By DAVID CRUMM
Not many Christian publishing houses, these days, would release a book bearing the title of an angry rap song with a black activist on the front cover shouting into a microphone. So, why was The Stakes Is High published by the venerable Chalice Press—officially the publishing arm of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)?
The author, African Methodist Episcopal pastor Michael W. Waters, explains the purpose of this new book in the opening pages. Waters argues that, in 2017, church people are long overdue in joining a nationwide movement for justice for vulnerable minorities. It’s time to turn to “urban prophets” like the hip hop group De La Soul, who have been “crying out for justice” in songs like The Stakes Is High for many years. Waters quotes lines from the song:
Let me tell you what it’s all about
A skin not considered equal
A meteor has more right than my people.
Then Waters describes why he continues to be inspired by this song: “A sense of urgency is present in each line of The Stakes Is High. A pulsating beat adds to this sense of urgency as De La Soul seeks to awaken the masses from their slumber concerning critical matters of race in our nation.”
Quite simply, those lines also sum up Waters’ new book—an incendiary series of real-life stories about injustice and prophetic responses, wrapped up with a ringing appeal for long-overdue justice. The “sense of urgency” is apparent on every page of this book. Waters clearly hopes to “awaken the masses from their slumber.”
If you know Waters’ work, then you may have seen his earlier book Freestyle, also released by a publishing house with mainline Protestant roots (in that case Upper Room Books, connected with the United Methodist Church). Comparing Freestyle with Stakes is like comparing Guideposts to a sermon preached at an open air protest. In the more folksy memoir, Freestyle, readers were introduced to generations of Waters’ family. As we read that earlier book, our hearts were warmed with inspiring reflections on how we can maintain hope—and keep pursuing justice. Now, in Stakes, there is nowhere to hide from the prophet’s call. The cover should contain a warning label: Reading this book will propel you to action.
Freestyle is uplifting reading. Stakes is a dangerous book to carry around in your congregation. Many passages are raw, recounting violence against the vulnerable, and filled with righteous wrath as Waters encourages us all to find constructive ways to respond.
And that’s just one of the new books from Chalice Press. Once better known for producing “denominational resources“—and still proudly doing so to serve the Disciples denomination—Chalice’s current staff clearly believes that faith should actually make a difference in our daily lives and in the larger world. Upcoming titles include The Execution of God—Encountering the Death Penalty and Gods Gays and Guns—Religion and the Future of Democracy and Urban Souls—Reflections on Youth, Religion and Hip-Hop Culture. In many Christian congregations across America, you will court controversy by carrying these books under your arm on a Sunday morning.
From our perspective at ReadTheSpirit, we say: The Christian world could use a whole lot more of this kind of prophetic provocation.
One 2017 title we have reviewed and can highly recommend is Better—Waking Up to Who We Could Be by Melvin Bray. Organized for a 10-week, small-group discussion series, Bray’s book looks at how hateful stories told about vulnerable minorities—and how we tell our own individual stories within those minorities—shape the future of diversity in America. Bray argues that, understanding the power of stories, we all can begin to build healthier communities. The book offers lots of practical tips for taking control of our stories. (Visit the book’s Amazon page to read our full review of that book.)
‘WORKING TO CREATE A BETTER WORLD’
There isn’t a denomination in the U.S. that can claim to be more “American” than the Disciples of Christ, whose members trace their roots back more than two centuries to the Second Great Awakening. One root of the denomination extends all the way to 1901 to Cane Ridge, Kentucky, one of the most famous revivals in American history.
However, unlike other more traditionalist Protestant movements, Disciples saw their evangelical mission as clearly and loudly proclaiming justice and inclusion. That isn’t a trendy change of theological gears. As Disciples see it, that mission is in keeping with the movement’s earliest embrace of anyone who wandered into those early camp meetings.
Chalice Press proclaims a mission statement specific to its vocation in publishing. Here at ReadTheSpirit, our own publishing house staff recognizes kindred spirits in the Chalice staff. The mission statement appears on the Chalice website, but it is well worth quoting right here as well:
At Chalice Press, we are working to create a better world. A world in which all people, regardless of their faith tradition, are inspired and encouraged to challenge harmful theology and work together for justice.
