In 8 days, Christians around the world will begin the Lenten journey with Ash Wednesday, in which ashes are smeared on our foreheads to remind us of our own mortality.
As our pastors and friends press the ashes onto our skin, they may utter the sacred verse, “Ashes to ashes, dust to dust.” In this, they remind us we begin the journey by remembering we will die, yet we end the journey remembering death is not the end.
We begin the journey of repentance and resurrection by remembering we must die for both to happen.
This theme of death permeates the entire season. We participate in death, repentance, and resurrection by sacrificing something for the next 40 days. We do this hoping, by God’s grace and power, we will come to Easter Sunday new, resurrected people, letting something in us die in order for new life to come.
Sacrifices are made in many ways for just as many reasons. Some give up chocolate and sugary food and drink to attend to their physical and emotional health. Others give up social media to make more time for Bible study, prayer, and being fully present with God and others.
Last Lent, I gave up Netflix. It was difficult, because I love stories. I love watching new shows to get pulled into a brand new story, and I love finding comfort in old tales I know like the back of my hand.
This sacrifice did, however, free up my own mind, body, and soul to be more present with others. I found myself listening better and making more time to be physically present with friends, family, and acquaintances. It was a Lent of repenting from the ways in which I hide from people and finding new life being in the sacred presence of divinely-made humanity.
I plan to give up Netflix again this year, hoping God will again guide me through repentance and into resurrection. But this Lent, I’m also adding a new reading list of voices I’ve neglected to hear for most of my life. By doing this, I hope to become more present to the sacred voices, stories, and presence of people made in the image of God, and I hope their stories will help me repent of my own sins and find resurrection.
This Lent, I’m taking up a #BlackLivesMatter reading list.Amazon.com and NewJimCrow.com
I’m doing this, because as a white Christian, I need to repent of my own complicity in a culture of white supremacy and listen to the stories of my black brothers and sisters long ignored and neglected by our society.
This repentance requires death. These stories push me to die to my own privilege and the supremacy endorsed by the society of which I am a part. They also confront me with the lives already lost to slavery, police brutality, and broken systems built upon racism.
These stories push me into the long, hard work of repentance. They should be embraced, but they have long been ignored by a majority of American society, and white Christians need to hear these stories of God’s justice, love, sadness, and anger prevalent in the black community. They are stories which challenge me to drop my preconceptions about “colorblindness” and “post-race America.” They provide stories of hope and joy found in the black community. They push me out of my bubble of privilege and into the uncomfortable world I’ve long ignored, a world of both oppression and celebration, despair and excellence, death and survival.
These are stories to be listened to and understood well, because these are the stories of my black and brown brothers and sisters. They are sacred, because they come from their beautiful, heartbreaking, celebratory lives and contain their own questions, challenges, cries, and cheers.
To be clear, this reading list is not a final solution. By taking up this reading list, I do not claim to be a great ally, insightful progressive, or savior of anyone, not for other white Christians and definitely not for people of color. I am only beginning to notice stories and systems whose existence has been long known by black Americans. Going into this Lent, I still have prejudices, biases, and a whole lot to learn about systemic racism and how it affects my interactions, and lack thereof, with people of color.
Instead, this is a step.
It’s a step past the rubble of the crumbling walls built by my privilege. It’s a step into the lives of others and into their worlds. It’s a step past comfort and into relationship.
It’s a step into repentance and the death embodied in Ash Wednesday, and hopefully a step towards the resurrection awaiting us on Easter Sunday.
Go Tell It on the Mountain by James Baldwin
The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander
Parable of the Sower by Octavia Butler
The Cross and the Lynching Tree by James H. Cone
Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison
Killing Rage: Ending Racism by bell hooks
Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
The Autobiography of Malcolm X by Malcolm X
A Lesson Before Dying by Ernest J. Gaines
Gather Together in My Name by Maya Angelou
The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison
Women, Culture, and Politics by Angela Davis
March by John Lewis
Inspired by Black Lives Matter Reading List from LeftBank.com and A Lent Where #BlackLivesMatter: 10 Ideas for Black History Month and the White Church on Patheos. This list is by no means exhaustive, so if you have any other suggestions you’d like to share, please comment!