Book Review: Reconciliation Blues, by Edward Gilbreath

Now, I don’t know him personally, but I’d guess Edward Gilbreath is an all around nice guy. Some how he managed to write a book, Reconciliation Blues: A Black Evangelical’s Inside View of White Christianity, about race, racism and the church, and, from what I can tell probably didn’t really upset anyone.
Gilbreath some how manages to talk about the topic of race, pointing out difficult points, injustices, and disagreements, but in such a kind way, that I think any reader would go away willing to consider the points he made. And this is not to say that he loses anything in his critiques in an effort to please everyone, he just doesn’t go off to any extreme (which I am often guilty of), and when he talks about his own experience, he does so with an authenticity and honest that leaves you with a feeling of genuine connection and understanding.

I was very impressed by this book and I felt Gilbreath wrote in such a way that this is a book I could pass on to others that might not willingly listen to some of the more extreme (though I believe often factually accurate) information regarding race and structural racism. If you have a friend or family member who you’ve been looking for something to share with them to address the topic of race, I’d highly recommend Reconciliation Blues.

Sorry for keeping my comments brief. For an interesting discussion, and maybe one you should jump into, regarding some of what the book covers, check out this other book review on Reconciliation Blues.

My First Job Interviews in Nashville Story

This is a brief journal entry from my first Job interview in Nashville (I didn’t get that job)…

So, I was sort of ready for the day, except I went to bed a little late. Then about 5am I woke up with a bad stomach ache, not something that usually happens to me. It went away but I lost my last hour of sleep. Then it was time to get ready to go. I quickly realized to major flaws in my attire: 1) I forgot to get a black belt, and Chip (whose house we are staying at momentarily) has a smaller waist then me so I’m out of luck. And 2) The shirt that was best ironed (and since it was nicely ironed I didn’t bother ironing anymore), turned out to be far too small for me (who gave me that darn shirt, I think it was Nate). I had trouble tying my tie too, which was frustrating. So after a quick breakfast I still had on the agenda to buy a new shirt and belt before the interview.

I took off to the nearest store and quickly bought a shirt and belt, and then took the close into the bathroom and changed there. Then I was off. Our air conditioning doesn’t work so I’m cruising with the windows down hoping I don’t hit any major traffic lest my natural air conditioning stops working (did I mention it’s hot in Nashville?). Fortunately, Nashville isn’t nearly like Chicago and I flew through the city, with more then enough time on my hands. Which is good because I missed the exit and had to cross the big river in Nashville before I got to the next exit to turn around.

I end up getting near the place still an hour before my interview time, so I’ve got a little time to kill (I wanted to show up about 20mins early to fill out the application they had). I figure it’s a business area so they should have a cafe or something, I don’t need coffee, I need air conditioning! I drive slowly from the place and can’t find a coffee shop or anything around. I’m getting really hot when I see the oasis in the desert, Kroger! (it’s a grocery store for all you northerners). I park the car and go inside. I’m sweating which is not good. So I randomly stroll through the frozen foods section, stopping at each door and holding it open while I stare at a TV dinner and ready the health content (they aren’t really that bad actually). After about 20 freezer doors I’ve cooled down and am feeling quite fresh. I had back to the interview (Which is at Second Harvest Food Bank), and start filling out the application.

The Christian Life, part VII

(note: Originally written my sophmore year of college in January 2003)
Continued from part VI (part V, part IV, part III, part II and part I)

