Book Review: Acts of Forgiveness

I was excited to be tapped to review Ted Karpf’s new book, Acts of Forgiveness, as the offer came right as I was searching for non-majority voices in Christianity.  An Episcopalian priest and a gay man, Karpf was on the front lines of the HIV/AIDS epidemic both in the States and South Africa, providing compassionate pastoral care at a time when people were gripped by fear.  This memoir documents that time and more: following the author’s journey to acceptance and forgiveness.

What I find so compelling about this book is that Karpf does not shy away from showing us his uphill climb – truly, his ongoing struggle – with acceptance and forgiveness.  Karpf has lost what he thought would be his retirement home, was unceremoniously removed from a fulfilling and influential position in the church, and been left by his long-time partner, among other losses. Some of these are more recent and some not so, but it is evident that Karpf still acutely feels the hurt that each loss brought.  Yet through prayer, therapy, and wise mentorship, Karpf has found ways to accept and forgive.  It makes for some honest, if sometimes uncomfortable, reading.

If forgiveness is something you struggle with (don’t we all?), then I particularly recommend chapter two, appropriately titled “Forgiveness and Loving.” When asking Archbishop Desmond Tutu’s advice on how to pray for his ex, the archbishop’s response was “until you love him.”  Karpf tells us:

I was again flummoxed and frustrated. I had no inclination to pray for him; I wanted him to disappear.  So that prayer took nearly a decade to pray as well, during which I often had to ask myself, “Is there anyone or anything unforgivable?”  I must respond, if I am to remain faithful to scripture, my faith, and experience, “Probably not. No, nothing and no one is beyond forgiveness, but learning to accept that fact, and gain the stamina and will it takes to do it, may take a lifetime.”

Later in the chapter, Karpf reveals the cyclical and spiraling nature of forgiveness, a message received with his natal chart reading.  “You must learn to forgive your mother,” Dr. Chakrapani Ullal told him, “She needs your forgiveness in order to complete her karmic journey. This is not for your sake, but for hers. You must be the father she never knew.”  In so doing, it seems that Karpf found healing some modicum of healing himself, as well.

Being a father of two, parenting is interwoven throughout Karpf’s story.  Being a priest and advocate during the early days of the AIDS epidemic, death is as well.  But the two exist poignantly, sometimes heartbreakingly so, together in the later chapters.  His daughter’s suicide attempt, and the generously re-printed correspondence between Karpf and a young couple experiencing the loss of their daughter, cemented him in my mind as someone I would want to counsel me both through parenting and through dying.  “As I sit here contemplating my own death, which is really never far away,” Karpf tells us, “I can only report that the stripping away of controls or supposed controls leaves me emotionally and spiritually incapacitated at the front end, though it can become revitalizing and renewing at the far end.”  Perhaps he has already come out the far end of those contemplations, because I found comfort in his ability to delight in his children (even if they didn’t turn out the way he thought they would), and his gentle questioning surrounding death.

“Life comes at me at times with frightening speed and minimal understanding,” writes Karpf in the closing pages of his memoir.  Isn’t that true for all of us?  And yet here is Karpf, admitting his failures while gaining perspective. Allowing for forgiveness of himself and working on forgiving others.  Reminding us that forgiveness and love are a journey, and that, however hard those roads may be, we are not alone when we choose to follow them.

You can find Acts of Forgiveness for purchase at the link, but there are also several upcoming opportunities to win a copy: 

Also, the author will be “stopping by” the blog later today, so if you have any comments or questions for him, be sure to leave them in the comments section yourself!

Romans 11 – The Economic Benefits of Inclusion

11 Again I ask: Did they stumble so as to fall beyond recovery? Not at all! Rather, because of their transgression, salvation has come to the Gentiles to make Israel envious. 12 But if their transgression means riches for the world, and their loss means riches for the Gentiles, how much greater riches will their full inclusion bring! (Read the rest of today’s chapter here!)

