Sunday, April 13, 2008

Practicing Pentecost: The Church Across the Color Line 1.0

This post begins a blog interview with Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove about his fantastic and important book Free to Be Bound: Church Beyond the Color Line (NavPress, 2008). Thanks to Jonathan for his wilingness to particpate in this electronic conversation and dialogue.

I take the short title for this series of posts from Anthony Smith's chapter of the same title in An Emergent Manifesto of Hope and in recognition of teaching and inviting me to be part of the church beyond the color line.

Baldblogger (BB): A previous post introduced you to readers; we read some about your background, upbringing, and recent work and writing. Is there anything about your life and/or work you’d like to add? If you could, if it exists, what is a typical day at Rutba House and at St. John’s Missionary Baptist Church?

Jonathn Wilson-Hartgrove (JWH): Most important thing is that I’ve become a dad. Leah and I adopted our son, JaiMichael, who is now 3 and a half. He’s a joy—and a bundle of energy. If we ever had a typical day, we don’t any more.

At Rutba, we try to start and end the day with prayer together. In between, we do our work, answer the door, eat together, listen, and play. Most of these things get interrupted. But sometimes grace is in the interruptions.

BB: Now, a writing question. Your first book was published in 2005, and, impressively, you’ve published two more books within the span of a year and will have some more books published soon. When and where do you write, and from where does your inspiration come to write? In other words, any tips for good and effective writing? For interested readers, any projects in the works?

JWH: I write because I have to. I don’t know what I think until I see what I say, so I sort out my life in words. The incredible gift I receive from readers is that they consider it worth their time and money to think these things through with me. So I’m not alone. And, by grace, the bills get paid.

The challenge, then, isn’t so much to find the time to write as it is to remember all the other things that are important. Words are powerful, for sure. But we live in an information age that is flooded with disembodied words. Unless the word is made flesh, it rings hollow.

As I said, I write my questions. More and more, I’m writing the questions I live with others. For a few years now I’ve been in conversation about a new monastic movement in the contemporary church. My book New Monasticism: What It Has to Say to Today’s Church (Brazos) will be out next month.

Shane Claiborne and I have a book on prayer coming out this fall. We’ve been talking for years about the connection between action and contemplation, while praying and getting in the Way together. Becoming the Answer to Our Prayers (IVP) is a little meditation that invites others into that conversation. We’re just about finished, and it will be out this fall.

I’m starting to write about money. Jesus said you can’t serve God and Mammon, which sets up an interesting either/or. Sometimes we talk about “stewarding” money well. But on the whole, I think we have a hard time seeing money as a power here in the richest nation to ever exist. Prosperity gospel gets good air time in this country, but we don’t have much of an alternative. So I’m working on that right now.

BB: Specifically, what inspired you to write Free to Be Bound? The subtitle of your book of course brings to mind the famous phrase from Du Bois’s Souls of Black Folk (1903). Was it W.E.B. Du Bois specifically? Can you briefly explain the title of your book? It is catchy, punchy, yet deeply profound all at the same time.

JWH: I wrote Free to Be Bound because I needed to go deeper into the question I’d first asked at 16, when I met some black Christians—namely, why have I never met these brothers and sisters before? Following that question led me to join a black church, move into a predominantly African-American neighborhood, and, among other things, read Du Bois. He said the problem of the 20th century was the problem of the color line. My experience showed me that the color line was a dividing line in the body of Christ.

Forty years ago, the civil rights movement taught America that we’re bound to be free. This resulted in news laws liberating black people from second class citizenship. Forty years later, though, the question we have to ask is, “Free for what?” Christians have for the most part used our freedom to stay in race-based churches and pursue middle class success.

The good news of Jesus is that we’re free to be bound together in a beloved community where the rich are no longer rich and the poor are no longer poor because we all share our resources so that no one is in need. This book is about what it might mean to be that kind of community.

[Photo credit here.]

1 comment:

Phil said...

I'm struck by your comments about writing--working out your thoughts as you write (or, writing to work out your thoughts), making your words become flesh, and writing (ab)out the questions you are living with others.

With so much of my own writing tied to archives and interviews, it is interesting and refreshing to read about writing that comes from such personal places and communal experiences.

Also, we often think about Du Bois's color line comment in terms of politics and economics--but given the title of the book in which this quote appeared--The Souls of Black Folk--it is easy to see that he had churches in mind as much as anything else. Du Bois is a prophet.