Ep. 18: If You Read Only One Book . . . Start Here
June 9, 2020 Speaker: Jeff Brewer
Under our Skin: Getting Real about Race is the book I will recommend to people if they haven't read anything on the subject of race and they can only read one book right now. I suspect reading this will probably make someone want to read more.
Hello, Hope Fellowship! Welcome to our podcast “Full of Hope: Encouraging One Another with the Word of God,” where we seek to regularly equip the people of Hope Fellowship with truth from Scripture in order to help us cling to our Savior during troubled times.
Today, I want to talk about a book I just read by Benjamin Watson, Under our Skin: Getting Real About Race. It was recommended by a friend who noted that a well-known author had said about this book, “I’ve read 50 books about race and racial reconciliation and I think this one is the best.”
I’ve not read 50 books (or anywhere near it) about this important topic, but of what I’ve read, I agree. This is actually the book I will recommend to people if they’ve not read anything on the subject and they can only read one book right now. I think reading this will probably make you want to read more.
One of the main things I appreciated about the book was how human it felt. It was written in a way that made me appreciate family and people more—of all colors. Benjamin has a gift for putting down on paper what other people might be thinking or wondering about, and answering questions in a non-defensive way.
Listen to what he writes in chapter 6, “Sad and Sympathetic”:
“Until we can see each other as equals—as mothers and fathers, as sons and daughters—justice is never going to be evenhanded. Only when we share time together and make it personal will we lay aside the prejudice of our minds and experience the true understanding of our hearts. Only when we as blacks and whites watch our kids play together will we know that we all are created by God and are commonly human.” 1
The theme of family is a strong theme in the book. Hearing him describe his granddaddy, the wisdom that he imparted to him, and the memories of throwing a baseball in the backyard with old, leather mitts made me think of times with my own grandfather who spoke in very similar ways to me. We probably grew up in similar times, but in very different worlds. How he writes invites the reader to engage with their own story as they listen to his, which I did—and it can be a powerful tool to help us change the way we think.
But it’s not just all feel good, family stories—he addresses topics straight on. In chapter 7, “Offended,” he talks about the power of words and symbols, giving examples of why racial slurs and symbols such as the confederate flag invoke such strong emotional reactions.
Here’s what he cautions concerning our words and symbols:
“This isn’t about political correctness or making a list of forbidden words and symbols that we must constantly update and commit to memory to avoid using the wrong way or in the wrong situations in mixed company. This isn’t about constantly worrying that we’re saying the wrong thing to the wrong person at the wrong time. It isn’t that complicated. Yet in many ways, it’s even more difficult because it’s about how we view other people and how we understand their stories.” 2
Again, understanding a person’s story helps us to understand why different people have different reactions to words and symbols. I feel like this book helped me, as a white man, understand how these symbols and words have made an entire race feel in this country for hundreds of years. In this way, Watson does an excellent job in giving perspective. It’s a perspective we all need to understand.
I also appreciate how he concludes. He’s constantly bringing the gospel to bear on how we understand race and culture. He speaks openly about sin. He speaks openly about the hope that’s only in Jesus. He’s not looking for solutions merely in politics or in government structures, or even thinking about the family as the ultimate answer. He’s looking to the gospel—he’s looking to Jesus—for hope. Listen to what he writes:
“The problem of race in America is a spiritual problem at the heart of America. Individually, we may feel as if there’s not much we can do. But maybe we underestimate what God can do through us. I believe it’s essential for us to pray for America. I know there are some who hear that and think it’s a soft solution to a hard racial problem. On the contrary—prayer is one of the most powerful and pragmatic actions we can take to overcome racism in America. Prayer has often ignited revival. Spiritual awakenings have exploded out of prayer meetings where even a few people have dedicated themselves to pray for their families, communities, and nation. It has happened before. It can happen again. So, I urge everyone to pray. Pray for the families of the victims and the perpetrators. Pray for our communities and cities, that tensions will cease. Pray for the people we think are at fault and the ones we know are at fault. Pray for direction—that God would specifically guide you into action. Pray for wisdom for those who make decisions and laws. Pray for the safety of law enforcement officers and the eradication of the lawlessness they are commissioned to fight. Pray that we all will be keenly aware of our thoughts and reactions and will be bold enough to apologize when we should. Pray for the courage to stand up against racism wherever it’s found—and especially when it is expressed by friends and family. Pray for courage to call wrong wrong and right right. Pray for God’s healing hand on America.” 3
We could really expand that and say, “Pray for God’s healing hand in the world,” as the world is speaking about these things right now. These are good prayer requests. I pray for us as a church, that we would be praying and thinking in these ways—and that we would be listeners, first. And this book helps us to listen well, especially if you are desirous of dipping your toe in the water but you don’t know where to start. So I hope we read more than one book about this important topic, but if you wonder where to start, I’d recommend Under our Skin: Getting Real About Race.
And, by the way, I intentionally didn’t mention it until now—Benjamin Watson was a NFL tight end for 14 seasons, winning one Super Bowl with the New England Patriots (but we won’t hold that against him). There were good stories about the NFL of course, but it was clear that this was no NFL player that was just writing a book to add one more voice into the conversation. He’s a Christian who cares about being a good witness, and using his voice and platform to help honor Christ as he speaks about a topic that we all need to pay attention to.
And so, Hope Fellowship: remember, we have hope in Christ, and in these days where lives have been treated as expendable, let’s be a people who seek to be an instrument of change in how we think and act. Let’s make the hope of Christ known in a grieving, angry, and struggling world. See you next time.
1. Watson, Benjamin. Under Our Skin: Getting Real about Race. Getting Free from the Fears and Frustrations that Divide Us. (p. 117). Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.. Kindle Edition.
2. Watson, Benjamin. Under Our Skin: Getting Real about Race. Getting Free from the Fears and Frustrations that Divide Us. (pp. 149–150). Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.. Kindle Edition.
3. Watson, Benjamin. Under Our Skin: Getting Real about Race. Getting Free from the Fears and Frustrations that Divide Us. (pp. 203–204). Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.. Kindle Edition.
Music by Joseph. McDade https://josephmcdade.com. Used with permission.