Paul’s plea for unity and inclusion

“If their loss means riches for the Gentiles,” Paul says, referring to non-Jesus believing Jews, “how much greater riches will their full inclusion bring?”  One of Paul’s primary concerns – one that often gets forgotten as the church has had a lamentable history of playing down Paul’s Jewishness – was establishing unity among the early believers.  He had to overcome each group’s, Jew’s and Gentile’s, suspicion of each other.  Making the case that uncircumcised Gentiles can be welcomed into the fold, or that Gentile believers should be respectful of Jewish dietary restrictions (whether they chose to follow them or not), and other mediations of that sort take up a lot of his letter writing.  Romans 11 is a gentle but insistent reminder to said Gentile believers that they are not to look down upon their Jewish brethren, whether believers or not, because God chose Israel, and through Israel we have Jesus, and when Jesus returns and the fullness of the holy kingdom is realized, God’s firstfruits (as Paul refers to the Jewish people) will all be holy.

Of course Paul’s primary concern was the inclusion of Gentiles into Jewish Jesus-following communities and vice versa.  But if we zoom out and apply it to modern issues, this is one of the best Biblical passages I’ve found for acceptance and inclusion.  Paul asks his listeners again,  “For if their rejection is the reconciliation of the world, what will their acceptance be but life from the dead?”  Let’s apply that to today: what gains have we made on the back of slavery, with the oppression of indigenous peoples? This country’s wealth was bought with blood money.  Now, whether we realize it or not, we rely on indigenous peoples, who only make up 5% of the population globally, to protect 80% of the earth’s biodiversity.  Lives and livelihoods are still being lost to racial tensions.  What would acceptance be today but life from the dead, indeed?

Paul reminds his listeners not to be proud, for they were once as lost as the unbelievers they sneer at.  He reminds them to be kind, for God is kind to them.  He reminds them that we have received mercy through the grace of God, and no one is beyond God’s reach.  Aren’t those all reminders that we could still use, today?

Making the economic case for inclusion today.

The best way to America’s heart is through its pocketbook.  So is it possible to make the case that acceptance and inclusion are more than just lofty, feel-good spiritual goals, but actually concrete economic benefits?  Yes, a thousand times yes.  Let me be very clear,  I do not think we should include marginalized people only because it is good business policy, but sometimes you need to meet the people where they are.  Also, removing the discussion from a single individual’s beliefs and biases, and instead moving it into the less personal business realm, can sometimes diffuse a potentially charged exchange, and may win more hearts and minds that would otherwise be defensive.

As I started this blog writing about refugees, let’s start with the refugee example.  Here’s an article from the Brookings Institute that explains how welcoming refugees to a country does not take jobs away from existing citizens but actually boosts unemployment overall, as well as entrepreneurship, international trade, and investment. And here’s a 2017 report from New American Economy that shows refugees in America contributed $21 billion in taxes in 2015 alone, as well as earned over $77 billion in annual household income.  And yes, there’s no denying that refugees need assistance when they first arrive, but here’s my favorite statistic from the report: By the time a refugee has been in the country at least 25 years, their median household income reaches $67,000—a full $14,000 more than the median income of U.S. households overall – and that’s not because they’re all scamming the system, it’s because they’ve gained independent financial success through that initial leg up.  Here’s another study where Rwandan refugees in several encampments were given assistance in the form of cash. Every dollar received translated into $1.51-1.95 in the local economy. Forbes, The LA Times, and even Nature Magazine have also all written articles that expound upon how acceptance of refugees boost economic output.

Let’s move onto LGBT acceptance.  I’m not denying there is still much work to be done in this arena, but public support of LGBT peoples has grown so much that exploiting that support for economic or political gain has its own term: pinkwashing.  Pinkwashing occurs when a government or organization uses a veneer of gay-friendliness to mask other issues, such as Anti-Palestinian policies in Israel.

