On the Lived Theology Reading List: Reading Black Books

How African American Literature Can Make Our Faith More Whole and Just

Claude Atcho pastors and teaches in Charlottesville, Virginia. He knows what it means to read Black books in the teeth of white supremacy, even as his and other churches struggle for racial justice. It means more than quoting Martin Luther King Jr., on social media. It means attending to Black stories. Reading Black Books helps Christians think theologically with some of the Black stories captured in classic African American literature.

Atcho pairs the work of nine seminal 20th-century African American poets and novelists with a theological category for inquiry. In each chapter (Richard Wright gets two), Atcho offers not only a close literary reading but also a theological reflection on a primary literary text, from Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man (“Image of God”) and Richard Wright’s Native Son (“Sin”) to Zora Neale Hurston’s Moses, Man of the Mountain (“Salvation”) and James Baldwin’s Go Tell It on the Mountain (“God”). The book’s end-of-chapter discussion questions make it especially handy for classrooms and church groups alike.

Reviews and endorsements of the publication include:

“Reading Black Books is an exemplary work of literary criticism and Christian wisdom. In elevating and illuminating the important voices examined in these pages, Claude Atcho brings a great and greatly needed gift to the world. The books examined here offer ways of seeing more clearly our full humanity: the heavy weight of injustice, the elusive meaning of suffering, the profound dignity of all people, and the wondrous power of good stories well told.”

― Karen Swallow Prior, research professor of English and Christianity & Culture, Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary; author of On Reading Well: Finding the Good Life through Great Books

“Claude Atcho’s  Reading Black Books is brilliant and thought provoking. He has brought fresh eyes to some of the great works of African American literature, while also encouraging deep theological reflection. There are holes in the lived theology of many Christians that Atcho has used Wright, Ellison, Morrison, Hurston, and others to help fill. A must-read for anyone who loves reading literature and thinking deeply about God.”

― Kathryn A. Freeman, writer and cohost of the Melanated Faith podcast

“Written with the passion of a book lover and the urgency of a preacher, Reading Black Books not only reminds us of the richness and vitality of classic works like Invisible Man, Passing, and Beloved; it also connects the form and themes of these writings to God’s sovereign story of justice and righteousness. This is Christian literary criticism at its best, offering both artful appreciation and gospel witness.”

― Josh Larsen, author of Movies Are Prayers; editor at ThinkChristian.net

“God’s people do everything as Christians–even read literature. Atcho conducts a theological reading of popular Black novels and poetry to unearth the joys, sorrows, and longings that have often marked Black life, examining them through divine revelation. This volume either puts words to your own experience or to someone’s you love with the ultimate goal of finding hope in Christ. Reading Black Books answers the abiding questions from Black literature with theological insights and a pastoral heart that marks every page.”

― Walter R. Strickland II, Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary

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On the Lived Theology Reading List: To Live Peaceably Together

The American Friends Service Committee’s Campaign for Open Housing

Civil rights historian Tracy E. K’Meyer tells a new story, in To Live Peaceably Together, about the seemingly intractable problem of racial injustice in housing in the United States after WWII. K’Meyer, author also of Civil Rights in the Gateway to the South: Louisville, Kentucky, 1945-1980 and From Brown to Meredith: The Long Struggle for School Desegregation in Louisville, Kentucky, 1954-2007, introduces us to the influential efforts of the predominantly white and Quaker-aligned American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) in housing integration in postwar America, in particular in Chicago, Philadelphia, and Richmond, California. To Live Peaceably Together shows that the AFSC’s evolving understanding of structural inequality led them to adopt a variety of open-housing advocacy strategies that would come to be adopted by many other groups and organizations.

To Live Peaceably Together also delves into the spiritual and humanist motivations that drove the AFSC’s work for open housing. In so doing, it highlights the crucial–and unexpected–role that Quaker values like peace, integrity, community, and equality have played in the housing struggles of the last seventy years.

Reviews and endorsements of the publication include:

“In To Live Peaceably Together, K’Meyer tells the story of how, in the 1950s and ’60s, white Quaker activists and allies used a variety of strategies and tactics to try to achieve open housing. Her deeply researched, well-argued book shows us how the American Friends Service Committee was central to this aspect of the early civil rights movement and how its work inspired other groups. K’Meyer proves beyond question how important spiritual motivation was for many of the activists who sought a more just America.”

Thomas Hamm, author of The Quakers in America

To Live Peaceably Together is an original and highly readable book that reorients our understanding of the Black Freedom Struggle in the North by focusing on an advocacy group run mainly by white allies, a historical topic with great contemporary relevance. I salute K’Meyer’s achievement in telling this fascinating and overlooked story.”

Todd Michney, Georgia Institute of Technology

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