2019 marks 10 years of blogging most of the books I have read. This year, like most years, I met some of my reading goals and not others. I read good books that have stuck with me and books that were less memorable.
My main goal this year was to increase the diversity of authors and to keep the percent of White authors to less than 33%. I failed at that goal since my annual rate was 47%. Two contributing factors in the failure was starting a program to study spiritual direction and only having White authors assigned and only reading white authors as supplemental books to those assigned. I am sure there are books on spiritual direction written by non-White authors, I have not found them yet.
The second problem was just not being conscious enough of monitoring. I was conscious of focusing primarily on increasing Black authors, but that needs to be more than just in books about race. And in increasing the racial diversity I did not pay enough attention to gender and decreased my percent of women authors from 42% in 2018 to 31% in 2019.
My goal next year will be to keep White authors to 45% or less while increasing the number of books by Asian, Latinx and Native American authors to at least 10% (a really small goal, but one I have not met for the past three years.) And I will try to get the gender balance to be actually balanced instead of overwhelmingly male.
I am going to have a goal to read a sermon a day. I am going to start with Fleming Rutledge, Howard Thurman, Eugene Peterson and then I will seek out some others. If you have any suggestions let me know.
Most impactful books
Last year I tried dividing the books that impacted me into different categories of how they impacted me. Last year’s categories do not really work this year. The books I find most impactful were fairly serious and generally either biography, history, theology or about racial issues. Mostly they were pointing out areas where I have blind spots, ignorance or weakness. I am going to have categories but I am not sure if they will be helpful or not.
I have been reading fairly widely around racial issues for about five years now and I keep discovering new depths to my ignorance and bias, four books stand out here:
- The Christian Imagination: Theology and the Origin of Race by Willie James Jennings
- Rescuing the Gospel from the Cowboys: A Native American Expression of the Jesus Way by Richard Twiss
- Can “White” People Be Saved?: Triangulating Race, Theology, and Mission (A conference book on a Fuller theology conference of that title)
- Unsettling Truths: The Ongoing, Dehumanizing Legacy of the Doctrine of Discovery by Mark Charles and Soong-Chan Rah
I have not written about Unsetting Truths yet because I want to read it again before I write about it, but as much as reading about slavery and the history around slavery impacted my understanding of racial history, Unsettling Truths and Rescuing the Gospel from the Cowboys and Andrea Smith’s chapter in Can “White” People Be Saved showed me how much I need to inspect my theology and understanding around colonialism, Native American history, and even basic historical facts.
Willie James Jennings’ Christian Imagination deserves all of the praise it has received for helping me rethink how the way we think about race is distorted and how theology has facilitated that distortion. His rooting of racism in historical antisemitism has really made me think about how we fall into conceptual traps.
Rounding Out History
There is so much history to be discovered and I certainly will not ever read the end of learning about history. But these four books helped round out my historical understanding:
- White Flight: Atlanta and the Making of Modern Conservatism by Kevin Kruse
- The Color of Compromise: The Truth about the American Church’s Complicity in Racism by Jemar Tisby
- Race and Reunion: The Civil War in American Memory by David Blight
- Doctrine and Race: African American Evangelicals and Fundamentalism between the Wars by Mary Beth Swetnam Mathews
I do think it is worth noting here that three of these four books were by White authors. There are a ton of White authors that are writing well about race, but we cannot only read White authors on racial issues, especially since part of the reason why there are so many White authors writing on race is issues of Black and other minority authors not being given platforms to do that. The Color of Compromise is an intro and the shortest book in this group. The backlash against it is disappointing because it is a pretty conventional history. Race and Reunion is about how the US remembered the Civil War in the 50 years after the Civil War and how that memory impacted policy and structure in the US. Doctrine and Race chronicles the era between the World Wars and how the broader fundamentalist movement ignored or rejected Black Christians that were theologically evangelical and orthodox. White Flight is a particular history of Atlanta’s White Flight but placed in the context of the growth of the modern political conservative movement.
Sparks a Love of Learning
There are books that make you love the world in new ways.
- Bonhoeffer’s Black Jesus: Harlem Renaissance Theology and an Ethic of Resistance by Reggie Williams
- Trains, Jesus, and Murder: The Gospel According to Johnny Cash by Richard Beck
- The Spirituals and the Blues by James Cone
- Acts: A Theological Commentary on the Bible by Willie James Jennings
As part of my prerequisite for starting the Spiritual Direction program, I participated in a five-day silent retreat. I brought two books which I read during the retreat, Bonhoeffer’s Black Jesus and Jenning’s commentary on Acts. Bonhoeffer’s Black Jesus was fascinating personally in part because my grandmother was living in Harlem while Bonhoeffer would have been there. But more importantly, because I think that Williams makes the case that Bonhoeffer’s year attending and learning from the Black church was essential to his later opposition to Hitler. I also have started participating in a group that is riffing off of this book and trying to talk about what the White Evangelical church needs to learn from the Black church today. The Acts commentary covers similar themes as the Christian Imagination, but while the Christian Imagination was constructive theology, his commentary on Acts grounded that in biblical exegesis. How we read scripture is impacted by how it is presented to us and the culture we live in. Amos Yong’s commentary on Acts was a similar reframing of Acts for me, but Jennings continued in that line. Both Cone and Beck’s books on music as theological exploration were excellent. They made me want to explore both the music and the background more.
Just Well Done
There are also books that are just well done. All of these were audiobooks, and I think that probably matters to how I received them:
- Becoming by Michelle Obama
- On the Come Up by Angie Thomas
- Forward Me Back to You by Mitali Perkins
- How to Be an Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi
- Twelve Lies That Hold America Captive: And the Truth That Sets Us Free by Jonathan Walton
Becoming was a warm memoir read by Michelle Obama. Well written, well narrated, warmly told. On the Come up is a follow-up book to Thomas’ earlier The Hate You Give. It is set in the same neighborhood and time but with different characters, and I think was a better book. I read three books by Mitali Perkins this year, and any of them could be on this list (all of them would be if I included more books). Eventually, I will read everything she has written. I read both Kindi’s longer and more academic book Stamped From the Beginning and this shorter more personal How to Be Antiracist this year. Both were excellent, but while we need the theoretical work of Stamped from the Beginning, the more personal How to Be Antiracist, I think is more impactful.
Few books have I thought more about this year than Twelve Lies That Hold America Captive. Simple concept, but 12 chapters, illustrated through his own life, of how false beliefs about the world, ourselves, or Christianity impact how we live. I subscribed to his podcast and listened to all of his Emotionally Healthy Activist series and it supplemented this book well. Discipleship is essential and I continue to be convinced that we have to pay new attention to discipleship if we are going to live out what it means to be the church well.