Reflections on Black History Part 4: Resources to Get Started

This is the final part of a four-part series reflecting on the need for black history. You can find the first installment here, where I address my own need. You can find the second installment here, where I address the country’s need. In the third installment here, I reflect on why the white church needs black history. This post provides a few resources that may help someone begin to explore black history in a meaningful way.

Getting Started: Bryan Stevenson

If you are just beginning to enter this conversation, I think Bryan Stevenson provides the most accessible entry. Stevenson is a lawyer, civil rights activist, and founder of the Equal Justice Initiative. He has been a tremendous resource to help me understand both the importance of black history and the obstacles for us properly understanding it. Stevenson's brilliance comes through in his ability to communicate very complex and difficult truths in clear and compelling ways. I would recommend the following from Stevenson:

Stevenson's work is not explicitly theological, but it is very helpful in understanding the significance of our nation's history. You could spend a long time just working through what Stevenson brings to the table. In fact, I suggest you do that. If, however, you would like to move on to an historical-theological account of race, look below. 

Next Level: Willie James Jennings

I began this four-part reflection by quoting Willie James Jennings' book Christian Imagination: Theology and the Origins of Race, which testifies to the influence it has had on my thinking. It is a rather dense theological read, but it does exactly what the title says. Beginning at dawn on the morning of August 8, 1444, Jennings recounts a painful theological history of Western Christianity and race. The truths that have confronted me in Jennings' book have been difficult to face. At times they have left me feeling sick and overwhelmed. Yet he brings this history to us with great detail so that we might be understand the story in which we find ourselves, and by God's grace embody a different way of being Christian by reimagining what it means to live together in community. It is a slow, difficult read, but it is well worth it.

For Jennings, his work is not merely an intellectual exercise. He cares deeply about the fullness of what it means to be human. He is keen to connect race, space, theology, and geography so that we can see what is in plain sight regarding race--our world is configured in segregated spaces. This talk on Location, Location, Location, given at a gathering for Macedonian Ministry, empowers us to think concretely about the people and places where we live as we seek to walk in Spirit-filled obedience. That talk itself is good, but I advise to keep watching through the time of Q&A. You will not be disappointed.

Beginning to Act: Loving Your Neighbor

The most formative moments for me have not come from reading a text, watching a video, or listening to a podcast by myself. I have been most shaped by the hard conversations, awkward moments, amazing patience, gentle rebukes, sincere encouragements, and real life experiences living with people in community. Whether these experiences have been growing up in Birmingham, worshiping in a church with a congregation of many refugees in the Boston area, working through the complexities of race when doing ministry on a college campus in Princeton, or ministering with many others in the aftermath of racially motivated murders in Charleston, committing to having difficult conversations and intentionally living an uncomfortable life are the most formative experiences I have had. These experiences have exposed my weaknesses and called me to something far greater than myself. These experiences have allowed me to remember, confess, repent, and deal with my own shame and guilt. These experiences have allowed me to love myself and others more fully. 

Loving our neighbor, or at least trying to while making big mistakes along the way, within a community of people that you love and trust is the only way to genuinely become who you want to be and create a community in which the love of God is on display in the way God desires. It is not easy, but it is possible. So as you look into the resources above (and beyond), do not forget to read, listen to, and watch them in community and seek to live what you learn together.  

Mark Catlinblack history