Native: Identity, Belonging, and Rediscovering God by Kaitlin Curtice

Native: Identity, Belonging, and Rediscovering GodSummary: The struggle to find identity and meaning as a Potawatomi woman who grew up with a better understanding of Southern Baptist Church culture than her Native one.

I preordered the Kindle edition of Native and then picked up the audiobook free as a promotion for pre-ordering. Like I prefer, Kaitlin Curtice narrated her own book. As I have frequently said, almost always, the author can tell their own story better than a professional narrator. (There are exceptions and fiction is probably better for professional narrators, etc). Curtice is not a professional narrator, but the book calls for emotion and feeling in this personal book and she carries that out.

This is a far better book than I can write about right now. But I want to hit on one point that I think she talks about well. The US has always prized assimilation. But it never really occurred to me how much assimilating something requires giving something else up. It may not be you directly that is giving something up. But to assimilate impacts not just you, but your extended family and descendants as well. If you assimilate into another culture, you are separating your children from their heritage. That isn’t to say all cross-cultural change is bad, but that traditionally the only thing talked about was the movement toward unified White culture as a positive. But the loss of ethnic culture is a loss. Some have lost their ethnic culture because of forced migration and slavery as many African Americans have in the US. Many Native Americans were removed from their homes as children, forced into boarding schools, punished for speaking their native languages or expressing their culture and encouraged to adopt White norms.

However, those who today identify as White also have been assimilated and lost their individual ethnic identity. My grandmother, just two generations from me, and a woman I knew fairly well into my 20s came to the US from Finland as a 12-year-old. I have zero connection to Finnish culture, language, or heritage. There is a loss that has to be accounted for, not just the gain of her assimilating into US culture via NYC and rural Pennslyvania.

Good White Racist?: Confront Confronting Your Role in Racial Injustice by Kerry Connelly

Good White Racist? Confronting Your Role in Racial Injustice

Summary: A White Christian talking to other White Christians about racism.

If you have read my post on The Myth of the American Dream, you know I am ambivalent about Good White Racist and several other books I have been reading lately. They are good books, among the best I have read from Christians, which I appreciate. But the fact they exist, in some ways, is a sign of the reluctance of White people to learn from minorities who have been saying many of the same things for a long time.

The description of the book opens with the following:

good white racist noun
1. A well-intentioned person of European descent who is nonetheless complicit in a culture of systemic racism
2. A white person who would rather stay comfortable than do the work of antiracism

One of the positives that immediately struck me was the preface. There are several pages devoted to acknowledging the people that have previously taught her all of the things she will later say. The Black women (primarily) that have taught her personally and paved the way academically to write about race. There is humility with that opening that caused me to text it to some friends immediately and think that maybe this book would be different.

And then the introduction opens, “Hi. I’m Kerry, and I’m a racist. (This is where you’re supposed to say, ‘Hi, Kerry.)'” She continues in the next few pages noting that White people trying to address race often “talk a great game on the one hand while maintaining the racist status quo on the other.” Like White Fragility, this is a book primarily is targeted toward people that have some awareness of the reality of racism, but also consider themselves a ‘Good White person.’ As she says, “It is our job–white people, not anyone else’s–to acknowledge this power dynamic and dismantle it, making space for the power of others to emerge.”

A friend posted a quote from Martin Luther King Jr’s book Where Do We Go From Here:

“Whites, it must frankly be said, are not putting in a similar mass effort to reeducate themselves out of their racial ignorance. It is an aspect of their sense of superiority that the white people of America believe they have so little to learn.”

The importance of the book is that Good White Racists:

“…benefit from that assignment in a social system that privileges whiteness…are generally nice people who intellectually do not approve of racist behaviors but who practice them anyway…[and] are concerned (possibly obsessed) with two things: their own comfort and their own inherent goodness.” (p15)

What Good White Racist points out throughout the book, is that paying attention matters, and the desire to not pay attention is exactly the problem that prevents real change. (Similar to the theme of Myth of the American Dream).