But this rather jaded realization aside, LGBT acceptance does us much economic good, just as refugee acceptance does.  This Atlantic article sums it up nicely, but I want to point out one small but profound example that stuck out to me: In 2014, eight men were sentenced to jail for three years in Egypt for participating in what looked like a gay wedding ceremony.  As the article’s author points out:

Those eight men sitting in an Egyptian jail, for example, will not be contributing to the economy for three years and instead create an avoidable cost for the government. Their skills and knowledge might be less valuable when they get out, and if future employers are likely to discriminate against people assumed to be gay, their options might be limited to work in less productive jobs.

The LGBTQ population in the US measures somewhere between four and ten percent, depending upon what report you’re looking at.  That’s up to 32 million Americans who need to eat, buy clothes and cars, and enjoy going out with their friends – just like everyone else.  Economically speaking (again, that’s not the only reason for inclusion, but it seems to be the one that changes everyone’s mind) it just doesn’t make sense to exclude that much of the population.

Let’s quickly list some other examples of how inclusion and acceptance increases the bottom line: Companies investing in increased accessibility means they get more business from the disabled community – of which we’ll have more and more as the baby boomers (with all their money) continue to age.  Reducing the incarceration rate means less burden on the state (and the tax-payers). Companies offering multi-lingual services, such as signs, packaging, or customer service representatives capture more of the business from the 40-some million Americans for whom English is not their primary language. Investing in the “bad” parts of town with new infrastructure, street lights, and neighborhood revitalization efforts reduce crime and boost citizen morale.  These effects are a little harder to measure directly in the economy, but I think we can all agree that less crime is less expensive, and more people being able to get to work via safe roads, sidewalks, or new public transportation options is also economically beneficial.

Get educated, get involved, get out there!

Individual attitudes are important, for sure, but the more I read, the more I have come to believe that if we want to see real progress, we need to be thinking bigger than our personal actions.  We need to see changes in businesses and in government if we’re going to combat everything from institutional racism to climate crises.  That’s why legislation like the ADA and Civil Rights Act have been critical to societal change, and why boycotts and “voting with your dollar” are still so necessary.  I’ll be writing more about this in weeks to come, but for now, remember to call your representatives, get involved, and more than anything else: get educated.  My hope is that my brief overview of the facts above may arm you to speak up when that one family member starts talking about “those dirty Mexicans taking all our jobs,” or to go ahead and vote “yes” for slightly higher taxes when an infrastructure project is proposed on the next ballot.  But don’t stop here, find the cause that speaks to you, and dive in. There is lots more to learn, and lots more to do.

If you are enjoying what you read please follow the blog for more!  Click the folder icon in the upper left corner of the menu, and you can follow via WordPress or email.  And don’t forget to check us out on Instagram and Twitter, too!

Romans 06 – 36 Minority Writers for you to Add to Your Reading List

12 Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires. 13 Do not offer any part of yourself to sin as an instrument of wickedness, but rather offer yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life; and offer every part of yourself to him as an instrument of righteousness. 

16 Don’t you know that when you offer yourselves to someone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one you obey—whether you are slaves to sin, which leads to death, or to obedience, which leads to righteousness? 17 But thanks be to God that, though you used to be slaves to sin, you have come to obey from your heart the pattern of teaching that has now claimed your allegiance. (Read the rest of the chapter here!)

This chapter is actually a chapter about freedom and redemption, but I specifically pulled these two quotes out because I imagine it’s also a chapter that has been used to chastise women and validate slavery.

I see why those in power didn’t want the laity reading the Bible.  I see why they fought so hard to keep it to themselves, not have it translated into native languages, and literally burn people at the stake for trying to expand access to the Bible.  They knew, they knew that if the laity could study the Bible on their own, they would see that the very verses used to oppress the people were written to uplift the people.

What makes me so mad is that we’ve had an English Bible since the sixteenth century. Since then, English-language Bibles have just gotten more prolific and commonplace.  And yet, we still have church leaders using it to uphold white supremacy and other racist notions, oppress women, and deny the sanctity of anyone who doesn’t fit in their tiny little box of “normal.”  The sick genius of it is, they’ve also made it so the majority of Christians either don’t want to read the Bible (believing that it’s too boring or dense), or they’re so indoctrinated that they read it through the same narrow slant as the narrow-minded people who taught it to them.

