A Pastoral Note from The Rev. Erik Khoobyarian
Over the past several weeks since the killing of George Floyd and the protests and swelling movement for justice have grown, I have mentioned that I’m working on a short list of books that I would like our congregation to commit to reading in the coming months.
As your pastor for the past two years I have tried to cast as broad of a net to bring us all along on the journey of faith. My goal has been to help us all grow, learn from one another, and live our faith in the community.
We are at a time in our society when the church cannot remain silent in the face of injustices that primarily affect Black Americans. I know that many of you immediately see this as a “political” issue and believe that there are “two sides” (or more) to the policy issues related to the current situation. That may be the case. But, as a pastor and as the leader of this congregation, I don’t see it that way because I see our call to be Christians – followers of Christ – and ones who seek to do Christ’s work of love and reconciliation in the world.
Part of that work is learning and growing. That’s why I’m inviting you to join me in doing just that – learning and growing. To do this, I’m asking everyone to commit to reading at least one of the books on this list. The titles were chosen deliberately with the intent that you would engage with them and with others while you seek to grow. I’m not curating groups for these discussions – I’m encouraging you all to gather with your family or a small group of people to read and discuss. If you need help connecting, I can help or brainstorm with you possible people to ask.
In order to help you choose the book that you’ll read, I’ve asked our Associate Pastor Lottie MacAulay Friedman to prepare summaries of the books along with some suggestions as to the ideal audience each book. Feel free to talk with Lottie or me about these titles, especially as you’re choosing which one you might read.
Clicking on the cover or the title of the book will take you to the book’s publisher’s website with options to purchase the book. These are all currently very popular titles and sometimes they can be difficult to find, but publishers are working hard to restock the shelves. Barbara’s Bookstore in Burr Ridge and Anderson’s Bookshop in Downers Grove have both ordered additional copies and should have them in stock now or soon. Additionally, I encourage you to order through Semicolon Bookstore in Chicago. Semicolon is an independent bookstore owned by a black woman and you can order these titles through them.
Written by a Chicago-area Pastor, Rev. Daniel Hill, book offers a great entry point for discussions about culture and race. Hill opens by exploring what it means to be white. Because whiteness is normative in America, white folks can live our whole lives without thinking critically about white culture. This book explores cultural identity as is applies to seven stages of encountering difference/ diversity while weaving the conversation together with Scripture and Christian commitments to reconciliation.
Robin DiAngelo has been training people on racial and social justice for over 20 years. She brings this experience to her book and addresses, head on, many of the questions folks have raised about justice work and racism. DiAngelo does a wonderful job making this critical material accessible and convicting. This book would be especially helpful for people who feel confused or left out of the national conversations about racism because of lingering questions.
What is racism? Is being non-racist enough? What does practical, everyday anti-racism look like? Ibram X. Kendi guides readers from awareness to action using ethics, history, law, and autobiography. This book is masterfully written, earnest, and humble. The autobiographical segments are poignant and hard-hitting. It would be a particularly good fit for people who are eager to take actionable steps towards a more just and equitable society, but don’t know where to start. (Brené Brown fans should also listen to her conversation with Ibram Kendi on her podcast Unlocking Us. The podcast is entitled “Brené with Ibram X. Kendi on How to Be an Antiracist” and it’s available on Apple podcasts, Spotify, and Google Play and by clicking here.)
Me and White Supremacy began as a 28-day Instagram challenge. Layla F. Saad then developed an online workbook which was downloaded by 80,000 people in just 6 months. After adding even more stories, history, and definitions, the online workbook has become a hugely popular published book. Each day for 28 days, participants commit to about 5 pages of the workbook covering topics like privilege, whiteness, and systematic racism. This book is great for people who already have a basic understanding of racial justice topics and are ready for another step in their learning/unlearning journey.
For folks who would prefer a novel, The Hate U Give, is a wonderful option. It’s categorized as a Young Adult novel but countless reviews insist, “EVERY ADULT SHOULD READ THIS BOOK!!”. Inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement, it tells the story of 16-year-old Starr Carter. Starr lives in a poor neighborhood but attends a fancy suburban prep school. When a tragic incident of police brutality impacts her childhood friend, Starr is called upon to speak truth to her prep school community and the nation. This would be a great book for families to read and discuss together or, as the reviews indicate, for adults to read on their own!
In addition to these books, I invite you to watch two films, both of which are currently (at least through the end of June) streaming online for free (click below on the movie titles or images).
After graduating from Harvard, Bryan Stevenson heads to Alabama to defend those wrongly condemned or those not afforded proper representation. One of his first cases is that of Walter McMillian, who is sentenced to die in 1987 for the murder of an 18-year-old girl, despite evidence proving his innocence. In the years that follow, Stevenson encounters racism and legal and political maneuverings as he tirelessly fights for McMillian’s life.
This documentary was one of the most helpful resources for me as I was trying to better understand the situation in America today. It is extremely well-done, interesting, challenging, and I do think that everyone will benefit from viewing and discussing it.
As I wrote in the Weekly Connection on June 18, more than 2500 years ago the people of God were in exile. They had lost their homes and they were taken away in chains into captivity. They’re living in a foreign land as exiles. Interestingly, a woman named Esther becomes the queen. She’s an unlikely queen as she’s been raised as an orphan and, it turns out, she is also a member of the Jewish community living in exile. She’s an unlikely person in a position of power and privilege – a power and privilege that she doesn’t seem to even understand or acknowledge.
Her cousin comes to her and says:
“For if you keep silence at such a time as this, relief and deliverance will rise for the Jews from another quarter, but you and your father’s family will perish. Who knows? Perhaps you have come to royal dignity for just such a time as this.” (Esther 4:14)
Basically, he says, you can’t keep silent now.
But he also says, maybe you’re in this position so that you can do something.
This two-fold observation is what brings us to where we are today.
We can’t be silent.
Maybe this is the time for us to do something.
I look forward to growing with you all in faith and as we seek to engage with the world around us. As we continue our journey together – walking alongside one another – seeking to be the people God created us to be, living within the world God created us to live, and loving the people God created in the Divine Image.
Choose a book and some companions, and take the next step!