Why Relevant Magazine is irrelevant.

Many of you may have seen Relevant Magazine’s “Ten Books Everyone Should Read Before They Turn 25.” If you haven’t seen it, it is a list of some really great books, many of which I really like and many which impacted my life! However, there is something missing from this list. There are no author’s of color and it is a very male dominated list. Christianity is not a white man’s religion, and being relevant in today’s world means that we should not just read books written from the anglo perspective. In a society where black men and women are being killed by white policemen and other white supremacists, whitewashing theology is not helpful, and further perpetuates the fallacy that black lives do not matter, because you know what? Black Lives do Matter and as Christians, we need to quit whitewashing and propping up white theologians and writers.

I don’t actually pay attention to Relevant Magazine, but saw the list of 10 books when Rev. Broderick Greer posted the link and offered up better books written by people of color! His post inspired me to think about the books written by black men and women that have impacted my life, and books that I believe EVERYONE should read!

  1. Race: A Thelogical Account
    by J. Kameron Carter

J. Kameron Carter meditates on the multiple legacies implicated in the production of a racialized world and that still mark how we function in it and think about ourselves. These are the legacies of colonialism and empire, political theories of the state, anthropological theories of the human, and philosophy itself, from the eighteenth-century Enlightenment to the present.

Dr. Carter was one of my professors at Duke Divinity School and is AMAZING! This book and his class was very formative in my theological education.

2. Beloved
by Toni Morrison

Staring unflinchingly into the abyss of slavery, this spellbinding novel transforms history into a story as powerful as Exodus and as intimate as a lullaby (from Amazon).

This book changed my life. Toni Morrison is amazing.

3. Let Justice Roll Down
by John Perkins

His brother died in his arms, shot by a deputy marshall. He was beaten and tortured by the sheriff and state police. But through it all he returned good for evil, love for hate, progress for prejudice, and brought hope to black and white alike. The story of John Perkins is no ordinary story. Rather, it is a gripping portrayal of what happens when faith thrusts a person into the midst of a struggle against racism, oppression, and injustice. It is about the costs of discipleship — the jailings, the floggings, the despair, the sacrifice. And it is about the transforming work of faith that allowed John to respond to such overwhelming indignities with miraculous compassion, vision, and hope. (from Amazon)

I know I said this above with Beloved, but this book also changed my life. I read it when I was 22, had moved away from Mississippi, and was confronting my own racism and the history of racism in my heritage.

4. Go Tell it on the Mountain
by James Baldwin

Go Tell It On The Mountain, first published in 1953, is Baldwin’s first major work, a novel that has established itself as an American classic. With lyrical precision, psychological directness, resonating symbolic power, and a rage that is at once unrelenting and compassionate, Baldwin chronicles a fourteen-year-old boy’s discovery of the terms of his identity as the stepson of the minister of a storefront Pentecostal church in Harlem one Saturday in March of 1935. Baldwin’s rendering of his protagonist’s spiritual, sexual, and moral struggle of self-invention opened new possibilities in the American language and in the way Americans understand themselves. (from Amazon)

I first read this amazing book in my American Christianity class at Duke. It is a must read that focuses on the intersections of religion, race, class, sexuality, and gender identity.

5. The Christian Imagination: Theology and the Origins of Race
by Willie Jennings

Why has Christianity, a religion premised upon neighborly love, failed in its attempts to heal social divisions? In this ambitious and wide-ranging work, Willie James Jennings delves deep into the late medieval soil in which the modern Christian imagination grew, to reveal how Christianity’s highly refined process of socialization has inadvertently created and maintained segregated societies. A probing study of the cultural fragmentation — social, spatial, and racial — that took root in the Western mind, this book shows how Christianity has consistently forged Christian nations rather than encouraging genuine communion between disparate groups and individuals. (from Amazon)

Dr. Jennings was another one of my professors from Duke Divinity School. I had the amazing privilege to take the class that was based on this book. Every Christian should read this, particularly every white Christian. His move from Duke to Yale is a huge blow to a Divinity School that is often times, if not always, blind to its institutional racism.

6. In A Blaze of Glory: Womanist Spirituality as Social Witness
by Emilie Townes

This volume is an interdisciplinary exploration of the interplay between the contemporary Black Church in the United States and African American womanist spirituality and social witness. (from Amazon).

Rev. Dr. Townes, who is now the president of Vanderbilt Divinity School, is a great witness and prophet within Christian Theology. This book is a must read as it does such an amazing job of talking about womanist theology, prophecy, and spiritual formation.

7. The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the age of Colorblindness
by Michelle Alexander

This book directly challenges the notion that the election of Barack Obama signals a new era of colorblindness. With dazzling candor, legal scholar Michelle Alexander argues that “we have not ended racial caste in America; we have merely redesigned it.” By targeting black men through the War on Drugs and decimating communities of color, the U.S. criminal justice system functions as a contemporary system of racial control — relegating millions to a permanent second-class status — even as it formally adheres to the principle of colorblindness. (from Amazon)

I was introduced to this book through the United Methodist Women’s Mission U, formerly known as School of Mission. Michelle Alexander definitely deconstructs the notion of “colorblindness” and calls us to action against the industrialized prizon complex.

8. The Cross and the Lynching Tree
by James Cone
The cross and the lynching tree are the two most emotionally charged symbols in the history of the African American community. In this powerful new work, theologian James H. Cone explores these symbols and their interconnection in the history and souls of black folk. (from Amazon)

This book. Read it. I can’t put into words how powerful this book truly is.

9. Salvage the Bones
by Jesmyn Ward

New York, NY: Bloomsbury Publishing. (2012) A big-hearted novel about familial love and community against all odds and a wrenching look at the lonesome, brutal, and restrictive realities of rural poverty, “Salvage the Bones” is revelatory, real, and muscled with poetry.

Jesmyn Ward is from Mississippi, and I am from Mississippi and so I think everyone should read this book. I’ve had the privilege to hear Jesmyn speak and she is incredible!

10. Black Sexual Politics: African Americans, Gender, and the New Racism
by Patricia Hill Collins

In Black Sexual Politics, one of America’s most influential writers on race and gender explores how images of Black sexuality have been used to maintain the color line and how they threaten to spread a new brand of racism around the world today. (from Amazon)

I read this book in Rev. Dr. Amy Laura Hall’s class on Ministry and Masculinity at Duke Divinity School. There is a chapter that talks about Homophobia in the church that everyone must read if they do not read the whole book.

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