Review: One Blood

One Blood

Gentle Reader,

The Bible says that God made all nations from one blood. This tells me that He intended that humankind would be a people that were spiritually connected despite their cosmetic variations. This speaks directly to the call in 2 Corinthians 5 for people to be reconnected (or reconciled) to both God and their fellow man. … We know just from looking at God’s creation that He delights in diversity, even as that diversity is rooted in common traits. Did you know, for example, that there are more than 31,000 species of fish? They make up endless varieties of colors, shapes and behaviors, yet they are all fish. There’s a reason why God did it this way. I believe He loves to showcase unity amid diversity.

– p. 46

I had never heard of John Perkins before receiving an email from Moody Publishers offering me an advance copy of this book in exchange for a review. As I read the synopsis, I knew that this would be an important read, and so accepted the offer without any hesitation. Over the last couple of years I have become more and more invested in the issue of racial reconciliation, despite (or perhaps because of) living in a relatively ethnically homogeneous area. I want to, somehow, do my part to foster peace, understanding and forward-movement, yet I’ve been at a loss as to how to contribute.

Perkins subtitled his book “parting words to the church on race.” The man is pushing 90, so he knows his time is short. Thus, there is an urgency to his words. There is no pandering to anyone. Perkins pleads with his readers, black, white and every other skin shade under the sun, to understand that racial barriers are false. Man-made. Slipped into the historical narrative as a way of justifying unjustifiable prejudice and hatred. We are all truly one people, one blood.

The church has failed to preach and practice this reality. We have, to our shame, turned away from working for social justice, derisively labeling that those who do engage in that work “cultural Marxists.” We have separated the message of the Gospel from the act of caring for our fellow people, which means that we aren’t following the example of Christ at all. In fact,

…too much of our energy and drive has been misdirected toward materialism, comfort and convenience. Many of us no longer keep our church buildings open to provide a safe harbor for our children after school. We are concerned that our buildings may be torn up. We have shut out the children in our communities who need the influence of God’s people and God’s Word on their lives. We have become inwardly focused and are not the healing agents we once were. This is part of our confession and we must be broken about it.

– p. 81

Perkins outlines three steps that we must take: lament, confession and forgiveness. Tears that fall as a response to the pain of others are never wasted. Admissions of guilt and sorrow, even through clenched-teeth, as they often are, are the first steps on the road to healing. Forgiveness – seeking it from God when we discover our prejudices, seeking it from those we have wronged, forgiving those who have wronged us – brings freedom. These steps, by the power and grace of God, enable us to remove the blinders from our eyes and the hardness from our hearts.

I am deeply sober as I write this review. I think of traveling to England nearly a decade ago and experiencing my first encounters with men and women who had emigrated from Middle Eastern countries. I was afraid. Afraid of people I didn’t even know because they were different from me. I grew irritated because their customs and ways of doing business were not was I was used to. Now, I realize that I missed out. I realize that I have contributed to the problem. Lord, forgive me.

When I saw you from afar, I thought you were a monster. When you got closer, I thought you were just an animal. When you got even closer, I saw that you were human, but when we were face-to-face, I realized that you were my brother.

– p. 164

I highly recommend One Blood. This is not a book of politics or picking sides or putting all the blame on one set of cultural shoulders. Perkins’ call is for everyone – step outside of our comfort zones, allow cherished notions to be challenged and demolished, learn to see the “other” as, really, “same.” You and me, people together, made by the awesome and creative hand of Almighty God.

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Review: A Light on the Hill

Light on the Hill

Gentle Reader,

Then the Lord spoke to Joshua, “Tell the Israelites: Select your cities of refuge, as I instructed you through Moses, so that a person who kills someone unintentionally or accidentally may flee there. These will be your refuge from the avenger of blood. When someone flees to one of these cities, stands at the entrance of the city gate, and states his case before[a] the elders of that city, they are to bring him into the city and give him a place to live among them. And if the avenger of blood pursues him, they must not hand the one who committed manslaughter over to him, for he killed his neighbor accidentally and did not hate him beforehand. He is to stay in that city until he stands trial before the assembly and until the death of the high priest serving at that time. Then the one who committed manslaughter may return home to his own city from which he fled.”

– Joshua 20:1-6 (CSB)

I like stories that make me think. A Light on the Hill, by Connilyn Cossette, is one such story. Set just prior to the death of Joshua, when the Conquest of the Promised Land was still happening, Cossette tells the story of Moriyah, a woman who experienced great trauma as a captive in the city of Jericho. (Note: The opening chapters contain bits that allude to a previous novel, Wings of the Wind, but it not necessary to have read that in order to follow the plot). This trauma has resulted in what we would recognize today as PTSD; Moriyah has flashbacks, triggered by certain sounds and smells, and does her best to keep out of everyone’s way.

Moriyah’s life begins to spin out of control one night when she dares to take part in a festival at Shiloh. All of the women present are veiled (a key part of her story), which empowers her bold act of joining in a dance. She catches the eye of a soldier named Darek. The attraction is mutual, though Moriyah has just learned that her father has arranged a marriage for her.

To our eyes, an arranged marriage seems horrific, but women did have some agency. Moriyah knows that she could object and that her father wouldn’t make her go through with it. Due to her time in Jericho, however, she believes that it’s best for her to, essentially, take what she can get. She knows that her father is seeking to protect and provide for her out of true kindness. Despite a (chaste) evening spent with this soldier, she chooses to square her shoulders and attempt to get the best out of the situation.

Then two boys die.

She is forced to run.

A Light on the Hill has all the elements of a conventional, gentle romance, but it’s so much more than that. I kept turning the pages because the story was so fascinating to me. Cossette obviously put a lot of time and effort into researching source material, both the Scriptures and scholarly tomes. The reader genuinely feels transported to another time and place, rich with foreign sounds and customs. It was especially interesting to me to learn that the language barrier between the Israelites and Canaanites was not insurmountable, an element that is integral to a good third of the novel.