Try and imagine that nothing you have ever taken for granted in your belief system is true. What am I trying to say? We look at scripture through a lens, that lens is our American society, our peers, our neighbors. That is not the lens through which we are to be looking at the Holy Scriptures. Rather we are to be looking at the text from the same perspective that we get from the text. We are to give, give, give. We sing about it in songs all the time, but some how in our rationalist, emotionalist type of society we can somehow sing those words offering in a sense our entire lives up to Christ, walk out the door and go about our life exactly how we want to. What really though does it mean to give it all up for Christ? The rich man was to sell everything. Another was not to go home even to bury his father. Maybe in our pleasure oriented (And please don’t think I’m saying pleasure is a bad thing) society, what we need to be giving up is those things which we and the society about us tells us, and believes is pleasurable. What if we were to give up drinking alcohol, completely. Not because alcohol is inherently bad or wrong in anyway, in fact it is God given and for our enjoyment, Jesus drank wine and even made wine from water. But, by drinking water and not alcohol we save X amount of dollars which we can give to those who do not even have bread, let alone clean drink. Even greater, what would it tell our neighbors when they see we can have just as much fun without alcohol? You might be saying, well they don’t see it that way. They see Christians not drinking as a command they have to follow or they will go to hell and they see Christians as stuck-up and holier-than-thou because of it. Maybe, so let us take this concept to things we never really think of. What if you choose not to go see movies in the theater? Not because there is anything inherently wrong with movies, or theaters (although many movies today feed a visual stream of images that leads us to anything but godliness). Rather, again it saves finances that can go to those who don’t even know the concept of entertainment, because their days are filled with the overwhelming desire for food. In addition, it would again show our neighbors there is something oddly different about us. It might say to them that we don’t need to escape in the action or drama or love of a movie to experience those feelings and emotions and longings of our human nature. Now, before I move any further I need to point something out. These assumptions that your neighbor will wonder what is different about you are based on the assumption that you yourself our still happy with out watching movies, without drinking alcohol, without a nice new car. It’s easy to say God is what truly makes you happy when your life is full of material blessings which you enjoy everyday, but is it really God that makes you happy or the things he gives you? Do you still feel empty sometimes? And have you ever felt down on yourself because you are sort of depressed and you feel ashamed because you have all this stuff and tons of other people don’t so you should be happy and feel blessed. Maybe the point is that stuff has nothing to do with the happiness thing at all. Maybe it’s that you somehow mistook the stuff God gave you for the place where you would find happiness. But rather God meant for you to have happiness in Him and experience the joy of that happiness in giving those things which you have been given to others. Who knows?

(This is the end of this series. Not because it’s complete, it’s just that’s as far as I got my sophomore year)

Maybe the beginnings of another Story?

Another little piece of scraps of writing from way back when. Who knows, maybe this will turn into a story…

Honest stands on the street corner. To the left across the street a beaten down building with a tacky neon sign, “House of Thrills Adult Bookstore.” To the right the base line of a rock song emanates from an old church. It’s morning, the man’s head still throbs from a mix of alcohol and experiences he can’t quite recall at the moment. He went for a walk to clear his head; the frigid air clearing away depressed thoughts of past experiences he’d like to forget. Now his hands were cold and the alcohol was finally hitting his bladder.

On almost any other weekend he would have struck out to the left, used the restroom and then spent a few inconspicuous minutes browsing the shelves, pretending to be not overly interested. Today, today was different, and for whatever reason he turned right.

In the not too far distance the city skyline with big skyscrapers, sat gloomy and quiet. The streets littered with cups and papers from the revelries of the evening before.

The Church entrance was up a short set of stairs and as Honest climbed the steps he could feel the draft of warm air rushing through the doors. That’s what he would do too, rush out with the warm air, as soon as he used the restroom and got some free coffee. If there was one thing Honest had learned about church it was that it was a great place to get free coffee. Coffee and beer, two things Honest would show up for if you were just giving it out at a party. A lady greeted him at the door. She was young, maybe late twenties, short brown hair, and a smile that seemed plastered to her face. “Hi, welcome to our church. My name is Joan. Here’s a program, let me know if you have any questions.” At least she hadn’t asked him any questions, Honest wasn’t looking forward to trying to answer them. Before he could reply with “yeah, where’s the restroom?” Joan was already greeting the next folks coming through the door, and Honest hurried along trying to stay out of the way.

Looking around he spotted the coffee first and decided his bladder could wait…

To Be Continued, maybe.

Book Review: Letters to a Young Teacher, by Jonathan Kozol

I just finished reading the book, Letters to a Young Teacher, by Jonathan Kozol. I’ve read a couple of Kozol’s other books, but this one came a from a slightly different perspective. If you haven’t ever read anything Kozol has written, you need to pick up a book today (Savage Inequalities). He writes about the dismal public education system, and has for many years, giving factual statistics, heart-wrenching personal stories, and honest realities about the disparities in the public education system. One of his recent works, The Shame of the Nation, gives some political insight into the situation as well.

In this book, Letters to a Young Teacher, Kozol uses a personal format of letters he wrote to a first year teacher in the Boston public schools. He addresses a wide range of topics, from veteran teachers to vouchers, in a friendly, concise and personal style. I think it’s an easy read and a great primer on the education system if your looking to be educated (which every US citizen should be).

