Friday roundup: Five things worth paying attention to this week

As we leave May and head into summer, here are three books, an article and a film worth giving our attention. And I’ve thrown in an additional item to look forward to.

1. White Awake: An Honest Look at What It Means to Be White by Daniel Hill. Our white caucus group at the Mennonite Church USA offices in Newton, Kansas, decided to read and discuss this book. Hill is the founding and senior pastor of River City Community Church, a multiethnic church in the Humboldt Park neighborhood of Chicago. I had my reservations: another book by a white man explaining racism. But Hill’s honesty proved me wrong. He describes his own blindness and ignorance as he learned from people of color about the reality of white culture and how it almost always wins. He learned to listen and lament—and to hang in there and not give up seeking to be an agent of reconciliation.

2. Scripture, Ethics and the Possibility of Same-Sex Relationships by Karen R. Keen. I know, the topic seems too polarizing to even discuss, but this book may be the most evenhanded approach I’ve read. Keen takes Scripture seriously but warns that “too often discussions of same-sex relationships rehash the same unhelpful arguments based on six proof texts. But that is not the heart of the debate.” She helpfully addresses the topic by “attending to the overarching intent of biblical mandates, engaging in a deliberative process for creation ordinances, discussing honestly the feasibility of celibacy and reflecting on the fall in light of science.”

3. The Practice of Finding: How Gratitude Leads the Way to Enough by Holly W. Whitcomb. This short book is simply done but packs a punch. Rather than focus on losing ourselves or giving up things, Whitcomb takes a more positive approach. She writes: “When we engage in finding, we recognize in a kind of humility and wonder that the universe contains possibilities beyond our power to imagine.” Her message has the potential to change our lives. It includes a leader’s guide and how to use the book with a group.

4. Is Poverty Necessary? by Marilynne Robinson. This article in the June issue of Harper’s Magazine addresses issues of economics and how that affects democracy. Robinson, a novelist and essayist who is also a Christian, considers how Western economies have been set up with the assumption that workers be paid as little as possible so that the wealthy can grow even wealthier. But democracy requires that people be valued. Governments and financial interests have collaborated to create austerity policies that say we can’t afford such “luxuries” as day care for working mothers or universal health coverage. She asks: “What if our being a free country meant we had some measure of freedom to decide what kind of country we wanted to be?” Poverty need not be necessary.

5. Knock Down the House, directed by Rachel Lears. This documentary on Netflix looks at four female candidates who sought to make history in the 2018 midterm elections. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is the only one elected, but the four represent a movement for progressive change. Each of their stories is powerful as they work against long odds to bring greater justice to the areas where they live.

6. (An extra item): When They See Us, directed by Ava DuVernay. Today, this miniseries begins streaming on Netflix. Although I haven’t seen it, I’m planning to. DuVernay, who directed the feature film Selma and the documentary 13th, is always worth paying attention to. This miniseries considers the case from 1989 in which a 28-year-old female jogger was attacked and raped in Central Park in New York, leaving her in a coma for 12 days. Five teenagers—four African-American and one Hispanic—were convicted of the crimes in 1990, but the convictions were vacated in 2002. A 2012 documentary, The Central Park Five, is a good summation of the terrible injustice inflicted on these young men. DuVernay’s series will delve deeper into the story using actors.

Gordon Houser is editor of The Mennonite.

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