Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Reconciliation Blues, Part I

This post begins a series that will offer a book review and analysis of Ed Gilbreath's Reconciliation Blues: A Black Evangelical's Inside View of White Christianity. I've commented about Ed's fabulous blog here, and I look forward to fruitful engagement and constructive conversation with his important book.

It is important to point out, as Ed helpfully explains in the Prologue, and chapters 1-3 and 5, that he made a decision to stay within "white Christianity," that is live, work, and worship in largely Anglo evangelical institutions. He describes attending a white church/Sunday school early in life, attending a largely white evangelical college, and working as the first black editor at Christianity today.

"I hope to give you a glimpse of what it means to be black and evangelical," Gilbreath writes in the Prologue, "My hope is that this inside perspective on what I regrettably call 'white Christianity' can help both blacks and whites get a better sense of the condition of our racial reconciliation and the distance we need to travel to make it more authentic and true....[t]hat's why reconciliation blues isnt' just a sob story; it's a call to action. The good news is that, despite our frequent missteps, the church is the one institution that's best equipped to overcome the racial divide" (p. 19-21). [Gilbreath is keen to acknowledge multicultural America, but writes out of the primary range of his experiences, black-white relations.]

Gilbreath's aim is a critical point white readers must neither overlook nor take lightly. White folks rarely realize they are white, and don't see that projecting race onto others makes them "raced" beings as well. What am I saying here? Black folks know white folks better than white folks know themselves. Who is willing to admit this? Who actually believes this and is willing to sit silent and learn? (Read more of what I'm talking about here.)

This is a crucial point to make, and represents, in one sense, the signal gift of this book. Gilbreath privileges white readers with an "inside view of white Christianity." Here I'm reminded, once again, of the words of James Baldwin in No Name in the Street (1972): "Actually, black people have known the truth about white people for a long time, but now there is no longer any way for the truth to be hidden. The whole world knows it. The truth which frees black people will also free white people, but this is a truth which white people find very difficult to swallow."

Again, who is willing to admit this? Who actually believes this? Who will take such a posture of listening?

Up next: chapel at Judson and listening to Tom Skinner.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Milestones and Modalities

Well, I turned 30 yesterday. A milestone, and now a perspective from a new modality. I've entered a new decade. Had a great time with friends and family, and their presence, to me, was the gift. I did get several other gifts, including The Bible Experience. It is interesting to hear familiar voices in a whole new context -- reading the New Testament.

In addition to working on my dissertation, I've been reading some W.E.B. Du Bois, mostly inspired by the work of Edward J. Blum. Blum teaches at San Diego State University and has a very impressive arrary of projects completed, underway, and in the works.

I'm looking forward to his biography of Du Bois, out next month with University of Pennsylvania Press, and his article on Du Bois's relationship to and with Christianity is, I hope, a taste of things to come.

Blum also alerted me to a collection of prayers by Du Bois, published in 1980 (17 years after Du Bois's death) under the title Prayers for Dark People. I've been reading through them, thinking not only about the times and places that inspired these reflections, but about their resonance with and application for contemporary times.

Here's a sample, composed on one Christmas day during Du Bois's lifetime:

"O Thou Incarnate Word of God to man, make us this Christmas night to realize Thy truth: we are not Christians because we profess Thy name and celebrate the ceremonies and idly reiterate the prayers of the church, but only in so far as we really comprehend and follow the Christ spirit -- we must be poor and not rich, meek and not proud, merciful and not oppressors, peaceful and not warlike or quarrelsome. For the sake of the righteousness of our cause we must bow to persecution and reviling, and again and again turn the stricken cheek to the striker, and above all the cause of our neightbor must be to us dearer than our own cause. This is Christianity. God help us all to be Christians. Amen. Luke 2:8-14" (p. 63).

And Amen.