In Common – February 9th 2019

I’ve got a great mix of books going on this month, and I love the cross-talk going on.

This month I am reading through a new release by Jemar Tisby, The Color of Compromise. It’s a great read, digging into the history of Africans and African-Americans in this country and their history and involvement with Christianity and the American Christian church. This book looks at the involvement of the Christian church in the development and acceptance of slavery in this country, and the role of the church in establishing slavery (and segregation) as an accepted institution in the country.

I shared some notable quotes from this week’s reading in The Color of Compromise on Instagram and am including them here as well:

As reliance on slave labor increased, sticky questions about Christianity, race and bondage began to emerge. (The Color of Compromise, p. 35)

Over time, Europeans compromised the messaged of Christianity to accommodate slavery while also, in their minds, satisfying the requirement to make disciples. (The Color of Compromise, p. 36)

Missionaries carefully crafted messages that maintained the social and economic status quo. They truncated the gospel message by failing to confront slavery, and in doing so they reinforced its grip on society. (The Color of Compromise, p. 38)

The gospel message was compromised so that African Americans could still be proselytized but only enough to keep them in their state of bondage. Accepting Christ made us brothers and sisters in Christ, equal in a spiritual sense, but equality did not extend to the physical realm. This narrative was pushed, and not just to the African slaves.

I am also reading On Reading Well, by Karen Swallow Prior. In this book, Prior examines twelve virtues, using a classical piece of literature to explore each virtue. It is a great read, one that I definitely recommend.

This week, reading her chapter on Courage, Prior discusses The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Huck Finn struggles throughout the story with what his conscience, formed by the corrupt society he has been raised in, is telling him, regarding the escaped slave Jim. I LOVE Huck Finn, and I’ve posted on my reading here.

Prior points out that

… one main part of Twain’s satire in the novel is the conscience that is malformed by a corrupt culture. Huck harbors distorted views of right and wrong, ones imparted to him by his flawed society. The progress he undergoes that corrects the wrong lessons his culture has taught him is the essence of Huckleberry Finn. (On Reading Well, p. 97)

Prior goes on to mention that

Huck, like many in the antebellum South, developed a conscience with a distorted sense of right and Introducing Moral Theology, William Mattison uses slavery as an example to show how the conscience can be malformed by social norms such that a slaveholder in eighteenth-century America could ‘genuinely’ believe ‘in his heart of hearts’ that owning slaves was a ‘virtuous act’. (On Reading Well, p. 98)

Huck struggles with his conscience throughout the novel,

… as he tries to convince himself to do the ‘right’ thing by returning Jim to his owner, Miss Watson. (On Reading Well, p. 100)

Finally, Prior describes the courage shown by Huck in making such a monumental decision, one that to him, is a decision between helping Jim and facing eternal damnation, or doing the ‘right’ thing and returning Jim.

When Huck hears the call of God’s law on his heart, he mistakes it, ironically, for temptation to do wrong. His decision to help Jim run away is not, in his mind, an act of nobility, directed toward justice. But this is the great irony of Twain’s satire: we know that it is. And despite Huck’s erroneous belif that his intention is unjust, Huck shows courage in his willingness to sacrifice his very soul to obtain Jim’s freedom. (On Reading Well, p. 101)

Jemar Tisby, in The Color of Compromise, makes this statement:

But if racism can be made, it can be unmade. (The Color of Compromise, p. 39)

So how do we as a society, a culture, unmake racism (as well as other moral failings)?

I’ve been reading Tending the Heart of Virtue this week, which examines the role classic stories awaken a child’s moral imagination. Children’s stories, and stories in general, are powerful, more than people realize. The author, Vigen Guroian, discusses how ‘how merely giving instruction in ethics yields very little actually being transformed into character-building substance’ (p. 19).

I shared the full excerpt on Instagram, but the main point he makes, after quoting Jewish philosopher Martin Buber, is that

Mere instruction in morality is not sufficient to nurture the virtues. It might even backfire, especially when the presentation is heavily exhortative and the pupil’s will is coerced. Instead, a compelling vision of the goodness of goodness itself needs to be presented in a way that is attractive and stirs the imagination. A good moral education addresses both the cognitive and affective dimensions of human nature. Stories are an irreplaceable medium for this kind of moral education – that is, the education of character. (Tending the Heart of Virtue, p. 20)

We need stories, lots of stories, and good quality stories, to help shape the moral imagination of children. Humans are made for storytelling. We connect to the moral message in stories much more readily that in a list of ethics instructions.

Coming back to Jemar Tisby’s statement that racism can be unmade then – what can be done?

Earlier this week, someone in one of my online reading groups shared a wonderful post about the lack of living books (in the Charlotte Mason sense) for people of color.

The author, blogging at Heritage Mom, shared here about with the lack of living books in this realm, she is including so many life-giving books instead – books for children that include children of color that build a child up, but may not fit the traditional CM definition of living book. There are many books that focus on Civil Rights, segregation, slavery, and the various struggles experienced in the black community. However, there is a noticeable lack of children’s books featuring children of color JUST BEING KIDS.

These are essential for children, regardless of race. Black children (and other people of color) need to be able to see themselves in the characters of children’s books, and white children need to see children of color as characters in books, and not just in books dealing with civil rights and struggles. These are the life-giving books that will help form the moral imagination in children of all races.

In a follow-up post she shared a list of resources for choosing books that include people of color. Because this is a topic that has seen a significant amount of discussion lately, I’ve seen other book lists sharing life-giving books, featuring people of color. I’m including some here.

Heritage Mom’s Life-giving Books for Black Children

Read Aloud Revival’s Diverse Picture Books to Celebrate the Everyday

Here We Read – a gold mine of picture books for children, lots of lists. I follow her on Instagram as well.

Current (Personal) Reads:

Current Read Alouds:


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