The Sword and the Shield: The Revolutionary Lives of Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr

The Sword and the Shield: The Revolutionary Lives of Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr.Summary: A joint biography about Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr and the way that they influenced one another.

The Civil Rights Era was made up of many more people than Martin Luther King Jr and Malcolm X, but they are two of the defining figures of the mid 20th century. This is the first joint book I have read about them since James Cone’s Martin & Malcolm & American. It has been at least 20 years since I read that book, and throughout The Sword and the Shield, I tried (and failed) to remember how Cone handled the discussion. I need to go back and reread it.

I was glad that I have recently read a biography of Malcolm X as well as King’s last book, Where Do We Go From Here, which had details about their lives front and center in my mind. I am far from a scholar of either, but I am also not unfamiliar with them. I still learned plenty, and the focus on them together does intentionally put their work on tension even if they only directly met one time.

As much as anything this is a reminder of what was lost with their deaths. No one like Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr is only their flattened memories. Both were complex people that were significantly changing over time, as was the central theme of Marble’s biography of Malcolm X and Cornell West’s compiled Radical King. Kendi’s three categories of racial relationships (segregationists, assimilationists, or antiracists) in How to be an Antiracist reminded me of how both King and Malcolm X were antiracists much of the time, but in quite different ways.

They Called Us Enemy by George Takei

They Called Us Enemy by George Takei Summary: A memoir of George Takei’s time in the Japanese Internment camps during World War II with some discussion about how they shaped his life after that time.

I do not read a lot of graphic novels, but I have found they work really well for history and memoir especially for discussion of eras where the visualization really matters. The March Trilogy by John Lewis is a very good example of this type of visual history that would communicate very differently in a straight narrative.

George Takei has been most known for his role as Sulu in Star Trek. But he has deftly used that fame to draw attention to gay rights, immigration and most especially, the history of the Japanese Interment camps. A graphic novel of that time is a natural outgrowth of his other work.

I always like to include a piece of art when I talk about graphic novels because art matters so much to the experience of reading a graphic novel. This is a frame from toward the end of the book when George Takei is processing what it meant to be in the internment camps with his father.

With Head and Heart: The Autobiography of Howard Thurman

With Head and Heart: The Autobiography of Howard ThurmanSummary: Fascinating autobiography of a pathbreaking and important man.

I came to know about Howard Thurman, like many do, through hearing about him in relation to Martin Luther King (Jr and Sr). He was a classmate with MLK Sr at Morehouse College. And then, during Thurman’s first year as Dean of the Boston College Chapel, Thurman overlapped with MLK Jr as he was finishing up his Ph.D. It is said that MLK Jr carried a copy of Jesus and the Disinherited with him during his Civil Rights years. Their relationship is probably not as formative to King as I had thought earlier, but there are many letters between them.

Regardless of his relationship with King, Howard Thurman is a path-breaking man. His father died young, and as the story at the beginning of the book says, “I said, ‘One thing is sure. When I grow up and become a man, I will never have anything to do with the church.'” His father died when he was seven, and because his father was not a member of the church, the pastor initially refused to allow a funeral at the church. After being pressured to permit the burial, the pastor refused to participate. A traveling evangelist agreed to do the funeral but turned it into a spectacle for evangelism instead of a memorial.

Despite the early negative relationship to the church, Thurman had an early mystical experience calling him to be a minster. Throughout his life, he was a mystic in orientation. I am not going to cover his whole career; you can read his Wikipedia page for a summary, or the memoir for more detail. After becoming a pastor, teaching, and serving as chaplain at Morehouse and Spelman, serving as a Dean at Howard University Chapel and a faculty member, he left the academic world in 1944 to co-pastor an intentionally interracial church in San Francisco. It is one of the earliest intentionally interracial congregations with Howard Thurman as co-pastor, but the only paid pastor and primary lead for most of the time. After nine years, Thurman became the Dean of Boston College Chapel, the first Black man to have a similar position at a predominately White University. He remained there 12 years until 1965 when he officially retired and led the Howard Thurman Educational Trust until he died in 1981.

