Thursday, May 01, 2008

Two Perspectives: Black and White

Recently, I've had the joy of rediscovering personal memoirs. I haven't read them much over the years, but of late the Lord has encouraged me greatly through memoirs, journals and letters.

I want to recommend two such volumes to those who may be interested, and as an easy entry into this field of literature for the uninitiated. More importantly, I also want to recommend them because they both give us "outsider" glimpses into our experiences in the church. The allow us to walk in another man's moccasins for a season, and to mine truths and perspectives that may lie hidden to us otherwise. In one volume, we receive an African-American's take on what it's like to be "the only one" inside white evangelical churches and organizations. In the second volume, we get a white American's perspective on what it's like to be "the only one" inside an otherwise all-black congregation. Great reads all the way around.

The first I've recommended before: Ed Gilbreath, Reconciliation Blues. Gilbreath does a masterful job of capturing the hopes and disappointments, opportunities and failures experienced by many African Americans inside predominantly white evangelical churches and organizations. His writing swims and like every good memoir carries the reader through the range of recollections and experiences of the writer. If you serve in a predominantly white setting, please read Gilbreath. He'll help you better understand and more relentlessly love African Americans in your context.

The second book I picked up last weekend and read in about two days. It's Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove's Free to Be Bound: Church Beyond the Color Line. Jonathan is a white brother from King, N.C. (Surry County, not far from my own hometown). He grew up in the rural south, attended school in Germany, Eastern in Philadelphia, and Duke Divinity in Durham. Hearing an African American pastor preach during a high school meeting cracked open a door to a world of Christian experience he'd never known. The rest of his life has been in one way or another an attempt to enter that world as a genuine expreission of Christian love and unity. Jonathan takes us with him on this journey in a lucid, quick moving, and engaging way. Once he and his wife settled in Durham, N.C. (another city I've spent a lot of time in and about), they decided to join a predominantly African-American church in a historically Black neighborhood. We don't have nearly enough memoirs of this sort, partly because it seems that not many white brothers and sisters have done with Wilson-Hartgrove and his wife have done (join a black church). But it's a great look at the African-American church, not from the distance of an "interested observer," but up close from the perspective of one trying to understand her from inside and with a commitment to stay. Not every reader will agree with the bits of politics and theology in the middle of the book, but I trust every reader will be challenged by the evident love and commitment shown on most every page. An excellent memoir well worth reading, especially by those who serve in a predominantly black context and have the joy of welcoming brothers and sisters from other backgrounds.
Part of what I love about both books is the honesty of the authors. Neither book is romantic, even if the authors allow themselves to dream about possibilities. There is great humor in both, even in the face of real pains and hurts. The books are human and, therefore, useful. Read and enjoy!


carissa anne said...

thanks! these sound great.

KG said...

I appreciate the suggestions. I have read Ed's book. It is an excellent one. I will be looking into getting Free to be bound. I could learn a lot from it.
I am actually reading your book about the Decline of African American Theology right now. Grace and peace.

Andrew Randazzo said...

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Anonymous said...

I've read Gilbert's book. It is a good read and touches upon various aspects and manifestations of race , culture, and ethnicity. It is quite a melange!