The Bible is a book about radical love and radical freedom.  Even if you just know the big stories that becomes apparent. Yes, Adam and Eve were expelled from the Garden of Eden, but even with their transgressions they are spared worse punishments, such as death.  Noah is spared from the flood through God’s love. Abraham receives a divine covenant because God loves him. Moses leads his people in revolt from Egypt because God is with them.  David is beloved by God.  Jesus is sent to Earth to disrupt the whole existing power hierarchy because God so loves us all. God is anti-hate, anti-oppression.

There are lots of wonderful, straight white guys out there sharing wonderful things about God, Jesus, and the Bible.  I love the podcasts Almost Heretical and The Bible for Normal People, both hosted by white guys.  I also love Richard Rohr and appreciate the work of John Shelby Spong.  But they aren’t the only voices in theology.  This year, I’m going to start focusing on theologians of color, female theologians, and any other minority voices I can find.  From my small corner of the internet, I’m going to do my part to open up the discussion to voices from other experiences.

That being said, I’m only one person with very finite time, so I’m not sure how long it will take to get to all of them.  I want to share a (very incomplete) list with you of some of the authors/theologians/books I’m looking at.  It’s a dense list (WordPress editing only lets me do so many things for readability), but please read through it.  Bookmark it and come back to it several times if need be.  If something or someone on this list speaks to you, I encourage you to beat me to it and start reading.  My hope is two-fold: that we can promote these minority voices in a way that they deserve, and also that you, dear reader, may find something that has been missing from your own spiritual journey. Perhaps you haven’t seen yourself fully reflected in Christianity yet, or perhaps you are missing a perspective you didn’t even think was possible.  Even if you are not a woman, or black, or gay, it’s still important to read these experiences because understanding leads to empathy leads to acceptance leads to love.  Finally, one more big thank you to Marla of @whitegirllearning who seriously recommended almost half these books/authors to me. Follow her if these aren’t enough book recommendations for you, she touches on a much broader subject base than I do. Enough preamble, here is my list:

1. Thabiti Anyabwile-A pastor right up the street from me in Washington, DC!  His books include Finding Faithful Elders and Deacons and Reviving the Black Church. He also has a blog that I’m looking forward to reading.

2. Karen Armstrong-Armstrong’s book The Evolution of God is the book that got me started on thinking critically about faith.  I just finished (and loved) her book St Paul: The Apostle We Love To Hate and am looking forward to reading more of her works, particularly The Gospel According to Woman: Christianity’s Creation of the Sex War in the West and The End of Silence: Women and the Priesthood.

3. Anthony Bradley-professor, author, and director of  Center for the Study of Human Flourishing at The King’s College.  His book Black Scholars in White Space caught my eye, and he’s published several other that look good, too.

4. Sarah Bessey– Co-organizer of the Evolving Faith Conference, contributor to a number of publications, author of Jesus Feminist and also has an archive of essays, here.

5. Nadia Bolz-Weber-Lutheran Pastor, former stand-up comic, and three-time New York Bestseller list. Her latest book, Shameless, “offers a full-blown overhaul of our harmful and antiquated ideas about sex, gender, and our bodies,” to quote the blurb.

6. Steven Charlston-A Choctaw elder and retired Episcopalian bishop.  I’ve always loved the duality of faith that Indigenous believers often have, and am excited to include several of them on this list.  The Four Vision Quests of Jesus was the book recommended to me.

7. Patrick Cheng-I do love my Episcopalians.  Cheng has written several books on Queer Theology.  His first book, Radical Love: An Introduction to Queer Theology was the book recommended to me.

8. Christena Cleveland-I’m excited to follow her most recent project, the Center for Justice + Renewal.  She has also written the book Disunity in Christ.

9. James Cone (1938-2018) – Cone is often called the father of black theology.  He has been critiqued, especially by Womanist theologians (several are further down this list, too), but his historical influence remains.  He has written many books, with 1969’s Black Theology and Black Power being the most often referenced in my quick research on him.

