book reaction: Reconciliation Blues

I don’t often read a book through cover to cover, but I did read every word of Reconciliation Blues: A Black Evangelical’s Inside View of White Christianity by Edward Gilbreath. Reconciliation Blues

My heart was drawn in by the book because I love to see how the Gospel can be good news for all peoples (and not only for Asian Americans, though that is a significant portion of my blogging here). And while some people of all races and ethnicities embrace evangelical theology, many wish it could be more holistic and not so culturally embedded. This book gently reveals some of those blind spots of a white-dominated theological construct through story after story, peeling back the pains of misunderstandings, fears, and unintended offenses. Those unintended offenses sting with the most pain, because the offender resists apology for their blind spot while the offendee reels in persistent hurt.

Ed’s book even took half of Chapter 10, The “Other” Others, to retell the offensive tale of Rickshaw Rally, a VBS curriculum with offensive stereotypes of Asian Americans, which went unreconciled. This was recently contrasted with the true reconciliation demonstrated when offensiveness was called out on the “Skit That Teach” curriculum, and an interview with Soong-Chan Rah was just published in Today’s Christian magazine debriefs both of these.

Thank you Ed for being a reconciler, even though it is tiring, progress seems slow, and it takes so much energy and time than any of us expected to rewrite the racialized history in America. This excerpt from the book, adapted into a Christianity Today article, “Exit Interviews: Why blacks are leaving evangelical ministries” shows where the impasse remains:

One strange encounter typified the underlying racial tension Davis faced.

It was my third year with the ministry. I got a call from a prominent white Christian leader, asking me to go to lunch with him. As we’re sitting down to eat, all of a sudden this guy starts crying. … He explained that God had blessed him, his children were healthy, he was known throughout the country. But, he said, “I’ve had a hard time sleeping throughout the night.” … “I just came back from an annual conference on the other side of the country,” the man told me. “A bunch of us got together to discuss reconciliation and cross-cultural ministry. Usually, when black leaders come into the meeting, we make them feel right at home and let them be part of the decision-making process. But to be honest with you, Darrell, the decisions are made before your leaders ever get there. I’m used to hearing the jokes and the use of the N-word. But this time, when the jokes were going on and people were saying things, it didn’t sound right to me.”

“How can I get over this?” the leader asked me, sobbing. “How can we be friends?”

I was silent for a moment, then asked him, “Do you like football?” He seemed a little puzzled, but said yes. “I do, too,” I told him. “I used to coach high school and college ball, and I have a lot of friends who play pro. I love a good game, and I love to cook out. So here’s what we do: I need to get to know you, and you need to get to know me. Why don’t you come over to my house?” I was the only black in my suburban neighborhood at the time. I said, “Bring your wife and meet my wife, and we’ll just sit and talk and get to know each other. I’ll barbecue some steaks, and let’s start there.”

He was taken aback. He said, “You want me to come to your house?”

“Yes,” I said. “If you want me to sit here and clear your conscience for all the crap you did, I can’t do that. Friendship is not cheap. It takes time and commitment.” I gave him my home phone number and told him to give me a call.

I never heard from him again.

When will reconciliation finally arrive? When we can be comfortable being ourselves and be comfortable being friends with those who are different.

BTW, Ed blogs over at Reconciliation Blog.

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  1. daniel so says:

    DJ — Thanks for highlighting this wonderful book on your blog. I picked it up and finished it in one day. Very compelling thoughts… I’ll share more on my blog later but I just wanted to say thanks for pointing me in this direction.

  2. Julana says:

    That book ought to be in every suburban church library in the USA.