Update, February 5, 2021
February 5, 2021
I am often asked, as February approaches, if I have any suggestions for African American History month reading. This year I am suggesting:
- A Promised Land by Barack Obama
- His Truth is Marching On: John Lewis and the Power of Hope by John Meacham
- Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents by Isabel Wilkerson
- Jesus and the Disinherited by Howard Thurman
As a pastor I have a particular interest in these books. They contain the stories of people who take their faith very seriously. They reflect the outlook of people who are truly committed to the well being of others. They are accounts that touch, in the words of Amanda Gorman (National Youth Poet Laureate) touch the “unfinished” history of our nation and invite us to “lay down our arms so we can reach out our arms to one another.” They are works of enduring significance which include the stories of pastors and the issues we face.
In “A Promised Land” former President Obama touches on his complicated relationship with his one-time pastor, The Reverend Dr. Jeremiah Wright. He writes “There were times when I found Reverend Wright’s sermons a little over the top…And yet for me, especially when I was a young man still sorting out my beliefs and my place inside Chicago’s Black community, the good in Reverend Wright more than outweighed his flaws.”
I take comfort in these words for, as the good Lord knows, the people of Lakeshore Avenue Baptist Church, some who have listened to me preach for thirty-two years, occasionally shake their heads and mutter to themselves, “There he goes again.” Yet, I hope that some of them might agree the good I intermittently accomplish outweighs my foibles, failings and sermonic overstatements.
In “His Truth Is Marching On” Meacham describes how Representative Lewis, a Baptist prophet and preacher, was profoundly influenced by The Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., a Baptist minister, who was shaped by the writings of The Reverend Walter Rauschenbusch (1861-1918), a Baptist minister known for preaching the “Social Gospel.”
I take comfort in this history for I like to think I am shaped by it. With Lewis and King, I find great truth in words of Rauschenbusch, “Whoever uncouples the religious and the social (political) life has not understood Jesus.”
In “Caste” Wilkerson, author of “The Warmth of Other Suns” notes that Dr. King, after being introduced as an American untouchable to an audience in India in 1959 responded, “Yes, I am an untouchable, and every Negro in the United States is an untouchable.”
I do not take comfort in these words for the reality they reflect is largely unchanged. The question “What are we doing to break down the pillars of this system?” is still relevant.
”In “Jesus and the Disinherited” (1949) pastor, philosopher, scholar and mystic Thurman critiques his own Baptist/Christian heritage. “I can count on the finger of one hand the number of times that I have heard a sermon on the meaning of religion, of Christianity, to the man who stands with his back against the wall.”
I do not take comfort in Thurman’s, teacher to King and many of the leaders of civil rights movement, words. They stand as a stark challenge. They stand as a summons to change and to grow. The stand as an enduring question to every preacher like me who steps into the pulpit or unmutes themselves on Zoom – “Is there anything in what you are going to say that is meaningful to those who stand with their backs against the wall?”I trust that the month ahead will be a time to learn the lessons these books teach, to grow from wrestling with the questions they ask.
Coming on LABC Zoom
A Time For Prayer – Today at 10:00 a.m.LABC Sunday Worship (First Sunday of African American History Month, Service of Communion) – 10:00 a.m.AAHM Forum (Declan Brown leads a discussion of Caste. Please join even if you have not read the book.) – Sunday, 2:00 p.m.