Here are a few of the quotes I enjoyed from the book.

(this one is a little long, but it’s for context, which you can read the whole excerpt here)

These suddenly fashionable phrases seem to travel the rounds of education workshops with unusual rapidity. (It’s also possible, I guess, that once we hear a term like this, we simply start to notice its recurrent use in other situations.) Only two weeks after you told me this, I was in Sacramento and the same term popped up once again during a luncheon I attended with a group of people who were working as curriculum advisers for the state. In answer to a question I had asked concerning classroom dialogue, a woman with a commanding presence who was sitting across the table from me gave me this reply: “We’re speaking of a meta-moment taking place in interactional time.”

The other people at the table seemed to be as baffled by these words as I was. They tried to change the subject to some other issue of importance they were dealing with. But she was insistent in her wish to keep on telling me about the value of these “metamoments” and, try as they did, they could not shut her down.

This kind of jargon, which relies upon the pumping up of any simple notion by tacking on a fancy-sounding prefix or a needless extra syllable, infests the dialogue of public education nowadays like a strange syntactic illness that induces many educators to believe they have to imitate this language if they want to have a place in the discussion.

One of the most annoying consequences of this trend, as you’ve observed, is a peculiar tendency to use a polysyllabic synonym for almost any plain and ordinary word: “implement” for do, “initiate” for start, “utilize” for use, “identify” for name, “articulate” for state, “replicate” for copy, “evaluate” for judge, “quantify” for count, “strategize” for plan, “facilitate” for help, “restructure” or “reconstitute” for change. The toss-in use of adjectives like “positive” and “meaningful” (instead of, simply, “good” or “real”) in front of nouns like “outcome” or “collaboration” is another common way of trying to pump extra air into a wilted and deflated intellectual balloon.


“Down with concerns about the global marketplace…. Childhood does not exist to serve the national economy. In a healthy nation, it should be the other way around.”


“Blaming the victim” is, of course, anathema to those who view themselves as liberals or moderates politically and socially. But “flattering the victim” is a favorite practice nowadays, especially in white-owned media that constantly attempt to spare their segregated cities from the odium that they deserve, and their most valued readers from the guilt they otherwise might feel, by pointing to the slightest signs of cultural or economic self-rejuvenation in the neighborhoods to which their racial outcasts are consigned.

That’s a pretty scathing thought on the last quote. Thoughts?

The Christian Life, part VI

(note: Originally written my sophmore year of college in January 2003)
Continued from part V (part IV, part III, part II and part I)

Millions die everyday the statistics are appalling. What are you going to do about it? You can sponsor a child or give something at thanksgiving. You can give out of your abundance and still live with everyone of your physical needs and many of your other needs and wants met. Give till it hurts. Give till you can sympathize to even a slight degree with those whose lives are shaped, marked, centralized around their suffering. If any can understand Christ I think they can to a great degree then we know.
The truth is that for many of us we will never really know what that sort of suffering and feeling of hopelessness is to its fullest. If I want flat broke and lost everything, couldn’t find a job and had no place to live, my parents would take me in feed me, clothe me and give me shelter for as long as I needed. If I decided to have no medical insurance and live overseas somewhere, if any emergency occurred my family and my church would pool their resources and get me the medical care and the ticket out of wherever I was in a second. If I go to a country where many are persecuted and killed for their faith, I might have the potential to be martyred. But there is also the strong possibility that because I am American, and those have in a sense the entire US army behind me, many will think twice before senselessly killing me. Do you see how far removed we are from the suffering so many others endure? We will never, know what it is like to wake up in the morning on a dirt floor, not knowing what they day may bring, where are next meal will come from if it comes at all, if today death will knock on our door, or likely somebody else close to us, to curl up in agony because the pain is unbearable and has been for longer then you can remember to count.
So give!!! You can roller blade in heaven! You don’t need your own pair to take out once during the summer. Spend the time you would be playing video games to petition your church leaders to do something about the aids epidemic, and take the money you get from selling your video game system to pay for vaccinations and help educate a village on the problem of AIDS. If you go out to eat once a week make it once a month and spend the time you might have gone out eating frozen pizza and taking that money and send it to Bread for the World. Instead of buying that new pair of pants or shirt you want (not because you necessarily need one, but because your other clothes just aren’t “cool”) take that same amount and send it to an organization in Russia that gives coats to freezing families with no home.

