Introduction and Chapter 1: Reading Guide

Introduction

1/ What strikes you most in the Introduction? Are there images, ideas, or insights that resonate especially with your experience or with questions you have asked?   

2/ “I see people looking like trees and walking” (Mk 8:24). What do you think of Pramuk’s interpretation of this gospel story? Do you see a role for Christ, or religious faith more generally, in the overcoming of racial “blindness,” whether as individuals or at the community and societal level?

3/ What does the term “the color line” mean to you? In what ways, if at all, have you experienced the color line (or “colorism”) in your life? How about “graced encounters across the color line”?  

4/ The author asserts that there are “far too few safe spaces and opportunities to practice the art of listening across the color line.” Why do you think this is so? What would a “safe space” for genuine dialogue about race look and feel like? If you could imagine ideal participants in such a conversation, who would they be?

5/ What do you think Pramuk means in suggesting that racism is a “human problem,” and that “everybody has their skin in the game”? Would you agree? How would you put this idea into your own words?

6/ Music and art have clearly played an important role for the author as “windows” into other cultures.(You may wish to view his YouTube performance and discussion of Scott Joplin’s piece “Solace.”) Has this been true for you? Be specific.

7/ Which of the end notes for the Introduction most interest you, and why?

8/ Have you ever formally studied “theology,” “spirituality,” or “mysticism” (n. 2), or shared your own spiritual path in a group setting? Have you ever reflected or shared memories and experiences with others about race? What was this like? To what extent if at all have you thought about your own life story or family history, honestly and self-critically, in terms of race (n. 4)?  

Chapter 1: Entry Points

1/ What strikes you most in Chapter 1? Are there images, ideas, or insights that resonate especially with your experience or with questions you have asked?  

2/ The chapter opens with a poem – how does these lines strike you? How about the photograph that leads the chapter?

3/ Why “break silence” on matters of race (p. 2, and  n. 1)? What are the potential benefits; what are the potential risks and costs?

4/ What does the term “white privilege” mean to you? Have you come across it before? You may wish to read and discuss together end note n. 3, p. 167-68, on white privilege.

5/ What do you make of the term lo cotidiano, invoked on p. 5, and also described in n. 6, p. 169? How would you put into your own words what this Spanish term is trying to convey? Do you have any direct or indirect experience of lo cotidiano, where you live or work?

6/ The author describes his account of Haiti as unremarkable, even “banal,” in the “unquestioned normalcy of the truth it describes.” What do you make of this account? Why does Pramuk include an overview of Haitian history of Haiti in this part of the chapter? How is it relevant to his personal story? What are the central images, ideas, and emotions he wants the reader to consider?

7/ What does the term “social sin” mean to you? Have you come across it before? Is it helpful, do you think, in discussions of race relations, whether historically or in our present social context?  

8/ To what extent have you encountered the world of the poor, whether in the US or in another country? Did racial dynamics or other social or hidden historical contexts come into play?

9/ What do you make of Pramuk’s suggestion that the spirituals hold the power to potentially transcend racial, temporal, and cultural boundaries? Have you any experience of singing or listening to the Negro spirituals? Have you experienced anything like “something new coming to birth” (p. 13) when singing side by side with others, even strangers? (If not singing, perhaps some other kind of encounter?)

10/ The chapter concludes pointing to real tensions in the life of discipleship and peace-making. How do such tensions manifest in your own life? Why does Pramuk suggest that “the vocation of the Christian is to live fully inside this tension and not to flee from it”? Would you agree?

11/ Which of the endnotes for Chapter 1 most interest you, and why?

12/ Why “break silence” on matters of race (p. 2, and  n. 1)? What are the potential benefits; what are the potential risks and costs?

13/ Review Baum’s distinction (n. 5, p. 168) between “guilt by personal implication” and “guilt by common heritage.” Pramuk suggests that this is a helpful distinction in thinking about white privilege and the legacy of racial injustice in US society. Do you agree? Why, or why not? Is guilt a necessary and/or helpful category in talking about race?

14/  Can you think of examples of “truth-telling” or “hope-telling” that have come to you “in image, in figure, in poem, in vision,” as Walter Brueggemann describes (n. 14, p. 170); or that have come to you “sideways, told as one who dwells with others in the abyss”? Reflect on any such moment in your journal, and/or share with your group. 

Be sure to check out the “Music and Art” pages for the Introduction and Chapter 1, with links to many more resources for further meditation, reflection and discussion.

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