A Silence in the Deep by KB Hoyle

A Silence in the Deep by KB HoyleSummary: A reimagining of the Little Mermaid. 

We all need some lightness in our lives. I tend to read heavy books, and I do this because I like them. But we also need lighter books to balance and rest, especially amid a global pandemic.

A Silence in the Deep is the latest book by KB Hoyle. I have never met her in person, but I digitally met her in the Christ and Pop Culture Facebook member group years ago. Since then, I have read her ten previous books and now this one. (She is currently co-writing a novel with Project CoNarrative).

KB Hoyle’s books are all well developed, expertly plotted with depth to them that allows for real enjoyment by adults, even though they are pitched to middle grade or young adult readers. Despite her skill, her last publisher went under, and she reclaimed all of her books and has self-published newly edited versions of them over the past two years.

This latest book is only available (for now) at Swoonreads, a project of MacMillian that takes submissions from authors and gives the reader community free access to unpublished books for feedback and potential publishing. If I have just purchased a new ereader that allowed me to load the book, (you have to read via an app, so it has to be on a computer, or an iOS or Android device and my new reader is android based.)

A Silence in the Deep is a reimagining of the Little Mermaid. The human is a princess, the beloved only daughter of the King and a bedridden Queen. The merman is the youngest child and only son of the King. He is in line to be the King’s military right hand, but also to be the apprentice storyteller to his Grandmother.

The Myth of the American Dream: Reflections on Affluence, Autonomy, Safety, and Power by DL Mayfield

The Myth of the American Dream: Reflections on Affluence, Autonomy, Safety, and PowerSummary: Is the American Dream and Christianity compatible?

A couple of years ago, I learned that the word ambivalent means “having mixed feelings or contradictory ideas about something or someone.”  I realized that I have been using the word wrong before that. Since then, it keeps coming to mind. I have contradictory ideas about The Myth of the American Dream. It is a great book. I exported my notes and comments on it, and I have 66 pages, 1/3 of the book that has a comment or underlined section.

The narrative structure spoke to me because while I have never met DL Mayfield, she puts voice to many things I have felt. I have been following her writing for years, her cover story at Christianity Today on Lynching, her Washington Post piece on the revolutionary nature of Mary’s Magnificant and too many more articles to list. The Myth of the American Dream, like following her on twitter or reading her work, is about putting out her pain and desire for the world to be different, more like the kingdom of God, on display to stir up something, anything in the reader.

The Myth of the American Dream I can’t think of apart from the coincidental trilogy of books I read along with it. Along with this book, and Good, White Racist is Having Nothing, Possessing Everything. It is a couple of years old, but it has a similar structure of telling the story of how ministry, as traditionally done, doesn’t work. Both books point out the weaknesses of unfettered capitalism, and individualistic consumerism contradicts with care for the other. They have different settings, Possessing Everything is about urban Indianapolis with mostly Black and Hispanic poor communities. Mayfield’s lives in suburban Portland, with refugee communities struggling to find a place in the midst of gentrifying liberalism. Both bring up education and the problems of white saviors and real introspection about how we can harm as we attempt to serve.

With both the writing was excellent and the focus on how traditional White Protestant ministry often seeks to do for or reconstruct communities to look like we think they should instead of how God sees them. I do not know how to write about this book because I have far too much to talk about. How do I summarize nearly 70 pages of notes and highlights?  At the beginning of the book, she says, ‘this is a book about paying attention.’ And that is probably the best summary. The American Dream is about not paying attention to those who are not doing well—ignoring protests or poverty, or the systems that allow some of us to have much and many others to have almost nothing. It is not about who is working hardest. I can assure you that my work is not hard, but the ‘essential worker’ making minimum wage is working hard.