10. Kaitlin B Curtice-Potawatomi and Christian, Curtice’s first book is Glory Happening, but I’m really looking forward to her May 2020 release of Native: Identity, Belonging, and Rediscovering God.  She also has a blog.

11. Kelly Brown Douglas-An Episcopalian and Womanist Theologian.  I’m super excited to read her books Stand Your Ground: Black Bodies and the Justice of God and Sexuality in the Black Church: A Womanist Perspective.

12. Mary Douglas (1921-2007)- Mary Douglas is actually more of an anthropologist than a theologian, but she’s written about Levitical law, mostly in academic papers, which I’m hoping to access through JSTOR.

13. Rachel Held Evans (1981-2019)-I am embarrassed to admit I’ve never read any of her books, but look to rectify that this year. Evans moved from an evangelical faith of certainty to a faith of questioning and doubt, which is scary and takes guts, especially to write about.  She died tragically young, but her work seems to show no signs of losing traction with today’s audience.  You can also read her blog, which looks like it’s being intermittently maintained by somebody else posthumously.

14. Stacy M. Floyd-Thomas-The book that grabbed my attention was Deeper Shades of Purple: Womanism in Religion and Society but I’m also interested to read some of the works she co-authored with her husband, Juan Floyd Thomas, The Altars Where We Worship: The Religious Significance of Popular Culture.

15. Karen Gonzalez-As her website says, “I am a Christian, but I have not ceased to be Latina, Guatemalan, an immigrant, and a woman.”  As someone deeply concerned about the treatment of refugees and immigrants arriving in this country, I am eager to read her book The God Who Sees: Immigrants, the Bible, and the Journey to BelongShe also does a podcast called Dovetail intermittently, which explores the intersection of faith, justice, and culture.

16. Dominque DuBois Gilliard-recognized as a young leader of the Black Church at large, Gilliard has published Rethinking Incarceration: Advocating for Justice that Restores, writes a blog, and is the Director of Racial Righteousness and Reconciliation for the Love Mercy Do Justice initiative.

17. Lisa Sharon Harper-I love how many of these authors are also organizers, and Harper is one of those, speaking and consulting with churches and other organizations about how to mobilize people of faith to a more just world.  Her latest book is The Very Good Gospel and I also want to read Forgive Us, which was co-authored by Soon-Chang Rah, who is further down this list.

18. Drew G.I. Hart-Hart is a WordPress guy, so fellow WordPress-ers, he’s easy to follow.  His book is called Trouble I’ve Seen: Changing the Way the Church Views Racism.

19. Austen Hartke-It’s hard to find a lot of specifically transgender perspectives on Christianity, but Austen Hartke has written the book Transforming: The Bible and the Lives of Transgender Christians and also has a youTube series called “Transgender and Christian.”

20. Ada Maria Isasi-Diaz (1943-2012) – Isasi-Diaz coined the term “Mujerista,” a specifically Latina liberation theology (and also the word used for it’s proponents). She has three books on Mujerista philosophy, the first one being Mujerista Theology: A Theology for the 21st Century.

21. Nyasha Junior-Associate Professor in the Department of Religion at Temple University.  The book first recommended to me was An Introduction to Womanist Biblical Interpretationwhich looks like a great start. But I’m even more excited about her other book, Reimagining Hagar because I love to see how people study women in the Bible.

22. Kathy Kang-Her blog is warm and personable and as someone thinking more and more about “but what can we actually do” when confronted with whatever injustice there is, I’m looking forward to reading her book Raise Your Voice: Why We Stay Silent and How to Speak Up.

23. Mihee Kim Kort-Kort is a wife, mom, presbyterian minister…and queer. (Look, all those things can exist at once!  Sorry, couldn’t resist the little jab at some less accepting eyes…)  Her book, Outside the Lines: How Embracing Queerness Will Transform Your Faith is the one that was recommended to me.