A world in which the growing number of spiritual-but-not-religious people have resources to inspire them on their unique journeys.
A world in which the conversation about racism, largely dormant for decades, experiences a resurgence, and once again new voices call out discrimination and offer solutions that can lead us toward the Beloved Community.
A world in which a growing number of people accept the wondrous diversity that surrounds us. As LGBTIQ equality works its way into the justice system and our society, more and more Americans move from mere tolerance to full acceptance and love in the way of Jesus.
A world in which the greed that creates a vast gap between the rich and the poor—and stealthily crafted social policy that sustains that gap—is exposed and confronted.
A world in which the fear and intolerance of other faiths turns toward connection, finding common ground and respect for our differences.
Because the words we use create the world we inhabit, we at Chalice Press believe our ministry is one important part of creating the better world we know is possible.
To that, we say: Bravo! (And, if you care to jump back to 2007, here are the founding principles behind ReadTheSpirit publications, which we adopted on our first day in business and continue to follow. You will find a kindred spirit in these mission statements.)
FUN FOR FAMILIES, TOO
So far in this review of Chalice’s upcoming books, we have focused on some of the more provocative titles on the horizon. However, you also will find a wide array of warm, inspirational, refreshing books that are meant to fit into the daily search for spiritual solace in millions of families.
That phrase about a “daily search for spiritual solace” may sound like an unfounded truism. But, in fact, journalists have been buzzing over the past year about Pew Research’s data on a rise in spirituality nationwide—among both traditionally religious Americans and those who tell pollsters they have no religious affiliation.
Here’s what Pew says: “Americans have become less religious in recent years by standard measures such as how important they say religion is to them and their frequency of religious service attendance and prayer. But, at the same time, the share of people across a wide variety of religious identities who say they often feel a deep sense of spiritual peace and well-being as well as a deep sense of wonder about the universe has risen.”
That’s exactly the niche Presbyterian pastor and educator Traci Smith hopes to fill in Faithful Families—Creating Sacred Moments at Home, also newly published this year by Chalice Press. (An earlier version of Traci’s work was published several years ago under a different title—but this newly revised 2017 edition is the one you want to buy on Amazon.)
Since we have mainly been sharing our own views about the Chalice books, let’s turn to Rachel Held Evans’ review of Traci Smith’s new volume—as a way of underscoring the widespread endorsement of many of the new Chalice titles. Rachel writes:
Faithful Families is a thoughtful, practical guide to teaching by doing—to integrating prayer, tradition, Scripture, and ritual into the routines of a normal, busy family. What I love about this book, and about Traci’s work, is how it illuminates the sacred in the everyday, how it invites us to turn a lazy Saturday morning breakfast, a long car ride, the death of a pet, or the end of a stressful day into an opportunity to look for God, hiding in plain sight.
This isn’t a memoir. It’s not even standard prose. Traci uses her 250 pages to present nuts-and-bolts, step-by-step ideas for spiritual practices with children—including an indication of the best age range for each activity. The book’s main sections are:
- Traditions for Every Day, including a Night Time Blessing and Grace with Meals.
- Traditions for Holidays, including Lent, Earth Day and a Birthday.
- Ceremonies for Marking Life’s Transitions, including the Parents’ Anniversary and Moving to a new home.
- Ceremonies for Difficult Times, including Worries and Divorce.
- The Spiritual Practice of Prayer, including Smartphone Prayers.
- Ancient Spiritual Practices, including a Labyrinth.
- Other Spiritual Practices, including Serving an Honored Guest and the Golden Rule.
Overall, many of the new Chalice titles take seriously the idea that relatively small changes in our daily lives can have significant spiritual implications—and just may be a step toward making our world a better place. In Traci Smith’s epilogue to this book, she writes about an experience with her son that, more broadly, illustrates this larger spiritual principle in action:
“My heart was filled to overflowing when I saw how something so simple had taken root in my son’s heart and mind.”
Thanks, Chalice Press. As we publish—may it be so.
And, there’s even a sale …
Watch the Chalice Press website and, over time, you may find special discounts. As we publish this ReadTheSpirit Cover Story, Chalice is in the middle of a sale that runs through August 15, 2017.