The Christian Life, part V

(note: Originally written my sophmore year of college in January 2003)
Continued from part IV (part III, part II and part I)

Back to giving. “The poor will always be among us.” It’s scripture and many use it as a reason to cop out of giving. But the rich have always been among us too. In fact many of us have been made rich, by the simple act of God that we were born were we were born. Now if you think for one minute that blessing was just the luck or happen chance of the Divine, you are sorely mistaken. You have been blessed, praise God. But if you think you have been blessed in this way simply to enjoy more fully the pleasures of this life in your comfy little world you are wrong. You have been blessed so that you can bless others. I think quite possible the promise that the poor will always be among us is God’s divine plan for us to have the joy of participating in His work and experiencing to the slightest degree the type of pleasure he has when He gives. The poor are there so that we can bless them just as God has blessed us in whatever means he has. Never forget the Blesser. The blessings are meaningless apart from Him. But never rest with the blessings, they have been given to you so that you can give to others. I do not say this as a possibility. I speak as fallible human being and a sinner but I speak boldly, you have been called to give. So give till it hurts.

Praying for Our Enemies

(Context: This was written in the spring of 2003 while I was a sophomore at Wheaton College. It was written for the Wheaton College newspaper, but they never published it)

Pray for your Enemies

With all of the talk around campus about the war with Iraq it is important to be reminded of a biblical passage or two in which there is very little discrepancy or debate as to their meaning and our response. “Pray for your Enemies.” It is a simple text; a simple task; you pray.
You needn’t look far to see who our enemies are, pacifist and war supporters would agree that if America has dubbed any individuals it’s enemy at least two would be Osama Bin Ladin and Saddam Hussein. So how does the scripture apply to these modern day enemies of ours? We pray for them. We pray for their lives, that God’s will would be done in them. We pray for their well being, their families; We pray for their salvation, that they might come to know Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior. A radical thought, but let me remind you of another radical story. Saul was a persecutor of the church, an enemy of Christ, and the Lord met him on the Damascus road. Is our God’s arm to short that He is not able to do the same thing with Bin Ladin or Hussein? So pray for them! Pray for them like you do your aunt, or cousin, or high school friend that doesn’t know the Lord.
If you need more biblical support look to I Tim. 2:1-2, the same scripture by which we pray for President Bush and the leaders of this nation, “I urge, then, first of all, that requests, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for everyone– for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness.” We use this verse often to support praying for the leaders of our nation, we’ve done it many times in chapel. Do you know how many times we’ve prayed for our enemies since 9/11? Twice; maybe three times. Yet, “those in authority” include Bin Ladin, Hussein, and any other leader. So, the scriptural command is two fold for praying for Bin Ladin and Hussein: “For our enemies” and “for those in authority.”
If we spent half as much time praying for our enemies as we do debating whether this war is just (and these debates and discussion are not bad things), maybe we would see a radical move of God unlike anything we could have ever anticipated. The discussion on war has been a discussion of “what if” (what if we don’t attack and Saddam does? what if we kill millions? what if Saddam builds nukes?). So, let me present another “what if?” What if by a miracle of God Saddam Hussein becomes a faithful believer in Jesus Christ, and turns from his military wrong doings, and calls to the world to help turn his country around, not only for their physical survival, but so that they might also know Christ as their Savior. Our rational, faithless minds give us trouble even fathoming that.
Now, on a final note I must address those readers who will disregard this message rationally or simply disregard the importance of this command in their daily life. For certainly, there must be an argument that there are some men, evil men, who are not worth praying for. The second option could be much easier; you finish the article, nod in agreement, and do nothing to implement this prayer into your daily life. If you take either of those two routes, you will not be held as ungodly or apostate, yours seems to be the path that the majority of the American Christian world takes on this issue. Besides, there are many ways others and I fall far short of the Lord’s commands as well. In other words, this article is not meant to condemn. But it is meant to convict. We live a Christian life that is comfortable, pleasing and satisfying to us. We obey the law as we feel fit and where it is not to our liking we bend it, twist it, or even break it, but always with justification for our actions. And whether you are a peacenik or a war monger, you stand in a place of extreme blessing. If you get nothing else from this article, tomorrow morning, before you start debating whether this war is just or not, pray for your enemies. “Do not merely listen to the word and so deceive yourselves, do what it says.”