24. Deborah Jian Lee-as a journalist and radio producer she has a slightly different background than many on this list, but that just makes me more excited to include her.  Her book, Rescuing Jesus: How People of Color, Women and Queer Christians are Reclaiming Evangelicalism, was the one recommended to me.

25. James Earl Massey (1930-2018)-Massey was an influential voice in and out of the Church of God denomination.  His work is prolific, the book I’m starting with is The Burdensome Joy of Preaching.

26. Brenda Salter McNeil-Dr. Brenda (her designation) focuses on reconciliation and has been for over 30 years.  Roadmap to Reconciliation is her most recent book.

27. Osheta Moore-I was immediately intrigued as in her website menu there is a tab “Dear White Peacemakers.” Turns out, she has a series specifically tailored for (potentially) helpful white people on her podcast, Shalom Sistas (it looks like it’s on any platform you may use).  She also has a book is Shalom Sistas: Living Wholeheartedly in a Brokenhearted World.

28. Soong-Chang Rah-Co-author of the aforementioned Forgive Us. Much of his work centers around the harm that colonial attitudes continue to do to the church and how the church can move forward into a more racially, ethnically, and culturally diverse way.  The two books I’m most looking forward to reading are Unsettling Truths: The Ongoing, Dehumanizing Legacy of the Doctrine of Discovery and The Next Evangelicalism: Freeing the Church from Western Cultural Captivity.

29. Alexia Salvatierra-I heard Salvatierra interviewed on the podcast Can I Say This At Church.  Predominantly a working activist and organizer focused on issues pertaining to immigration and poverty, she has made time to co-author the book Faith-Rooted Organizing: Mobilizing the Church in Service to the World.

30. D. Danyelle Thomas-no books out (yet!), but Thomas is the creator of Unfit Christian, which strives to be the “digital voice of Black Millennial Faith & Spirituality.”  You can also find her on Twitter, IG, and youTube.

31. Jemar Tisby – A Christian, historian, writer, and speaker, according to his website.  His first book, The Color of Compromise: The Truth about the American Church’s Complicity in Racism, was released January of 2019.

 32. Richard Twiss (1954-2013)-Lakota, politically active in his youth with the American Indian Movement and later becoming a Christian minister, his book Rescuing the Gospel from the Cowboys: A Native American Expression of the Jesus Way was recommended to me, and he has several others.

33. Alice Walker – famed poet and novelist of The Color Purple is said to have coined the term “Womanist.” In Search of Our Mothers’ Gardens: Womanist Prose is one of her non-fiction collections.

34. Johnathan L. Walton-Dean of the Divinity School at Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, he does have two books, but I’m most interested in some of his articles and book contributions that deal with megachurches and Christian consumerism.  He looks at them mainly through the Black Church, but I think it’s a topic that should interest the broader Christian community as well.

34. Tracy C. West-A Methodist working within the church for inclusivity, West is also a scholar and author of several books dealing with race and gender in the context of religion.  I’ll be starting with her book Disruptive Christian Ethics: When Racism and Women’s Lives Matter, though they all look like good reads.

35. Dolores Williams-a first wave Womanist, Dolores Williams has been talking about how white feminism has excluded black women for a while now.  Sisters in the Wilderness: The Challenge of Womanist God-Talk is the book she is most famous for, but she has made other contributions through journals and the like.

36. Jarvis J. WilliamsRemoving the Stain of Racism from the Southern Baptist Convention, For Whom Did Christ Die? is a book I’m adding to my reading list.  Also, because I am in the thick of reading Romans (and a lot of background reading on Paul) Williams’ books The Extent of the Atonement in Paul’s Theology and One New Man: The Cross and Racial Reconciliation in Pauline Theology have also caught my eye.

Did I miss your favorite author? Please add them in the comments!  Also, if you are enjoying what you read here, please follow the blog for more.  Click the folder icon in the upper left corner of the menu, and you can follow via WordPress or email.  And don’t forget to check us out on Instagram and Twitter, too!