow and unearth attitudes and beliefs we don’t know we have. We have the tools to serve our community better because of Tisby’s book. We learn how to: talk to our kids, cultivate relationships, see our own past, learn, take apart systems, create our own statements of justice, give out to our community, and more.

A Sojourner’s Truth, Natasha Sistrunk Robinson.

Robinson tells her story of discovering life as a brilliant black woman in a world not made for her. Her stories of military school and training as a black woman are unimaginable, and it has caused her to become a great advocate for young women. She began a program to mentor girls toward leadership. This story moved me to continue following her to see what more amazing things she has planned for girls who can lead but haven’t had this truth spoken into their lives.

There you are—a handful of great black authors you could be reading and maybe have. If you have suggestions, please comment with them. I would love to see some possibilities I haven’t read!

What are you reading right now? I’m finally cracking open Jesus and John Wayne.

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