10 Books to Light a Fire for Racial Justice

In a footnote of a sermon from June, I quoted eminent theologian James Cone and mentioned that his book, A Black Theology of Liberation, would not be the first or even the tenth book I would read if you are a white person just coming to a new awareness of racial injustice in the United States. A person commented on the post and asked me what would be the ten books I would read before it, so I figured I would offer that list today.

I’ll begin with a caveat. I have been engaged for about three and a half years in personal reading and reflection concerning my own place in the great sin of white supremacy. I am by no means an expert, and I can only recommend books I have read – there are plenty more out there, as well as plenty of great lists to get engaged in the work for racial justice. What I offer below is a list of ten books leading up to Cone’s Theology, which would be book eleven. After that, I’ve added a few other resources that aren’t books but are incredibly worthwhile, especially if your own learning style leans towards the visual or auditory.

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Dependence Day

Sermon for Sunday, July 5, 2020 || Proper 9A || Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30

One of my favorite things about writing fantasy novels is the task of “world building”; that is, constructing a new world with its own geography and history and cultures and political entities. I know, I know – super nerd alert. But it’s fun for me, and one of the most fun parts is creating holidays within the contexts of fantasy cultures. In the fictional city of Thousand Spires, Cornerstone Day marks the date when the cities of Farhome and Canlas grew big enough to meet each other at the site of the laying of the cornerstone of the Cathedral of Light. League Day celebrates the founding of the Sularin League following the Three Sisters War. The Great Step…No, never mind. I could go on and on, but I think you get the idea. Every holiday, fictional or real, springs from a culturally significant event or observance.

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Getting to Know Jesus

Sermon for Sunday, June 28, 2020 || Proper 8A || Romans 6:12-23

Would it surprise you if I told you that I didn’t get to know Jesus until I was in my mid-thirties. You might be thinking, “Wait, Adam, aren’t you in your mid-thirties right now?” Yes, yes I am. I am in what I will charitably call my late mid-thirties. Or you might be thinking, “Wait, Adam, didn’t you get ordained to the priesthood when you were 25? How could you not have known Jesus until years later?” Yes, I was ordained about ten years before I got to know Jesus. Or you might be thinking, “Wait, back in 2014, we hired a priest who didn’t know Jesus! We want our money back!”

Before you go asking me to refund six years worth of salary, allow me to explain what I mean. Obviously, I talked about Jesus a lot. I sang songs about Jesus, preached sermons about Jesus, and read books about Jesus. But I never felt connected in any substantive way to Jesus himself. A perpetual bait-and-switch was going on in my head. I could not square the Jesus the Church taught with the Jesus of the Gospel.

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The Meaning in Stories

Sermon for Sunday, June 14, 2020 || Proper 6A || Genesis 18:1-15; 21:1-7

Today, I’d like to share a few stories and talk about how we use them to make meaning. The lessons and meanings of our own stories, our communal stories, and our biblical stories dwell inside us, and we can use what we learn from these stories to make sense of the story we currently find ourselves in. Today, I’m going to tell two and a half stories: first a personal one, then a biblical one. The half story at the end is the story of now, which isn’t finished being written yet.

First, the personal story. Twelve years ago today, I knelt in front of the bishop of West Virginia. He and a dozen or so priests laid their hands on my head, back, and shoulders. And they prayed for God to make me a priest in God’s church. The day of my ordination was a blur, but I remember the next day much more, the day I celebrated Holy Communion for the first time. I was so nervous on the day of my first Eucharist as a priest. I was convinced I was going to knock over the chalice because I had to make specific gestures while clothed beneath a baggy piece of outerwear. 

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Vowels of Anti-Racism

In a 2016 conversation with Stephen Colbert, actor Will Smith said, “Racism is not getting worse, it’s getting filmed.” With the video evidence of the racially-charged murders of George Floyd and Ahmaud Arbery, along with the sobering display of Amy Cooper marshaling the forces of white power to her ‘defense’ when a black man asked her to leash her dog in Central Park, white America now has three recent galling examples of racism at work in this country. 