Care of Mind/Care of Spirit by Gerald May

Care of Mind/Care of Spirit by Gerald MaySummary: A psychiatrist explores spiritual direction. 

This is another assigned book from my spiritual direction class. The focus of this semester’s class was spiritual direction and psychology. So assigning Care of Mind/Care of Spirit makes a lot of sense. Gerald May was a psychiatrist who became disillusioned with psychology and became a spiritual director.

My reading of Care of Mind/Care of Spirit was tainted by having his Addiction and Grace book assigned the same semester. I really did not like Addiction and Grace. My problem was mostly with his messy definition of addiction. But my frustration with May in the Addiction and Grace book did not give me a lot of charity in reading Care of Mind/Care of Spirit.

There is value here. Because he was a psychiatrist he understands that spiritual direction and psychology are not the same thing. There is a temptation for spiritual directors without much training in psychology to over psychologize the spiritual direction.

…all of life’s experiences can appear legitimately in spiritual direction, but they need to be seen in the light of spiritual concern, and at all costs they should not be allowed to eclipse that light.

He also cautions the spiritual directors to understand their role. They are a facilitator of the work of the spirit, they are not the ones doing the work.

In spiritual direction however, the true healer, nurturer, sustainer, and liberator is the Lord, and the director and directee are seen as hopeful channels, beneficiaries, or expressions of grace for each other. This is a radical difference, and one that cannot be overemphasized.

One of the points that is most helpful is his distinguishing between psychology that diagnoses a patient and spiritual direction that assists a person in discernment.

Having Nothing, Possessing Everything: Finding Abundant Communities in Unexpected Places by Michael Mather

Having Nothing, Possessing Everything: Finding Abundant Communities in Unexpected Places Summary: Story filled book on the reimagining of what it means to serve a community. 

I have read many books on ‘urban ministry’ or community development.  I have a master’s degree in social service administration, and my job is non-profit consulting. Having Nothing, Possessing Everything is not a unique take, but it is well told. In an overly simplified form, this is a church that has taken the Asset Based Community Development model (look to develop the strengths of the community more than bringing in resources to address the weaknesses.) I broadly support the ABCD model, but it is not simple to implement well (or easily replicable), and some use the model as an excuse not to address systemic issues or immediate needs.

I think the story focus of Having Nothing, Possessing Everything does an excellent job of exploring what is and is not meant here. Mather takes on traditional social ministry, unconstrained capitalism, consumerism, and the lack of resources in a helpful way. I wish he dealt more directly with race, although it is in the background throughout the book.

At the end of the book, there is an exploration of a set of six principles that I think are helpful. They are the principle that guides both how partnerships work and the ideals of the church

  1. Our neighbors are God’s people. Act like it
  2. Everything begins with and builds on the gifts of our neighbors.
  3. Parents and guardians are the first and best teachers. Respect this.
  4. We invest first and foremost in the good the people of the neighborhood seek.
  5. Money must flow into the neighborhood.
  6. Practice neighbor love.

Paul: A Very Brief History by John MG Barclay

Paul: A Very Brief HistorySummary: A very brief intro to Paul.

These short guides are both really helpful and difficult to write and write about. They assume some, but not too much familiarity with a subject. If you have no understanding, they probably are too advanced. And if you have a lot of understanding, these types of books probably will not be all that interesting.

Mostly I picked this up because it was on sale and because I wanted to read Barclay’s Paul and the Gift, which yet again I heard some bible/theologian people on twitter talking about as one of the best books of theology of the past decade or so. (It is also on sale for Kindle and even a better deal at less than a penny a page.) I have a pretty good understanding of Paul, I read NT Wright’s biography of Paul fairly recently and I have read a number of other books as well. I thought this would help introduce me to how Barclay thought about Paul, and I think it did a bit.