This book occupies that wonderful space that all good historical novels fall into: a great story and the reader learns something. While the ending isn’t exactly a surprise, I didn’t mind that at all because I had such a good time getting there. Definitely recommend this one, particularly for fans of Mesu Andrews and Francine Rivers.

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Review: A Place to Land

Place

Gentle Reader,

Pass go, collect two hundred dollars and get this book.

Seriously. This is not one you want to miss.

I had the joy of “meeting” Kate Motaung several years ago when she took over as the Fearless Leader of the Five Minute Friday community. (She did not give herself this title. I did. I don’t remember why, but it’s stuck in my brain). We have chatted via Twitter, Voxer and blog comments. As I’m sure others can attest, Kate has the unique gift of making one feel at home; I don’t doubt that, were I to show up in her driveway today, that I would be welcomed inside for tea and good conversation.

This is part of what made this book so fascinating for me. Kate writes of being torn between houses following her parents’ divorce and between continents after moving to South Africa in her early twenties. Her story is one of longing for home, of never quite knowing where or what that place is. Out of that longing, I believe she strives to give others a sense of comfort and security. Even those of us who have only connected with her through electronic means pick up on this and celebrate her gift of welcoming embrace.

Ultimately, and encouragingly, Kate reminds both herself and the reader that our true Home, the place our souls ache for, is not to be found in this life. We get teases, little glimpses, that give us hope and keep us going when things get hard, but we never get the full picture. We have to wait. So we sit in the discomfort, knowing that all is not as it should be, asking Jesus to daily give us the grit and the grace to navigate yet another bump in the road.

The pages of A Place to Land are full of honesty and humor. Kate looks unflinchingly at herself and allows us to do so as well. In that, we are given permission to be that honest. To acknowledge that we don’t always know the answers or do the right things. Her choice to tell her story in such a raw way is deeply refreshing. There are no neat and tidy bows, no pristine images of perfect kids and conflict-free living. There is, instead, a woman who consistently, constantly, preaches Jesus. His presence, His love, His guidance, His help. Over and over again, Kate finds Him in the middle of the mess. She shows the reader how to reach out for His hand.

God took the tug-of-war that waged in my soul, the thick rope that spanned across the ocean, and yanked from both sides. He cut it clean through the middle, somewhere over the depths of the Atlantic. And He made me look up. To see that the greatest and strongest pull is neither east nor west, neither here nor there. It’s the heavenward pull.

It’s the pull toward home.

I now know how to respond the next time someone asks me the simple question, ‘Are you heading home?'” Regardless of my earthly destination, and purely because of the grace of Christ’s sacrifice, I’ll be able to answer with confidence, ‘Yes. Yes I am.'”

– p. 266-267

To that I can only say, “Amen.”

Thank you, Kate, for sharing your story with us. Thank you for the hours you spend leading the ragtag FMF troop. Thank you for being who you are. Usikelelke.

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Review: I Will Not Fear

I Will Not Fear

Gentle Reader,

I would learn that God is everywhere… His love exists without limitations of color or race…

Their very special acceptance and love would become a life-changing experience for me. They would remain my primary family throughout my life until this very moment. Living with the McCabes and being welcomed so completely by them also would initiate a major shift in my perspective of my place in the world and my sense of humanity.

– p. 86

In the fall of 1957, nine African-American students enrolled in the all-white Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas. Melba Pattillo Beals, just fourteen, was among them. Surrounded by an angry mob, the students were denied entry that first day. The hostility and resistance to integration rapidly necessitated intervention by the federal government. Soldiers of the 101st Airborne division were brought in, escorting the nine to and from each class. Yet the violence, the natural child of racism, continued unabated.

Beals was slapped, punched, kicked and even had acid thrown in her eyes. She, along with the others, received death threats. In 1958, Governor Faubus shut down Central High and the other high schools, resulting in a year lost to the Nine and to all the African-American students in the town. Eventually, Beals was forced to relocate to California, with the help of the NAACP, for her own safety. The white McCabe family, Quakers who were active in the Civil Rights movement, opened their arms to this young woman who had experienced little in the way of kindness from white people.

One cannot be an honest student of history and believe that racism never existed, doesn’t exist today or that it was/is “not a big deal.” Nine teenagers wanted the chance for a better education. They chose to put themselves on the line so future generations would not have to suffer the “separate but equal” nonsense. Ignorance and evil exploded in their faces. Why? Because someone, somewhere, long ago decided that the color of their skin made them inferior.

Racism is idiotic and anti-Gospel. Beals makes this clear as she shares bits and pieces of her story. I Will Not Fear is not told in a strictly chronological format, which is really my only complaint about the book, because I love a tidy timeline. She invites the reader to share in her experiences with hatred and violence. There is no hemming or hawing in her words. Black type on white pages force the reader to grapple with the very real evil done to a very young woman.

Throughout, Beals returns to the lessons her Grandmother India taught her:

Are we a faith family or have we given up on trusting God for His protection? Isn’t that the bottom line? When you go, Melba, God will be with you.

– p. 40

That is the bottom line, isn’t it? God is with us wherever we go. He will empower us to do whatever He has called us to do.

This is not a light read, despite the page count coming in at just 200. It took me several weeks to make my way through, because I had to step away and think about what I was learning. We are just 60 years removed from these terrible events. We would be naive to think that “it’s all over” and “everything is fine.” This country has yet to truly come to terms with its past or its present. While nobody needs to take on guilt that isn’t theirs to own, it is important that we listen to the stories. That we take it all in. That we let God expose what needs exposing.

I Will Not Fear is well worth your time.

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