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Disrupt/Comfort

Sermon for Sunday, May 31, 2020 || Pentecost A || Acts 2:1-21; John 20:19-23

Today is the day of Pentecost, the day we celebrate the Holy Spirit empowering Jesus’ first followers to spread his loving, liberating, and life-giving message. If you were listening closely to the readings, you might have noticed we actually read two different versions of the sending of the Holy Spirit. In the first one from the Acts of the Apostles, the Holy Spirit spirals into the house like a rushing wind from heaven and anoints the disciples with tongues like fire. In this story, we sense the glorious upheaval in the lives of the disciples as these elemental forces – wind, fire – disrupt and invigorate them to embrace their new ministry as Jesus’ witnesses.

In the second story from the Gospel of John, Jesus comes to his disciples on the evening of the resurrection. They lean in close as he breathes on them, saying, “Receive the Holy Spirit.” In this intimate story, Jesus delivers the Comforter, the enlivening companion the disciples need to be about their work.

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Why Are You Weeping?

Sermon for Sunday, April 12, 2020 || Easter Day A || John 20:1-18

Today is Easter Sunday, the feast of the Resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. Last Sunday, I invited you into the spiritual posture of lamentation, and now here we are on this most celebratory day of the church year. If you’re feeling a sense of emotional or spiritual whiplash because of this abrupt turn from lamentation to celebration, I completely understand, and I feel it too. That’s why I want to spend this sermon speaking not simply about the celebration of the resurrection, but about the complex emotion that results when lamentation and celebration coexist. In this time of global and personal crisis, we cannot leap from sadness to joy and leave sadness completely behind. And the good news is that we don’t need to. In a few minutes, I’m going to reference that great catalogue of modern day meaning making that is the movies of Pixar Studios. But first, let’s turn to the Gospel reading and the character of Mary Magdalene.

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Deep Breaths with Palestrina

Sermon for Sunday, March 22, 2020 || Lent 4A || Psalm 23; John 9:1-41

I usually listen to really upbeat music when I’m writing my sermons, often the Piano Guys, who do instrumental mash-ups of pop and classical music. Their driving rhythms mixed with familiar melodies propel me forward as I write. I’m sure I bop my head along, my fingers click-clacking across the keyboard in time with the percussion. When I sat down to write this sermon, I put on the Piano Guys like normal. But about thirty seconds into the first song, I had to switch to something else.

Because today is not normal. Today is about as far from normal as I can remember since the days following September 11, 2001. As I thought and prayed my way into today’s sermon, I noticed just how un-calm I was. I had not slept well in several nights. I had pain in my jaw, always a sign of stress. I had a thick knot of anxiety in my chest. I looked beyond the anxiety and felt a roiling mix of other emotions, which I’ll get into in a moment. Realizing my state on un-calm, I changed the music. I selected a setting of the mass in Latin by the Renaissance composer Palestrina, who never fails to help me take deep breaths.

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To Serve and Preserve

Sermon for Sunday, March 1, 2020 || Lent 1A || Genesis 2:15-17; 3:1-7

In our three-year cycle through the Bible, today is the only day we hear one of the most ignored, yet most important, verses of the Hebrew Bible. The verse begins our reading from Genesis today, and really, it’s only there to set up the story of the serpent’s temptation. But I want to focus on this verse today because, when we begin to own the mission that this verse asks of us, we will also – finally – begin to grasp our place in the order of Creation.

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Something of You in Each Other

Sermon for Sunday, February 2, 2020 || Feast of the Presentation || Luke 2:22-40

Just a warning. This sermon leans heavily on my combined training as a political scientist and an ordained priest. It’s pretty heady. That’s why I’m going to start by talking about my favorite TV show.

In a Season Six episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation, Captain Picard and the crew of the Enterprise race against time to complete a puzzle locked in the DNA of the various humanoid peoples of the galaxy. The Klingons, Romulans, and Cardassians are also trying to complete the puzzle, thinking it will lead them to a new weapon of great power. But in the end, the four groups arrive on a planet after needing each other to solve the genetic puzzle, and they encounter a recording from the original humanoid people of the galaxy. The recording tells them that those ancient humanoids traveled the stars and found none like themselves, so they decided to seed the primordial oceans on many worlds with their own DNA as their legacy. The recording says, “It was our hope that you would have to come together in fellowship and companionship to hear this message, and if you can see and hear me our hope has been fulfilled.” With swelling music in the background, the recording concludes: “There is something of us in each of you, and so something of you in each other.”

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