Chapter 3: Reading Guide

Chapter 3: Interruptions

1/ What strikes you most in Chapter 3? Are there images, ideas, or insights that resonate especially with your experience?

2/ The author places a lot of emphasis on the call in Christian life “to pay attention and to mourn.” What does this phrase mean for you? Does it evoke any particular memories, or present needs, in your community?

3/ “Every tribe remembers its own story, its own heroes, its own suffering first.” As in Chapter 2, Pramuk highlights the temptation and danger, both for individuals and communities, of perceiving “reality” from within self-enclosed bubbles. Is there a way through or beyond this difficulty? What would a community look like that resisted this temptation? What kinds of practices might it engage in?

4/ From where you sit, does the author’s analysis of the “complexity of race discourse today” ring true? Be specific. Are there other factors that you would include in this discussion?

5/ What are your memories of Hurricane Katrina? Are there other events, large-scale or small, that have opened your eyes to the reality of “structural sin” in US society, such as poverty, racial and economic injustice, or other stubbornly entrenched sinful realities? To what extent do you recognize a tendency in public or private discourse to “blame the victim” for complex social problems, in an unfair or simplistic way?  

6/ What does the term “segregation” mean to you? Is it part of your experience, concretely? What does the term “integration” mean to you? Is integration a value still worthy of our societal aspirations? Is it a lost cause? What might it look like on the ground?

7/ Pramuk refers to demographic shifts taking place in the US Catholic Church as a possible “Kairos” moment“ for Catholics, “and though painful, a path to grace” (p. 48). How and in what ways, if at all, have changing demographics impacted your church life, city, neighborhoods, schools?  How is the community responding?

8/ The author invokes the Jewish teaching of tikkun olam, to repair the world. What do you think it will take to overcome some of the obstacles facing racial reconciliation today? Does faith in God make any difference? Can the churches, as Pramuk suggests, play a significant role? How?

9/ Citing Fr. Virgil Elizondo and others, Pramuk gestures throughout the chapter to a sense of communion with the dead. Does your horizon of faith include a sense of the “real presence” of the dead, or the belief in resurrection? If so, how does this impact your way of dealing with suffering, social injustice, or past and present evils of human history?

10/ The chapter concludes by gesturing to a “contemplative” way of seeing and engaging human difference. What do you think Pramuk is trying to say in this section? What practices might cultivate a more contemplative way of living, seeing, and engaging reality?

11/ Which of the endnotes for Chapter 3 most interest you, and why?

12/ Review Johann Baptist Metz’s description of the “mystical-political” dimension of Christianity (n. 19, p. 175), and the author’s analysis that follows in this note. There is a necessary and beautiful tension in Christian spirituality, Metz suggests, between hope for the dead and hope for the living. What do you make of Metz’s distinction between the “mystical” and the “political,” and his desire to hold these two kinds of hope together? Does your own faith or understanding of Christianity tend to emphasize one or the other?

13/ Citing the preaching of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Jeremiah Wright (n. 19, p. 174), Pramuk suggests that black theology and spirituality continues to be “haunted” by the memory of the dead. Would you agree? How might this close relationship with the dead, with black history, or the ancestors, change the tenor or “feel” of black worship and prayer by comparison to that of other racial, ethnic, and cultural groups?

14/ How might sorrow and joy come together in the same faith experience? You may wish to read and discuss together this article by Jesuit Fr. James Martin, as a way of exploring this paradoxical tension in Christian life, belief, and prayer.

15/ As we saw in Chapter 2 with Howard Thurman, once again with Dr. King (n. 31, p. 176) we see an emphasis on the intrinsic connection between the realization of God, or a “divine loving presence that binds all life,” and ethical action for justice and “to eliminate social evil.” To what extent is this connection between spirituality and social justice made explicit in the life of your church, e.g., through preaching, outreach ministries, or the like?

Be sure to check out “Music and Art” for Chapter 3, with links to many rich resources for further meditation, reflection and discussion.

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